China 2006

The Yin and the Yang of It

Jocelyn Ford Dec 6, 2005

It’s an intimidating task, being the lone Marketplace correspondent in the world’s fastest growing major economy, and its most populous nation.

How to explain in daily 50 sec or 4-minute nuggets what China is about?

When I travel back to the U.S., I am confronted with so many misconceptions about China. Not surprising. This is a fast-changing place, full of paradoxes. Often, it seems everything and its opposite is true. You know, the Yin and the Yang?

In many ways, China is a lot freer than many back home think. People in parts of this country aren’t afraid to mouth off about the government, even into my microphone. Many are eager to! But elsewhere, it’s like “old times,” when folks feared a disparaging comment could land them in deep trouble. A reporter friend in one place China Week plans to visit said there are spies in her news office. She doesn’t know who is monitoring her. But she could lose her job if she’s heard talking openly to me about the wrong topic. She only dares tell me the “real” news, the stuff that’s been deleted by the censors, when we are in person.

When people start talking about “Communist China” I ask them what “communism” means to them. The government may be authoritarian, but these days it’s listening to opinions from a broader swath of the population. And it’s trying to become more populist. Creating a “middle class” is in. There is very little “Communist” ideology evident around here. And the central government in Beijing is hardly monolithic– it struggles to get provinces to follow its lead.

China is more diverse than the U.S. There are scores of mutually unintelligible dialects. There are cuisines New York Chinatown diehard diners have never even heard of! Traveling here is like taking a ride in a time machine. A large part of the country still lives in the 18th century. Others are helping create the cutting edge of the 21st century.

There’s a significant minority population. Many in America know about Tibet, but what about the Muslim Uighur Minority in the far western province Xinjiang? Beijing is fearful of this group. Uighurs in government or university complain they aren’t allowed to observe Ramadan, the month of fasting. Many of them don’t speak any dialect of Chinese– even though their ancestors have lived in the same territory for centuries.

To top off the challenge of reporting from China: this country changes at a rate unfathomable to most Americans. In the three months since the first Marketplace production team arrived, an entire side of the street near the Bureau has been demolished. It looks like pictures of bombed out cities during World War II, except that the destruction is more orderly. And the new buildings go up overnight. The mentality here changes just about as fast.

Phew! Soon, I’ll have a few more Marketplace comrades here to help unravel what’s going on around here for our fabulous audience.

Welcome team, to China Ground Zero!

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