Adam Konya studies a Bachelor of Business Leadership and Commerce. Adam participated in the 2017 GLP Symposium to China.
I had not expected my general views on China to be fundamentally changed by an Australian man sitting in a small office somewhere in Shanghai.
Yet the words of Udo Doring, CEO and Executive Director of the Australian Chamber of Commerce in Shanghai, did just that. During a briefing with Udo as part of the Symposium, he emphasised that there are many misnomers about China, that it is not about to collapse or that it is “behind” in every way. Above all, he said, we must question our typical beliefs, and challenge these ideas when they might be untrue. This became more of a reality with every new perspective we heard.
Let’s begin with the natural environment in China, as an example. While pollution is certainly bad in China, the government is more focused on improving the situation than I had thought. At times, China is even more stringent on closing polluting factories than the European Union. The government cooperates with other institutions, also. We visited the Institute of Environmental and Public Affairs, who have developed an app that marks illegally polluting factories on a map, so that they can be warned by the government. Even at a grassroots level, innovations appear; at the Green Education Centre in Lijiang, we were shown how a gas stove could be powered through kitchen and bathroom waste using an underground technology.
More surprising than the government’s cooperation with its citizens is that not all of them feel oppressed, as we may be led to believe. Certainly, journalists, for example, have to be careful with what they say, and the government monitors communication over platforms like WeChat. However, as China Central Television journalist Ty Lawson put it to us, you can say anything you want—it depends on how you say it.
Others are avid supporters of the Chinese government. They include Mr Wan, a village elder working with the Gingko Society, a cultural tourism development organisation in rural Shaxi. After handing us handwritten poetry he created himself, he told us that without the Party’s staunch policy that every child receive a certain level of education, his parents would not have let him attend school and become literate.
This is not to say that everything in China is perfect. I learned about the clearing of the homeless from the streets so their presence would not tarnish Beijing’s brand. I heard firsthand from our tour guide in Shanghai stories about ruthlessness and trickery in business competition.
Ultimately, I heard human stories. Stories about the pressure on children to live up to the family’s expectations, how parents devote their savings to their child’s future, how families invest in Australia more than just for money, but also to see beaches and clean air that they could not experience before. Concerns about the Chinese economy, Chinese investments in Australia and Chinese politics are not clear cut, not black and white. They are complex. Not all is as it seems on the surface. “Reality” to us may not be very real at all—and we should learn to question it.