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Who am I to Judge China?

I’m not exactly sure how these things happen, but the other day my blog post got put up on a Chinese website (the section was later deleted). The title of the article had been translated pretty well. The name got translated to “China Sees Red,” which isn’t quite what I take it to mean, but its close. The post there led to some interesting discussion and a few naïve comments (it is still the internet, no matter the country). The big question though was; who is this American to judge China?

It’s a fair question, so let me introduce myself. I had wanted to work in China since I was 16 and spent the 5 following years studying Chinese Language and history. I was enchanted, like most people, by its long history and rich culture. When I finished college I joined a Chinese charity organization and volunteered for two years in rural Guangxi, before spending a year in Chengdu and finally arriving in Nanjing for two more years. Over these past few years I have traveled to more than 30 Chinese cities.

The things I saw there made me love China in the same way that I love my home country. However people who know me back in the States would tell you that I am no more critical of the things happening in China than I am of the things happening in the US. I have a sense of patriotism for both countries, and during the 2008 Olympics I even cheered for China over the US from time to time.

My definition of patriotism might differ from yours. To me it means loving the country, but it doesn’t mean that I have to love the government. I have devoted a big chunk of my life to helping the Chinese people. So when China became the second biggest GDP, I was excited for what that might mean for all of my former students. When Nanjing remembered the Japanese invasion, I bowed my head in silence, even if my Chinese coworkers didn’t. At the same time, when policies are made that limit freedom, or when the poor are exploited for the sake of the rich, I am going to complain, because I truly love this country.

The purpose of this blog, as I see it, is to provide an alternative view of the most populous country in the world. The means I’m going to try to avoid whining about things that I don’t actually see or experience. It also means though that I’m not going to be referring to China as “resplendent,” or “admired by the world” like the People’s Daily does.

My hope is that by reading this blog, day by day, people will come to a better understanding of what China is really like for the people living here. I hope that this will help China from seeming like a faceless mass and help people to start seeing the individuals who make up my second home.


11 Comments

  1. Chopstik says:

    Alternative points of view are necessary – even if they’re not always wanted. What you are likely to find is that some people will agree with you, others will disagree, and the rest will simply not care enough to want to understand. I wonder if this follow-up post will be similarly dissected as the one you reference as being published on a Chinese site?

  2. Marvin Eckfeldt says:

    Interesting development, Tom. I had been wondering how widely your Blog was being read and how some of your observations might be received. I guess we now know from this one response! It’s been unseasonably cold in Seattle, but at least we have the capacity to keep warm. Take good care.

  3. Mike says:

    Just stumbled across your blog today – your write very well, I’m a follower of a lot of Chinese blogs but yours in one of the few that focuses on everyday life in China in a really informative. Added the site to Google reader and look forward to future posts.

  4. john book says:

    You seem to have a pretty good blog here. I like the “everyday life” view of it.

    I lived in Japan for a number of years as a missionary. Even though many missionaries thought you could learn, or not learn, about a country just by reading a book or two, I believe you have the right out-look. You gotta live there and make good friends to know what is more real or at least more accurate in the national’s lives.

    Perhaps we can trade stories some time…. hope you will keep up the good writing!

    • Tom says:

      Thank you for your comment John. I am always impressed by people whose faith leads them to actually take action. Feel free to email me anytime and I would be happy to trade stories.

  5. JF says:

    Great stuff, I will be relying on your blogs for honesty and realism to prepare me for living in China ( I hope). Very informative and relevant.

    Best wishes, Jin Feng.

  6. coke4light says:

    Your blog was listed on my friend’s blogroll. This is how i got here. It’ very interesting to “watch” your life in China, and to “hear” your insight about China, your 2nd home, mostly, your passion for the people and their life impresses me. So just want you know, that you r doing a great job helping people in the world to see the big red country, my big red country. So xie xie to you. Keep up the good work, jia you.

  7. cburell says:

    If you’ve written anywhere about why you think Western Christian missionaries are something China needs today, or do any sort of good that an NGO with no strings attached couldn’t do, I’d be interested to read that. I’m assuming you know the history from Ricci (or even Xavier and Ruggieri) forward. Just wondering how people’s minds work about all of this.

    I appreciate the desire to do good and help. I just wonder if a bit more Daoist or Confucian reflection might complicate the certainty that religious meddling really does help. Kangxi had much good sense about missionaries, and seemed to see them more clearly than they saw themselves.

    But what is, is. I just hope you’re not causing too much disharmony in your wake as you try to import your goods.

    • Tom says:

      I actually just returned from a trip visiting projects started by Chinese Christians around China and will be writing a few posts on the topic.
      I think it’s a fair question to ask whether or not Confucian or Buddhist organizations would be better able to provide some of these services (or even a non-religious one), and whether or not this meddling is beneficial. From what I’ve seen though, these groups aren’t as active as Christian. Perhaps due to the proselytizing nature of Christianity.
      From where I sit, it’s hard not to see the ways in which Christians have helped China. However, I am sitting in a hospital founded by missionaries that now treats several million people a year. This city is also proud of hosting several of the best universities in the country, they also happen to have been founded by missionaries. So while I acknowledge that the past has been messy and chaotic, there has been a lot of lasting good while the treaty ports and opium trade have long disappeared.

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