The China experience:
Going to China is a big decision for the traveler. It is far away. Flights from Dublin to Beijing take about 14 hours. The language and culture is different and the stories of China are various. Stories of rapid development, hard work, rich cultures, human rights abuses, liberalization and oppression, opening up to the outside world and yet closed in many ways are common narratives of China in the West. It is all this and much more in this mysterious and secretive land.
Arriving on a Sunday afternoon and going immediately, to visit the Lama Buddhist Temple in Beijing defied ones’ previous view that religion was dead and not allowed. Many Chinese love going to the temple to offer incense and prayers. Although the Party line is that religion is a sign of the underdevelopment of a people it will work with it and control it according to their rules.
The rules are enforced by surveillance and the security system while not very public or interfering to the visitor is everywhere. In our hotel a security officer in uniform was ever present. Visiting Tiananmen Square the scene of the most public massacre of hundred s of Chinese some years ago the police and army trucks are present in full uniform.
Tiananmen Square and its surrounding symbolize the complexity of China. Here lies the tomb of Mao Tse Tung the great liberator of China in the eyes of many Chinese – a man who restored their pride although over 30 million people died of starvation during his crazy ‘’Great Leap forward plan’ and whose cultural revolution burned books, closed universities and killed and imprisoned intellectuals who were seen as tolls of western imperialism. The location of his tomb is also the location of the most recent efforts to stand up against the party for free speech and democracy and what a violent response it received.
This is also the location of the Forbidden City representing the different Emperors of the different dynasties of China. It is an architectural masterpiece and brimming with history and riches of the Chinese culture which was somewhat feudal in nature but represents also China in its glory days.
All these ‘tourist sites ‘are located in the capital of Beijing- an ultra modern city of almost 20 million people with modern architecture and a rail and road system that matches and outstrips any modern European and American city. It is the shop window of China, was location of the very successful Olympic Games and also is a much polluted city. If one does move out of Beijing and go into the countryside one gets a very one sided view of China where the disparity between the rich and poor is growing, where almost 30% of the rivers and waterways are so polluted that the health and food supply on millions of Chinese is adversely affected. In the jewel of China ,Beijing, one breathes the greatest crisis of China and that is lack of clean air and pure drinking water. China greatest crisis is perhaps an environmental one. The lack of regulation over dirty industry, the incessant and rapid drive for progress at any cost has damages the health millions of people in China. The situation will only get worse because the greed of vested interests that are linked to the party do not favor regulation.
If China does not regulate its dirty industries and work on environment issues it could experience a greater humiliation than the opium wars.
This environmental crisis is not only China’s problem it is a problem for its neighbors but also for the whole worlds since all of us share the same air.