Back in the USA

There is no denying the vast gulf of difference separating the USA from the PRC. No two countries could be more dissimilar in so many ways.

Minneapolitans have been whining for years about the traffic jams clogging up all the major highways in the Twin Cities. I can now guffaw, for I have seen true traffic jams in a land of 1.3 billion people.

There is not a street in China without a person or ten to be seen, no matter what time of day, night, morning … while many US cities close down after 1 AM. There is no way to imagine how big the number 1.3 billion is until you have walked the streets of Chongqing city, pop. 18 million.

China and the US differ slightly in size, but for every American you see, imagine eight more, and that is China. And while you’re imagining this, push 6 out of those eight over to the East side of the Mississippi.

Population is a very important difference. It determines how many square feet a person has to live, how many jobs he has to choose from, how long he has to wait for anything, how much a farmer has to grow, how much garbage there is to dispose of and so on.

In the US, a house of one’s own is quite possible. In China, virtually unthinkable. A backyard just for fun? You must be kidding. Two cars in a garage and one out on the driveway? Hardy-har-har.

My parents looked through all of my photos today and they were most taken by the peasants (which make up 80 percent of that vast population). They had to giggle at the scrawny toothless old man and the bald old woman with a sofa-size bag on her back. They shook their heads when I showed them the fellas hewing stone out of a cliff, or chopping a gutter out of the pavement with a hammer and chisel.

My father commented on the peasant photos: "This is a China photo." Most Americans expect peasants and poverty to be in any photograph of China, not the skyscrapers and malls and glitter of Shanghai, Canton and Hong Kong.

Poverty and population separate modern China from the USA more than culture ever could. Cultural and social differences can foster friendships, whereas differences in the standard of living foster enemies.

A casual glance at Minneapolis and Chongqing will reveal stark economic differences, but the similarities are more difficult to see. Like the patriotism sweeping both nations, which didn’t really register until I arrived in the USA. And drove the streets. And watched the news. And listened to the grown-ups talk.

IT REMINDED ME OF CHINA…

Is there a difference between "The Falun Gong is an international anti-government tool," and "God bless America and our troops in Afghanistan"?

Neil Young and Melissa Etheridge got together and sang in praise of a wounded nation rising from the ashes to strike at Evil’s heart. Neil Young!? Flags are everywhere and everybody loves the cops. Businesses have signs proclaiming love for the President, hate for Bin Laden and support for more war — in the name of freedom, justice and the American Way.

Wang Fei and Andy Lou teamed with Jackie Chan to sing about the glory of Beijing and the Communist Party. Flags are everywhere and everybody loves the cops. Businesses have signs proclaiming love for the President hate for any nay-sayer and support for order — in the name of stability, justice and the Chinese-Socialist Way.

CCTV has always tried to mold itself after CNN — it seems now they don’t have to. "The New War," "America Strikes Back," "America Mourns," etc. are all program themes the Chinese have down pat. China doesn’t have a war taking up all the airwaves, but specials on the Falun Gong, Wang Wei’s death, the Strike Hard campaign, Taiwan, disputes with Japan over books, mushrooms and temples, etc. have the same musical score in the same spots, the same grave reporter and the same tearful mother, daughter, father.

Chinese nationalism is rampant and growing. Most Pacific Rim and South Asian countries have viewed this development with apprehension. But what danger lies in a country whose army would rather focus on making money and building factories than making war and building tanks?

What of the new US nationalism? The US has the will, motive and strength to stretch into any corner of the world and do anything it wants. Who is worried about rampant and growing US nationalism and why?

WHERE WOULD YOU RATHER BE?

China executes more people than the rest of the world combined. 68 offenses carry the death penalty. Recently, Yunnan put forth the suggestion that injection might be better than a bullet to the head. Beijing reluctantly agreed. Students of mine were taken out into the fields to watch an execution. Migrant workers are routinely rounded up and imprisoned to make room on the streets for the 100,000 (and more to come) railway workers recently laid off.

No government bailout for them. A Catholic Church leader and champion of freedom dies and the government rules out a large funeral. A Chinese writes about his land with candid love, earning him international acclaim, and Beijing ignores him. People are dying of AIDS and spreading it around, Beijing ignores it. 13,000 people are arrested and detained in another Strike Hard "success" and nobody in China says a word. Uighers are executed and/or imprisoned and nobody in China says a word. Internet bars are closed by the thousands each month.

It seems those who have the most to fear from rampant Chinese patriotism live in China.

What I love about the US is that the freedom does exist to attend a funeral, talk about AIDS, applaud a rebel writer, expose the hypocrisy of a round up of all dark swarthy men and successfully overturn a conviction.

Ashcroft created legislation that is a staple for most nations in the world. China’s government keeps a very close eye on its people with National Ids and a "work unit" that knows where you live, where you work, how many kids you have, what you own. Granted, our vaunted Congress did next to nothing to prevent the USA PATRIOT Act from passing, but there are millions logging on to the real free media and getting informed.

So far, the US government has refrained from closing down computer labs at universities and confiscating personal computers. Instead, the US offers Safeweb software and memberships to the Echelon club to friendly countries with terrorist problems.

Yeah, I fear rampant American nationalism and all the government expansion that comes with it, but I would wager that those who fear it most are not in the US.

Read more by Sascha Matuszak