Degrees of freedom and the distribution of freedoms

I am in China and I am being surveilled.  I am on a boat and I know there are cameras watching me.  If I use WiFi I cannot use Twitter or Facebook.  This comes to you via a cell phone connection.  I am not free to carry a gun.  I can watch CNN but Fox News seems to be unavailable.  I can walk the streets of big cities at night without fear of being harmed.  I am not as free here as I am in the United States.  The government here, I have always been told, is repressive.  I cannot build what I want wherever I want and cannot even live where I want to live without permission.  The skies in the cities are brown from air pollution. If I were a Chinese citizen, I might not be able to read whatever I want whenever I want.  If I am amongst the 99% of those covered, I can get decent health care from little to nothing.  If I am very wealthy I can pay for health care at a higher level than that afforded others.  If the government decides to build a new high speed rail line and they need my land to do it, they can move me.  I am compensated but I must move if they tell me to do so.  I can ride high speed trains that go to most ever region of the country now and will be everywhere very soon.  In the cities I can ride most everywhere on metro systems that are efficient and allow for comfortable—though crowded—travel to most points.


I can eat very good food. It is abundant and affordable. The governments controls agriculture though there is some room for farmers to make some money on the side. There is currently a project to increase the amount of money farmers are able to make.  All farmers are provided the best tools science has to offer.  The goal of the state is to feed well all of the people.  There are socio-economic classes here.  There are some very rich people who benefit from new economic policies that allow for capitalistic enterprise to exist.  A good portion of the profit is taken by the government and used to pay for infrastructure and other projects that are said to be for the benefit of the people.  My sense is that millions upon millions are benefiting from these projects.  China is rapidly building housing units and roads and schools and colleges and water systems and funding medical and agriculture and the other sciences at high levels.  The benefits of such do seem to be coming to at least most if not all of the people.


In China the president is chosen by the Communist Party.  The Party membership is about 20,000,000 in a country of 1.4 billion. Most of the people do not get to vote for those who run the central government.  People do choose some of their local officials but I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that the central government has some say in these elections. I did hear, when in one of the cities we have visited, that the people pressed the local government to change the way in which students are selected for high school (one must achieve a certain score on a test to attend) so that more would be able to enter and that more high schools be organized.  The mayor pressed the central government for the changes and they are now being implemented.


I am certain that the school curriculum is made to shine a favorable light on the Chinese system of government and that westerners observing would say that the students were being propagandized.  I cannot say honestly that that does not happen in western countries such as the United States.  I do not remember anything good being taught me concerning alternative economic systems when I was a student.  I do remember the cons of communism and socialism being taught with nothing about what the pros might be, that nothing was ever directly said about the problems of capitalism though slavery did come up (hard to hide) and maybe something about poverty, the latter discussed not as a residual of capitalism but of other things that were not the fault of the system.


I can practice religion here but the state does not support it.  The ruling Communist Party is made up of people who are not religious, are communists in part because they see religion as harmful to the good of the state. They allow religion but they tacitly—and in way explicit—advocate against and do not allow religion in anyway to infiltrate the schools or other public institutions.  Pat Robertson. Mr. Graham, and Mr. Falwell and their followers would find it hard to get their names recognized for anything other than being deceivers and scoundrels.   I have seen no give your money to me for Jesus programming on TV.  Yes, what is on TV is controlled by the state and those who own media companies cannot broadcast anything they may want to over China’s airwaves.


I said before that the people do not vote for their leaders and that the government imposes restrictions on people’s freedom.  This is a difficult aspect of the current political system in China for an American to accept.  I am thinking a lot about the fact that I really enjoy much of what I experience here including the spirit of the people under what Americans like to call a repressive government.  It may be that the people are forced to pretend that they like the lives they are living but they do seem to be.  Perhaps they really do want to tell us that they would leave if they could.  If so, the acting is nothing short of magnificent. We have been in train  stations—everywhere, new and ultra-modern—with thousands upon thousands of people with nice suitcases and smiling children lovingly holding their Hello Kitty toys, their parents too seeming to be enjoying the prospect of spending their vacation time in enjoyable ways.  Whereas the tourist sites and the trains to tourist destinations were filled mostly with .foreigners when we first visited these same places 17 years ago, they are mostly about Chinese folk now.  We, foreigners, are outnumbered by hundreds of thousands to one at these incredible sites.  So much better!!!


I will write more. There is a lot to think about and probably some thick skin to try and dig under.  But I do have a sense that what is happening now in China is hardly all that bad.  In fact, I am impressed by what seems to be joyfulness and I do think this is genuine and has something to do with living in a country that is modernizing and not just for the benefit of a few, not so that some can make enormous profits while others suffer, but—should I say it!!!!!!—for the good of the whole—for the common good.

By lafered

Retired professor of education concerned with thoughtfulness

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