From East to West

When I look around at the contents of my room, I’ve come to realize that I’ve never wondered where they were made.  I have not been conscious of the fact that most of what I own comes from a different country other then the one I’m residing in. My laptop, my phone, the sweater in my closet, all say they were made in the East. While living in Dundee, the two stores I frequent most are H&M, a Swedish owned company and Primark, a British company. I considered the fact that even though these companies are owned by Western brands it is likely that their products are manufactured in the East. Indeed, H&M and Primark’s goods are produced in Asia.

Primark Ad
H&M Ad

I asked other Dundee residents if they were aware of where most of what they own comes from. Some were very aware of where their products came from while others were hesitant in answering. Becca Clow was well aware that most of what she owns is exported from Asia. She stated how she has always had an interest in technology and a curiosity regarding where it originated. Catherine Sutherland said that she simply looks at the labels on her clothing; she generally likes to know where the things she owns come from.  However, like me, Katelyn Burns had never really put much thought in to the labels on her clothing and electronics. She’d had basic knowledge that the East played a role in product distribution. She went on to say, “I know many labels do say ‘Made in China’ but I thought a high-end American product such as Apple would be manufactured in the States. I assumed if I was buying these products in America they should be made in America. I had no idea so much is made in the East.” The “Made in China” label has become the most identifiable brands in the world today. “Made in Taiwan” and “Made in Indonesia” are close seconds. These labels signify a booming manufacturing industry in Asia where the exportation of goods has become their primary form of profit.

Products made in China have the reputation of being poor in quality. An explanation for the affordability of brands such as H&M and Primark is due to the fact that these products are produced at little cost at a rapid pace. When goods are produced at lows costs, low quality in what i is to be expected. Consumers can tell when a product is made strictly for profit with no consideration for those who will be buying the merchandise. Becca Clow went on to say, “things made in Scotland are of good quality because they are made for those who live in Scotland. There is no reason to expend money on products that are not for you. “ When products are made domestically with domestic materials the quality increases but so does the price. People are willing to sacrifice quality for lower prices yet we still blame China for producing goods not up to par.

Though China has this bad reputation, I do not think that the products coming out of China are exclusively poor in quality. I believe there is bad as well as good.  When we buy cheaply, we loose the right to comment on the poor quality. I think if we were willing to pay more, China could offer us improved merchandise. I think the companies employing these factories in China are to blame. They play a major role in the output of poor quality goods. There needs to be a level of responsibility on the part of the Western companies utilizing the Chinese factories.

We all seem to be generally aware of the fact that what we own does not originate where we have bought it. Most of what we own has been fabricated in Asia. Even though we claim to be aware, we ignore these facts because we live in a society in which affordability outweighs lack of quality.  Being aware doesn’t always mean being accountable for what we purchase.

Chinese Philosophy in the Western World

Ancient Chinese thought was a blend of two philosophical movements. In 500 BC, Kung Fu Tzu (Confucius) was teaching from the Six Classics, ancient Chinese books about art, philosophy and history. He combined these books with his own ideas to make what would be called Confucianism – a philosophical system studied all over the world. Within China this system would become a part of society, affecting the education system, influencing social behaviour and developing customs and traditions in family life.

In balance with this was the school of thought called Taoism, established at about the same time by Lao Tzu. The Taoists drew their inspiration from nature and focused on observing and understanding its Tao, or ‘Way’. The Way is interpreted as the ultimate force that pervades all matter and events. It is the process of the universe and is known as Brahman in Hinduism, Dharmakaya or ‘Suchness’ in Buddhism, and is what Christianity might call God.

These two different philosophies both appreciate the underlying principle of balance in the universe. The idea that any two opposites are bound together. In the West we are familiar with the ‘Yin and Yang’ symbol. It illustrates the endless cycle of change, which is the main focus of the I Ching – a Confucian Classic that has a following in the western world. I Ching translates as ‘Book of Changes’ and focuses on understanding the flow of change in the world. The system described in the book can also be applied in day-to-day life, and for this reason it seems more accessible to Westerners.

In attempting to study Chinese thought, the main problem is with the vast difference in language. Mandarin is an emotional language – the characters are pictorial. They haven’t totally lost their visual meaning the way the western alphabets have. Words in Mandarin seem to be sung in tones, their words have different meanings and can be nouns, verbs, adjectives. The language conveys emotions and feelings on a level that is hard for Westerners to pick up on unless they are fluent.

Because Mandarin is fundamentally different from Western languages, it is very difficult for people in the West to access the wealth of philosophical and mystical knowledge available in China. This is the same reason the ‘Yin and Yang’, known in China as T’ai-chi T’u (‘Diagram of the Supreme Ultimate’), is recognised in the West as an icon  depicting the constant flow of change and the balance of opposites. It was designed, like many logos and motifs, to transcend language.

