Eduardo Zaldivar, June 4th, 2014
My time in China has officially ended. I have grown in many ways over the past two weeks. I will split this last blog post into four parts or subject areas that I will reflect upon: business, economic, social, and political.
As a business student, I was ecstatic to be studying the business environment in China. It is a well-established fact that China has been and will continue to be a powerhouse in the global market. China is the most populated country in the world. The amount of purchasing power its people have is mind-blowing. As someone who dabbles in entrepreneurship, the opportunities seem endless. Of course, one must study the culture and environment carefully to succeed. Luckily, that was exactly what I was doing on this trip. I will keep an ear and eye out for business happenings in China for the rest of my life. The odds are that one day, probably sooner than later, a great opportunity will present itself to me. This all being said, the business environment was almost alien to me. So much is reliant upon factors that are irrelevant in the United States. From quasi log-rolling activities to the “virtue” of conformity, there is so much that I never knew or even guessed at. To quote Napoléon Bonaparte, “China is a sleeping giant. Let her sleep, for when she wakes she will move the world.” Anyone who overlooks or underestimates this great nation will be left behind.
The line between business and economics is often blurred so I will speak briefly on the matter here. My overall feeling after learning of Chinese economics is gratitude. The United States is a wonderful place to live in many ways – one way is economically speaking. The amount of instability, government control, and corruption is something that is unsettling to me. For most people in China, it is a struggle to survive financially. And despite being a socialist state, inequality is still very high. I have a greater appreciation (but not naively so) for the theory of a free-market economy. Once again, my mind is opened to new ideas that I was perhaps previously wary of. On the positive side, things are very cheap in China. Even things that are of higher quality. The group would go out to a high-scale restaurant and we could eat for about $4 each! And we all left satisfied. It was great. Goods and transportation are also comparatively cheap. Of course, wages are much lower here so that is something to take into consideration.
The social aspect of China was blatantly different. The previous two subjects were more subtle and required some studying – not so for Chinese society. The first thing I noticed was how much people liked us. We were asked to pose for pictures with brothers, daughters, mothers, and friends. We felt like celebrities! This was a nice, and perhaps shallow, aspect. But the downside to this was that this treatment was seemingly exclusive to foreigners. The Chinese did not treat each other with too much respect. It is a part of their culture. It is uncommon to trust those who are not in your family (or those who are considered family). But there is an interesting paradox. The culture is communal but only within each respective community. The communities (or families, friend groups, etc.) can be hostile to each other. This is seen little things like getting on the subway or standing in line. Elbows will be thrown and the weak will be cast out or behind. The younger citizens also tend to be pretty shy while the older does not. Males tend to travel with other males and females with females. The exception is couples of course. Back at Texas A&M, my friend groups tend to be a solid combination of both. Our student volunteer, Wen, was surprised that we all hung out in one room together (all 10 of us!). It was an interesting contrast. One aspect I liked about the Chinese social culture was reverence for older people. I feel as if people in China love and care more for their oldies. I, for one, love old people. My grandparents and were and have been very close. The little Chinese babies are also very cute and funny! Onesies often have a butt-flap that is undone whenever and wherever the child needs to poop – gross! Regardless, I lol’d. This would not be allowed in the U.S.
Politically, this situation is also strikingly different. The U.S. is dominated by two parties and has been criticized for its lack of options. But China only has one. The Communist Party of China. They control the government and have so for several decades. Once again, I am very grateful to live in the U.S. Of course the U.S. is not perfect, money has a huge influence on public policy but at least the people still have a fighting chance (whether that chance is diminishing or not will be left to another blog post). In China, the people are subservient to the government. Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter are banned here. Censorship also strikes me as scary and 1984-esque. Of course it can be argued that in the U.S. power is still situated in the hands of few, just like in China. Perhaps the elite class’ subtle control in the U.S. is all the more dangerous than the blatant control in China. Only time will tell.
To close this blog post out succinctly, I’ve been much too verbose thus far, I’d just like to thank my sponsors and Texas A&M for this amazing experience in China. I am returning with stories and lessons to spare. My perspective and life have truly been changed for the better. I will come back to the U.S. a wiser and better person. I am ready to come back to air conditioning, my family, my Meredith, Dr. Pepper, regular toilets, League of Legends, and my Aggie family. One day, I will come back to China – that much I promise. Until then, God bless and Gig ‘Em!