The written media [I don't have a TV, so don't see that medium] are full of our presumptive presidential candidates and of China in it's pre-Olympic frenzy of self-advertisement. What do China, Obama and McCain have in common beside share of headlines? Well manicured superficial facts that tell me very little that I want to read or remember. At the moment I don't like any of them very much. And I am in many ways quite ignorant about all of them.
I thought I knew a fair amount about China. I've been there twice -- and if some peruse my passports they will say I've been there four times. But no! I've been to China twice and to Tibet twice. Sunday's NYTimes had an eduction supplement as they do a few times a year. Its usual quiz was about China. I did very poorly. I wonder how many people did well because I think I am fairly well versed on the country But, indeed, there is so little I know about that vast, over-populated country.
I first heard of China in grade school, a library book with a story about fishermen who had cormorants, with rings round their necks, fishing for them. For a long time that was what I knew although I had never seen a cormorant. Gradually I learned more and think I know a fair amount of history from Lao Tzu and the Tao, the I Ching, Confucius onward and then the horror of Mao's years and the destructive force of the Red Guards -- oh, and in the middle there was Ghengis Khan and his progency who ruled China for a long while. But now I'm being told in articles and magazines about how wonderful it is that finally a middle class is buying cars and living comfortably.
And, yes, McCain and Obama are telling us they know how to solve all America's problems and the newsmen and women are analyzing what they say -- and I don't believe most of it. Things change a lot when one has been elected and get much more complicated. Likewise, all those wonderful computer whiz kids in China, those entrepreneurs -- hmm? I remember walking about the Stone Forest, a beautifully laid out park in Yunnan [with the handsomest public bathroom I've ever been in -- orchids in a vase on the washstand] and seeing the equivalent of our own bus tours to historic sites, middle aged middle class Chinese citizens who had, at last, the money and leisure to see their own natural wonders. Likewise the World Heritage city of LiJiang so crowded one could barely walk the narrow streets where all the old shops now sold the same mixture of tourist souveniers. I remember a sweet retired woman in her hutong courtyard home telling us how wonderful it was to have a pension and comfort. And a number of young women trained as guides spouting the statistics about their cities.
And I think of the Tibetan lamas and nuns arrested last March, languishsing, perhaps being gratuitiously tortured for refusing to give up their faith and devotion to the Dalai Lama. Meanwhile the Chinese honchos assume we have forgotten that brief, brave call for freedom because the media has lost interest and moved on to the athletes and the grand new stadia and the briefly clean air in Beijing, which was so smoggy when I was there I couldn't see the nearby mountains. How is one to look at all the shining news about our presidential hopefuls and about the "new" China? My answer is, with profound skepticism about all of it.
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