China’s Door Begins to Open
CHINA no longer is a ‘sleeping dragon’ in seclusion. In recent years it has burst onto the world scene. Now known as the People’s Republic of China, it is emerging as a potential world “superpower.”
China has within its borders from 750 to 800 million people, the most populous nation on earth. With such a large population, a huge land area with vast natural resources, and its even possessing nuclear weapons and missiles, China’s influence in world affairs keeps increasing.
For two decades after 1949, the year Communist forces took over the mainland, China remained largely “closed” to foreign visitors. But in the last few years, this has changed. China has opened its door to people from other nations. Their observations shed light on how the country has developed in the past twenty-five years.
Why Closed So Long?
Why has China been a relatively “closed” society for the past quarter century? A look into the past helps us to understand.
For centuries China remained in almost total isolation. But then, in the 1800’s, European nations began demanding concessions in trade and territory. In 1839 Britain fought Chinese forces in what is called the “Opium War.” The British demanded, and won, the right to sell opium to the Chinese people.
The next hundred years proved to be years of humiliation for the Chinese. Foreign powers parceled out territory rights as well as economic and political privileges. As the 1974 Encyclopædia Britannica says:
“In the century preceding 1950 . . . it remained helpless as foreign powers nibbled at its territory and resources and as its humiliated people struggled for bare subsistence.
“Although it was called an ‘independent country,’ its status and condition resembled that of a foreign colony.”
Since the dominating foreign powers were mostly nations of Christendom, the “culture” they brought with them was resented. This helps to explain why the religions of Christendom took so little real hold among the Chinese people.
For a Westerner raised in relative comfort, a trip to China in the “old days” could be a jarring experience. A sensitive visitor was repeatedly shocked by the poverty, hunger and lack of sanitation. He was constantly confronted by beggars, prostitutes, homeless persons and orphans.
When the Communist revolution succeeded in 1949, a tidal wave of reaction followed. The political, religious, economic and social arrangements that had come from the West were largely destroyed. And not wanting any further interference from foreign powers, China’s new rulers kept their nation largely “closed” to outsiders, until recently.
What Visitors Say
The impressions now coming from visitors to China are unique in their similarity. A typical conclusion is that of David Rockefeller, chairman of the board of Chase Manhattan Bank in New York:
“General economic and social progress is . . . impressive. Only 25 years ago, starvation and abject poverty are said to have been more the rule than the exception in China. Today, almost everyone seems to enjoy adequate, if Spartan, food, clothing and housing.
“Streets and homes are spotlessly clean, and medical care greatly improved. Crime, drug addiction, prostitution and venereal disease have been virtually eliminated. Doors are routinely left unlocked. Rapid strides are being made in agriculture, reforestation, industry and education.”
Similarly, United States Senate Majority Leader Mike Mansfield stated:
“It is a changed China from the one I knew and visited years ago. There are no beggars on the street; people seem healthy; everyone seems to be working. There is enough food and clothing, and a feeling of belonging to the community has developed in place of the old family concept alone. . . .
“They’ve been able to keep on a sound budgetary base. They have no external debt; they have no internal debt. They have only a little taxation. . . .
“There was no sign of delinquency among the young people. The streets were safe, and there wasn’t much pollution. They haven’t allowed their rivers to become polluted because of the wise way in which they use human waste—for fertilizer.”
After an extensive visit to China, writer Wassily Leontief related in Atlantic magazine: “The contrast with the sea of misery and utter destitution . . . in the rest of the so-called underdeveloped world is so striking that it is almost unbelievable.”
Thus, there seems to be no doubt that there has been tremendous material progress in China. Many of the most serious and depressing bad conditions of old times seem, to a large extent, to have been remedied.
Massive Education Effort
Much of what is being done in China today revolves around the massive effort being made in all fields of education. Saturday Review states: “Nearly everyone in the People’s Republic of China seems to be involved in some form of education or re-education.”
China claims to have about 150 million students in school. There is also much additional education of adults who already are at work. Even retired people are often “reeducated.” And in all this education heavy emphasis is given to practical knowledge rather than theoretical.
For instance, Chinese children learn such things as removing the cork from bottle caps to facilitate their recycling. They are taught to clean streets, run errands for old people, or to make small parts actually used in the production of goods.
