Looking Back: 3 Lessons from China

Written by Daniel Costie

The first lesson learned was to appreciate a clear blue sky.  Each city that we visited, there was also a thin layer of smog slightly blocking a clear view of the sky.  After awhile, I then began to get used to it.  As I arrived in Denver last week and was welcomed by the clear, blue Colorado sky, I remembered that the weather experienced in Beijing and Shanghai was not normal.  This speaks to a community’s ability to ‘live with it.’  Air quality has been a challenge that the average individual has had to deal with for at least the past decade.  If I adapted to the weather so quickly, I can understand how a community can view a thin layer of dust in the air as a normal component of city life.

The political structure of China is also an important lesson that I learned during those five weeks.  From the media and many textbooks, I had come to believe that China’s politics were rigid, monolithic and hierarchical.  While it is true that there have been points in China’s history where this structure did exist, power is slowly becoming decentralized and those in power are more responsive to outside actors such as the media, academia, and the general public.  It is no longer true to say that all decisions come from the top and all policies are implemented in a rigid manner.  Within the body politic there is compromise, reform, and the representation of a larger portion of Chinese society than I had thought. 

The last of these three lessons regards the balance a country must make between sustaining a population that is healthy and educated and sustaining that very environment that may become polluted in the process.  Economic development and environmental conservation can seem to butt heads in this respect.  China, however, is attempting to demonstrate to the world that both can occur; that they do not have to slow down their movement to bring the masses out of poverty if they want to also breathe clean air and drink clean water.  Whether this experiment will prove to produce both, only time will tell. 

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