Here’s how I captioned my final Facebook slideshow on our China trip:
“A Ming Garden that survived the Cultural Revolution. Ancient crafts that survived. The old foreign compound, the Bund, that survived. The new city that arose on the opposite bank. A nation restored to greatness. Farewell.”
Barack Obama sensed that for America the next fifty years will be a contest with China for the greatest influence in the world. Donald Trump’s clumsy self interest is giving the Chinese another great leap forward. As I’ve written over the past month I think the Chinese greatest hurdle will be to become the open society that America seems to be retreating from with the emergence of a new more visceral, no nothing, alt right, nostalgic “white,” Trupian, Republican Party.
Obama’s TPP that Bernie, Hillary and The Donald helped kill was a thoughtful attempt to keep the rest of the Pacific rim nations focused on the old warhorse America and away from China the surging new economic power. And China is just a decade or so away from seizing our GNP lead. Now, in the wake of Trump’s foreign policy bumptiousness, China is taking on a far more nuanced and sober leadership of world politics at a time when the rest of the world is reeling from America’s international nose picking.
I fall in a long line of Americans who rooted for China as it was beset by European trading pacts and Japanese invasion and finally Mao induced self immolation. I like the Pearl Bucks and Joe Stilwells and all the protestant missionaries who wanted to convert the resourceful and dogged people of China. It is a nation with a lot of people imbued with what we call the “protestant work ethic.” With America putting up barriers to funny colored and speaking people with these same attributes we are making the Chinese job just that much easier for them. This may change as rich, young Chinese take their wealth for granted and opt for the easy country clubby life of the nouveau riche but I wouldn’t count on it.
What I saw was a land of great confidence and, for the moment, great generosity. I was not some foreign devil but an exotic creature with a big (pointed) nose that every one wanted to take pictures off for the folks back home. The command economy that the Chinese can wield without all the restraints of our more Democratic system give them an edge over us. For instance, the Chinese may soon manage to both power their nation and clean the air simultaneously although they have a long ways to go to curb plastic waste.
Oh, and I managed to avoid one of those dreaded pit toilets my entire tour. Bottom’s up China.