Another way to bypass the language barrier is using physical movement and meditation. In Taoism, as in Hinduism and Buddhism, meditation is used to clear the mind and find balance, and ultimately to observe and understand the universe. But as well as having spiritual value, meditation can be helpful in everyday life. T’ai Chi Ch’uan is a meditative martial art that has close links to Taoism. Its philosophical aim is to combine the two opposites, yin and yang, into a Supreme Ultimate, but T’ai Chi Chuan has become popular all over the globe for its health benefits and as a self-defence technique, as well as its value as way to clear the mind and relax.

Both Taoism and Confucianism have become recognised and studied in the world outside China. Books such as the I Ching are available online anywhere. Confucius is a big name in philosophy studied and appreciated internationally, and T’ai Chi Chuan is practised in many places in the world. But because of their complex, malleable language and very different customs, much of the knowledge and wisdom of the old Chinese masters seems unobtainable in the West.

China’s Peaceful Rise

America has only been known as a ‘Super Power’ for 67 years, since the end of World War II, along with Russia and the British Empire. However after the ‘Cold War’, America continued to grow in power and reputation than the other nations. And that is the way it stayed… until now.

 China has been making massive trade and investment deals with Latin America and Africa, allowing them to make their stand as one of the players for being the new superpower. The media have been saying that the 21st century is China’s century. Very much like the 20th belonged to the Americans and the 19th to the British.

Barry Buzan is Montague Burton Professor of International Relations at the London School of Economics. He has been following China’s Economical growth and asserts that,

“China certainly presents the most promising all-round profile”. Of a potential superpower. Buzan claims that,

“China is currently the most fashionable potential superpower and the one whose degree of alienation from the dominant international society makes it the most obvious political challenger.” China has entered its new ‘Golden Age’ of prosperity. Since the loosening of the chains of Communism, China has grown considerable wealthy. Although the wealth is confined to the major cities, Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong and Chongqing. The wealth gap doesn’t seem to deter the Chinese from going to strength to strength in the world rankings. This growth in the economy hasn’t gone unnoticed by the rest of the world.

Many critics cite this as China’s down fall. History tells us that the Chinese people only allow a governing body to rule when there is prosperity in the land, this may be true for some but the vast majority of people living in China are living a poor life. In June 2011, there were riots in the Guangdong province of China, the manufacturing heartland. The riots were over unpaid wages and the heavy-handed response to the workers upset. This shows the social unrest of China’s poor majority, migrant workers from the countryside, the mainstay of China’s Economy. Working away from home, for little wages and long hours

‘Unrest is thought to have become increasingly frequent, although data is hard to come by. The Chinese Academy of Social Sciences has estimated that there were more than 90,000 mass incidents in 2006, with further increases in the following two years. ‘ 

Tania Branigan, the Guardian Newspaper.

However China fails to recognise this at the moment and ploughs on developing its cities and businesses. They have even published a White Paper called, ‘China’s Peaceful Development’, the name was changed from ‘China’s Peaceful Rise’ as it may have been misconstrued as threating.

Five Chapters of ‘China’s Peaceful Development’

The report’s main aim is to assure America and the rest of Asia that China’s ‘Military and Economical prominence will not pose a threat to peace and stability, and that other nations will benefit from PRC’s rising power and influence.’ 

Over all China has accomplished so much progression in the past decades and deserve to be an accredited country, however there is still serious issue within China and they will not progress more unless they realise their own problems, instead of what the world thinks of China, especially the USA.

Potential Superpower: China

The experience of visiting China

Chinas image abroad.

China is said to be the worlds up and coming super power but as western tourists is all we are told about China country true? To help answer this question I have been conducting interviews with people who are not native to China but have been there as tourists. They have seen both sides and had many quite differing opinions.

When conducting my interviews I realised most people had either a very positive view or a very negative view of the country. I feel this maybe was to due with outside circumstances however. For example one person I interviewed visits China for work and connections with the universities where as another was just in China for a few days.

Weather people where prepared for it or not China seems to be a culture shock. A common thing that was mentioned was the rich to poor divide. People were not prepared for it. In China 1% of the population own 99% of the wealth. For example one person I interviewed is living in China working as a creative manager His example was:
‘In my workplace, there are around 250 staff. Only around 2 or 3 of these staff earn more than £1000 a month, with the rest earning significantly less. Everywhere you go, you see beggars and very poor looking people. You also meet very rich people who throw their money around without thinking twice. What I have noticed is that there is no middle ground, people are either rich or poor.’

The conclusion from my interviews on this topic seems to be that China’s portrayed to be very technology forward and lot wealthier than it seems whilst there. The difference between the Chinese people is not shown to the rest of the world and the poverty shocks people.

