As you may know, at least a part of why I've undertaken this trip to China rose out of an interest in discovering how an economically and culturally dynamic society can coexist with a politically repressive government. I've had many suspicions, but I still hadn't gotten down to the nuts and bolts of it with a real Chinese student until meeting a guy named Jack yesterday.
The first thing to know is that the government is very popular. More popular than Obama. That's not skewed polling, and it's not propaganda, the communist party is extremely popular.
And they have an excellent reason to be. Every person in China has seen the material conditions around them vastly improve in their lifetime. Jack was ready to jump into this discussion, as I didn't even ask when he explained, "Most westerners think that china is not democratic, because we have this one-party system, but what most don't realize is that we want the communist party." This from 21-year-old Business Administration student.
Indeed, China has grown into every other aspect of a (until-recently) fast-developing economy. Local media is huge, the night-life is almost indistinguishable from many other places I've been, with the exception that I can afford cabs (even if the environment can't). Saturday morning, young folks stroll through the park to watch the old folks dance. People go about their daily lives, working, shopping, eating.
In the west we are afraid of fear. We have been ever since FDR declared fear our mortal enemy. And life in fear--the Stalin years or the Mao years or the Hussein years or the Nazi years--these are our demons. But people do not live in fear here. How is this possible? It is still common (if you look in the right places) to read of excessive repression of free speech in China. Indeed, there are still many awful instances of brutal, violent, and frightening human rights abuses. But the vast majority is in an entire generation of politically-anesthetized Chinese.
There are plenty of instances of politically-active Chinese citizens, and there are plenty more citizens with some opinion or another, but 'the situation on-the-ground'--as a presidential candidate might say--is a people that have learned to live and enjoy life and otherwise ignore politics all together. And frankly, it's not half bad...
The problem may come when an otherwise politically infantile opposition gains power. But hell, that's years down the road.
This is a topic I hope to continue to develop in the future, so let me know your thoughts in the comments.