Teaching techniques stress collective behavior rather than individual advancement. When a visitor to one school observed that the playing blocks were too large and too heavy to be easily handled by one child, the Chinese teachers exclaimed: “Exactly! That fosters mutual help.” Thus, the individual is taught to be submerged in the mass.
After observing the Chinese education system, Saturday Review said:
“Young people are convinced that they are playing a role in the creation of the future of China and the world and appear to be motivated by the concept of service rather than by personal gains. No one is considered worthless; even the deaf-mute and the cripple can make a meaningful contribution to society.
“The values children are taught are pride in the new China as led by Chairman Mao, selflessness, modesty, a willingness to learn from others, perseverance in the face of difficulties . . .
“They are determined to avoid developing an overeducated elite with no function to perform in society.”
The total government control of all education has produced, among other things, vast changes in the social structure. One of the goals is described by former American State Department official John S. Service, who had previously lived in China twenty-eight years. He said:
“One becomes aware of a prevailing attitude. Call it, if you prefer, a spirit, mood or temper. Perhaps the single word that best describes it is egalitarian.”
The word “egalitarian” basically means “asserting the equality of all men and women.” Mr. Service notes that it has had the effect of almost totally eliminating the very severe class distinctions of former times. He also adds: “Gone are the days when women were subordinate, disadvantaged members of society.”
This “egalitarianism” is said to exist even in the People’s Liberation Army. Insignias and titles of rank reportedly have been abolished, and uniforms are the same for all. Writer Tillman Durdin says: “To combat superior attitudes, commanders take temporary duty as privates. All grades eat the same food. Yet discipline is strict, enforced as much through group pressure as by orders.”
This attempt to even out differences that formerly existed because of class or financial status can also be seen in medical care. There is a tremendous effort being made to promote health care for all, regardless of one’s position in society. After traveling 3,500 miles and examining Chinese medical facilities, one group of sixteen American health workers concluded:
“By the end of the tour, it was clear that China’s new society has developed a health care system which is unsurpassed by any nonindustrial nation, which excels the U.S. in the delivery of primary health care and which has the potential for becoming the best in the world . . . .
“In contrast to the situation in the U.S., health care in China is a human right, accessible to the 750 million Chinese, whether living in rural areas or in the cities.”
Since the income of doctors is fixed by the state and strictly controlled, there is at present no possibility of doctors becoming wealthy from their work. Therefore, money is not much of a motivating factor. Concerning the motivation of Chinese doctors, this observation of Dr. Victor W. Sidel of New York is of interest:
“The most difficult thing to get across to people back here [in the United States] is the sense of altruism you find there [in China]. You’re considered the oddball in the U.S. if you do something for others for no return. Your motives are suspect.
“In China today, the people seem to have this altruism as a primary aim. They are all taught to help each other. That, I think, is what medicine is all about.”
Medical costs to the patient are said to be extremely low. And even these are usually paid by the factory, commune or other organization where the patient works.
In connection with social diseases, Western visitors repeatedly remark that there is very little venereal disease, drug addiction or alcoholism. Why? Dr. Halfdan Mahler, director general of the World Health Organization, attributes it to “a climate of what one perhaps could call ‘puritanism.’” Premarital and extramarital sex are reportedly uncommon.
Another notable change observed by visitors was the relatively small use of police forces. And those seen were said to be unarmed, without even a stick. Except for the men and women on traffic duty, they were inconspicuous. The high crime rates in other nations do not appear to be the case in China now. Correspondent Robert P. Martin of U.S. News & World Report observed: “This is a highly moral and law-and-order society as far as I could see.”
In regard to wages and prices, wages are very low compared to Western standards. But prices are very low too, and tightly controlled, so that inflation does not appear to be the problem it is elsewhere. The average person seems to have no difficulty in obtaining the necessities of life. And what of taxation? New York Times editor C. L. Sulzberger states:
“[China] doesn’t rely on [income] taxes to finance itself. . . . Workers pay no income tax. Their salaries are fixed by the state and factories pay all profits to the Government.”
The profits that evidently go to the government enable it to provide the practically free health, education and other social services. It also allows for a retirement age for women at fifty-five and sixty for men. Those who are in “dangerous” occupations retire earlier. And retirement pay is said to be about 70 percent of an individual’s highest income.
