The casual summer uniform is the same: shorts, athletic shoes, skirts, t‐shirts, sandals, blouses. Even an occasional baseball cap.
It is a country which the Communist revolutionaries who ruled only four decades ago would not recognize. It’s not just the availability of McDonald’s, Pizza Hut, and KFC. As I sat in a German restaurant featuring steins full of beer and platters covered with sausages listening to a Chinese band cover American pop songs I had to remind myself that I was only a short drive from Tiananmen Square, Mao’s mausoleum, and Zhongnanhai, the Communist Party’s leadership compound.
True believers still exist. One yesterday spoke to me reverently of Mao Zedong’s rise to power and service to the Chinese people. She said people today viewed him as “kind of a god, a Buddha.” However, she is the exception, at least among China’s younger professionals. Few Chinese I meet much think about “the Great Helmsman,” as Mao is known, despite the fact that his image remains common in the People’s Republic of China. When I looked at a Mao souvenir, the vendor told me the infamous dictator was “a bad man.” Certainly no one who realizes that his madcap reign caused the deaths of tens of millions of people identifies with him.
Indeed, younger educated Chinese could not be further from Communist cadres once determined to create a socialist state. The former increasingly emphasize individuality: They are socially active, desire the newest technologies, and worry about going to good schools and getting good jobs. Cynicism about corrupt and unelected leaders is pervasive. Last year a student told me, in front of his classmates, how much he preferred America’s system of electing the national legislature. A couple days ago a female high school student told me that the government was “cruel.”
If there is one common belief, it is hostility toward the government’s Internet controls. Students have complained to me in class about their inability to get to many websites. They don’t like restrictions on what they can see and say. Virtual private networks are routinely shared and irritation with state barriers to access is readily expressed.
But such opinions are not held only by the young. Adults who lived through the Cultural Revolution are only too aware of the mercurial horror of past Communist rule. A high school student told me that his father urged him to study in America because of the restrictions on freedom.
While Chinese from all walks of life are comfortable telling foreigners what they think about their lives, leaders, and nation, sharing those beliefs with other Chinese is problematic. The media, of course, is closely controlled; errant journalists are silenced and fired while publications are suspended and closed. Internet sites are blocked, deleted, and revamped. Unofficial intimidation, legal restrictions, and even prison time await those who take to social media and blogs to criticize Communist officialdom.
But increasingly globalized Chinese are acutely aware of their online disadvantage compared to their peers in the West. Forget any website which encourages dissent, offers specific criticism of Chinese officialdom, and or could aid dissidents. Google, YouTube, and Twitter are verboten. News sites come and go, sometimes without obvious reason. Today Bloomberg and the New York Times are beyond reach. In contrast, the Washington Post loads without incident; perhaps not coincidentally, the Postpartners with China Daily.