Urban China’s westernization more visible to visitors

Mao in the Morning, Oct 3, 2006

The Sunday Record
Troy, NY

By Bill Marcus

Standing on Tiananmen Square where history’s ink is far from dry, you can see the countdown clock tick off the seconds until the July 1, 1997 takeover of Hong Kong.

A few blocks from Mao Zedong’s tomb you buy the Herald-Tribune and read Anthony Lewis’ scathing criticism of the Chinese government’s treatment of its dissidents. Voice of American and the BBC are available on short wave. In fact, that is how many learn English.

Few even care about politics. Making money or “jumping into the sea” of business is first and foremost on the mind of the Chinese.

Foreign businessmen say Chinese Communism has been reinvented to make China safe for foreign capital. Even the langue of socialism is changing.

Socialism now permits three types of ownership: state, local, and personal, a party leader told our student group.

In Guangzhou, three hours south of Beijing by plane, the spokesman for a village-owned fan and air conditioning factory admitted that the firm’s chief executive officer earns 10 times more than his employees, and that there are few women in the corporation’s management.

Across town, half-million dollar condominiums were sold before they were even built.

People could be seen buying flowers and dogs are kept as pets. On city streets, Western cars jockeyed for position with over-stuffed buses.

Cemeteries are under construction in this nation that once mandated cremation to preserve the 16 percent of the land that is aerable.

Still, some of the China persists. Two Dutch travelers said when they were on Tiananmen Square on June 4, the sixth anniversary of the 1989 student uprising, plain-clothes officers, posing as tourists, had asked them about their trip.

A student at Beijing University, the birth-place for nearly every national political uprising in this century, said when he tried to go off campus for a bite to eat June 4 he had to pass through numerous layers of guards. Foreigners are still not allowed on campus without an escort.

And certain political traditions persist. One part-time radio talk show host said he has the freedom to say anything on his show, so long as he doesn’t criticize the government or the party.

The trajectory is for positive change, however, and standing on Tiananmen Square one gets the feeling that you can see it all.

Photo caption (in the original story): The Hard Sell: A department store employee demonstrates a pasta machine to Beijing shoppers, who are increasingly seeing western products.