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Travel Reports: China

Crowded like Indian cities, poor people spend time on the streets, cooking, sleeping, and talking. The first time I was in China, the streets were packed with bicycles amazingly moving in harmony. The only time I saw an accident was in Xian when cyclists collided looking at the foreign women—my friend and I–in a rickshaw. Now, 2011, cars have taken over the roads and the Chinese city skies are even smoggier. Cranes are everywhere, tearing down old buildings, although they are an ancient symbol of longevity.

Then everyone was dressed in dark blue Mao suits, but now the cities are filled with fashionable women and men in dark suits and ties or young people in jeans and Ugh boots. In Beijing, a friend and I went jogging in the early morning in our special running shoes when Red Army soldiers ran past us in cloth slip-on shoes. Going to Lhasa in Tibet was the most exotic place I’ve been with the Buddhist temples built into hillsides and the stark beauty of the Himalayan Mountains. It was very sad to see the Chinese government impact there, destruction of Buddhist temples and punishment of monks and nuns, and forbidding any photos or mention of the Dalai Lama. One of the first things I saw was a bound man in the back of a truck being driven to his execution by Chinese soldiers. The Chinese government censors any mention of Tibetan protests.

China has about 367 million people under the age of 18, greater than the population of the U.S. Chinese youth are 20% of the young people in the developing world. As more kids are in school and fewer are employed, the age of marriage is rising. There are more boys than girls because of the one child policy where urban families are expected to have one child, while in rural areas they can have more. Parents who don’t follow the rules get fines and reduced social benefits. Therefore, some parents abort female fetuses or abandon baby girls. The consequence is more than 24 million men could find themselves without a mate by 2020.

In China, some worry about these “Little Emperors” not being disciplined enough, but Chinese kids I surveyed point out these kids work hard to please their parents through school success, which is believed to lead to a good job to help support the parents in their old age. One of the outcomes of fewer children and Mao’s teaching that women hold up half the sky, is most women are employed full-time. Almost one-third of senior managers in business are women, compared to the global average of 22%. Six of the ten richest self-made women in the world are Chinese, according to the Hurun Report.[i]

Another outcome of the one child policy is the divorce rate (now 20% and higher in Beijing) doubled in a decade. Cheng, a young divorced woman explains, “Marriage requires forgiveness, understanding, tolerance and compromise. Yet we post-’80s generation neglect this entirely. No one will compromise. We just argue. Of all my friends who are married, 100 percent are unhappy. Next time I’ll look for a husband with siblings.”[ii] Until 2003, a married couple needed permission from their work unit to divorce. Some of the divorced parents don’t want custody of their child because they think it will hurt their chance of remarriage. Divorce counselor Ming Li reports, “It’s very selfish. That makes up about a third of all cases we see of the post-’80s generation.”

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