Many people weren’t prepared for the language barrier China has. As English speakers we are very complacent in thinking everyone will speak a little English. From my interviews although China maybe appears through the media to be going through globalization when visiting there it seems people are still surprised to see a European. The Chinese have different mannerism as well and people didn’t expect this. It is very foreign compared to visiting other countries. People have been brought up differently and behave differently to how we would in the West. People spit on buses and ‘kamikaze’ across roads. I was told a story by one of the interviewees that a tour guide told them he had never left Beijing and never would. All his money went to his family and for a wedding. He was shocked that two girls were traveling across the world and had funded it themselves. This culture shock is not something people realised about China before they were there. It not something that is shown or made obvious to the rest of the world but perhaps this is something that should be expected? And it is no different from the rest of the world. One interviewee said ‘ There may be a lot hidden from western media but our county hides a lot too.’

Politically the West portrays China very negatively with a lack of freedom of speech and no voting system but from the people I interviewed a different story comes out. Having spoken to Chinese people they are very positive about the government, which is there by consent.

‘I spoke to a local about the birds nest that had just been built for the Olympics he as extremely positive even though he had made it clear the governments controversial spending meant a lot of poor Chinese had no way out of deprivation.’

China shows itself to the world as being united politically and it seems to be. As long as the country is growing the Chinese people are positive and support the government. It was also said that the government is bigger part of people’s lives. The party is involved in the universities and is always around. Some people were surprised at how capitalist China was as it is always said to be communist and is associated with communism.

So given what I learnt and heard does China sell it self to tourists. Does this affect it trying to show itself as a modern country? Perhaps China is trying to hard to be modern. The vast division between the rich and poor means it isn’t the modern country it tries to make itself appear to be. The impression that concludes is that the amount of money spent in making China look superficially modern, that could be spent on its poverty, is perhaps the reason it appears not to be modern when there. They seem to put a lot of money into looking good, photo shopping pictures, rather than dealing with the countries underlying issues that seem to be more urgently needing addressed.

China’s Image Abroad

China is one of the world’s oldest civilizations with a history and culture that spans over several centuries. Today, China is considered one of the fastest growing economies in the world. Modern China’s economy is based significantly on the export of products. However, one of their biggest imports is tourism, which has become a monumental part of modern day China. With its historic landmarks and unique culture, China attracts people from all over the world. China is a country where the old meets the new.

Allison Weiner, a 20-year-old college student from New York, stated that her only real knowledge of China was based on the Disney movie, Mulan, a children’s film about a girl who joins the Chinese army in ancient China. “When I think of China and its culture, I honestly refer back to that movie,” said Weiner. Though the film, Mulan, is partly fictional, it does include animated scenes depicting the Great Wall of China and Beijing’s Forbidden City. At a young age, Weiner was introduced to the stereotypical imagery found in China. Weiner then states after reflecting back on the movie, ”Nothing in America is that old. I know that the Chinese architecture I saw in Mulan still stands in China today.” With America being such a young country, Weiner felt captivated by China’s vast history and ancient traditions. However interested she was in China’s history, Weiner was a bit skeptical about modern China. It was clear that her appreciation of China’s past was not the same when it came to her views of the Chinese government. Weiner was a bit intimidated by the harsh stories she’d heard about China’s oppressive government. Her current opinion of China appeared quite different from her childhood fantasy of China. She admitted that she was a bit reluctant to visit. Glasgow resident and Scottish University student, Rebecca Clow, age 19, finds herself fascinated by Chinese culture because of how different it is from her own. She understands that as a European, her exposure to Chinese culture has been altered by western influence. She is eager to experience the authentic China and learn more about their way of life. Clow is drawn to the natural landscape of China and the vast beauty it possess. In the eyes of westerners and people who have never been to China, it is represented as a country with an extensive past. Though certain political aspects are still ambiguous to most, people are enticed to travel there out of sheer curiosity.

From the perspective of two Chinese citizens, China is indeed an exotic destination. Fan Xu, age 22, from Shanghai, believes that tourists are drawn to China because it is so mysterious. The old oriental features and ancient sites attract people from all over the world. The architecture and even the people have very specific characteristics. People are inherently interested in the unknown and the different.  By coming to China, tourists are introduced to the old China and the new China. The collision of both worlds is exciting to many. Diamond Ng, age 22, from Hong Kong, agrees that the Great Wall of China, the Forbidden City, and the recently built Olympic stadium in Beijing are key contributors to tourism in China. When asked if China was accurately represented to tourists, Diamond stated that it was somewhat accurate but not entirely. She mentioned that there are beautiful places in China but there are other aspects that are hidden behind the beauty. The government, however, should not deter people from visiting China. Censorship has been an issue in China, limiting the freedom of speech for many, but this issue has lessened in recent years due to the Internet. Diamond went on to explain that those who are kept out of China are typically citizens who have spoken out frequently and negatively against the government, “Most tourist are not being monitored. Only those who are sensitive to political interest are monitored. Normal tourists are all welcome.”

Tourists have clear expectations as to what China has to offer. People who have never visited appear to know about all the featured places and famous attractions. There seems to be much more to China then what is represented in the media. Even though China is a rapidly developing modern country, the ancient aspects of China seem to be exploited over the contemporary.