Thus, ‘from the cradle to the grave,’ there is now a measure of material security previously unknown to most common people in China. That is the general consensus of foreign visitors.
At What Price?
However, at what price has all this been accomplished? What has it meant in the lives of the masses of Chinese people?
Since China today is totally regimented, it is obvious that the Chinese people have had to pay a high price in certain freedoms. True, the concept of “freedom” did not mean much to most poorer Chinese before, since in a way they were economic “slaves” anyhow.
Yet, no matter how much advancement these poorer people are making under the present system, they know they can never enjoy the relative freedom that most people desire. For instance, people in China today are not free to choose what kind of literature they will read, what kind of schooling they will get, what kind of religion or political expression they prefer.
The control of the individual is total. There are representatives of the government at all levels of society. There are even “lane” or “block” wardens that keep track of what is done in each neighborhood. Any adverse thought or action politically, economically or religiously is soon crushed. Persons who differ are often sent to ‘reeducation centers’ where they are required to spend much time in self-criticism and study of the works of Mao Tse-tung and Communist ideology.
Workers in factories and communes have compulsory sessions for “education” in political and other affairs. Often these meetings last for hours. Nor are workers free to change jobs if they so desire. Control of lives is such that very little can be done without the permission of the authorities.
Too, while there has been an amazing transformation in food production, how has this been accomplished? The peasants have had whatever land they may have owned taken away from them and given to the commune, which really means the state. The commune is an agricultural organization of farm labor containing several thousand families. But in them there is no private ownership of land to any degree, except the very small plots that may be given to peasants to grow some vegetables, on their own time. Even these are strictly regulated by commune authorities.
Thus the changes brought about under Communist rule have not been voluntary. They have been imposed upon the people whether they wanted the changes or not. So the will of the individual was not considered important.
Freedom to Worship God
The freedom to worship God according to one’s conscience is recognized as a basic right in most lands. But in China today that freedom, too, is severely restricted. Indeed, most religions have, for all practical purposes, been crushed out of existence.
True, one can understand the hostility many Chinese have against the religions of Christendom or Buddhism or Confucianism. They have all had their share in the political meddlings and oppressions that have been imposed on China in times past. Surely the clergy of such religions bear a huge guilt for their hypocrisy and political meddling that have caused resentment by the Chinese people.
But, then, God himself is also hostile to such religions and their hypocrisy! And certainly he is not responsible for their sins, since they have acted contrary to his clearly stated laws and principles as found in his Word, the Holy Bible. For this he will call them to account.—Matt. 7:21-23; Rev. 17:16, 17.
Yet there is worship that is true, that works for the good of people. Such true worship persons of all nationalities need. It appeals to the hearts of people, bringing about genuine changes so that they live better lives, peaceful ones. It shows them how to be good workers and to be in subjection to authority, not out of compulsion but willingly. It teaches them not to meddle in politics, not to work against the interests of others, but to be honest, upright.
In addition, true worship turns the attention of people to the marvelous hope for a better world, one in which not only poverty and hunger, but also sickness, sorrow and death, will be removed. That will mean eternal life for people. No human government can promise such things. But God has guaranteed such a New Order right here on earth under the administration of his heavenly kingdom, one that will not be torn by periodic political rivalries.—Rev. 21:4; Matt. 6:10.
It is to this kingdom of God that Jehovah’s witnesses direct the attention of people. Their message centers on this bright hope and is far different from the teachings of the religions that have caused much grief for the Chinese people in the past. The activities of Jehovah’s witnesses are well known and respected in many other lands where, free of charge, they gladly assist persons who want to learn about God and his grand purposes for mankind.
Yet Jehovah’s Christian witnesses have not been permitted to worship freely in China. In fact, they have been severely persecuted. Many of them have been jailed for years. They have been forbidden Bibles and other expressions of their worship, such as meeting together with others for Bible study.
Soon, God will usher in his new order of righteousness. He will do so by destroying the entire wicked system of things now dominating the earth, a system that has caused much grief to people everywhere. This bright hope is one that sincere persons everywhere need to learn. The Chinese people need to learn it also.
While China has recently opened its door to other nations in social, economic and even political matters, will it open its door wide enough to permit true worship to enter? Will it open its door to allow the Chinese people to share in the marvelous hope of eternal life in God’s righteous new order? We pray that it does, but all the world must wait to see.