I recently discussed US-China relations with a Chinese associate of mine, her name is Ping Chen (her name has been changed, as per her request.). I wanted to speak with someone who was well traveled and well versed in not only Chinese politics and news, but the news and politics of other major countries as well. Being that she was a reporter in China for a non-Chinese news agency and had covered many political and social stories, I knew she was the right one to talk with.
Here is how it went:
Troy: Do people in China ever talk about voting?
Ping: Not really. It is not something we think is worth talking about. It is comparable to you talking about which famous person you want to marry… there is no point in talking about an improbable goal. We often joke about it though, because we know who the next Chinese president will be five or more years before he becomes president, due to his status inside the Communist Party. It is not like the US or other countries, where you don’t know who it is going to be president four years from now.
Troy: Do you wish you could vote? Do you think most people wish they could?
Ping: Vote for leaders?
Troy: Yes, leaders…or anything really?
Ping: … I wish I could vote, yes. I think most people do as well, assuming things are transparent and fair.
Troy: In a lot of countries, especially the U.S., politics are neither of those. What do most Chinese people think of American politics?
Ping: Most Chinese people are not used to the idea of two or more political parties, so it is a bit confusing to us. Also, what’s with the elephant and the donkey? That seems a bit ridiculous!
Troy: Haha, I think I remember the story behind it
. The Democratic donkey was first associated with Democrat Andrew Jackson's presidential campaign. His opponents called him a jackass (a donkey), and Jackson decided to use the image of the strong-willed animal on his campaign posters. Later, cartoonist Thomas Nast used the Democratic donkey in newspaper cartoons and made the symbol famous. Nast invented another famous symbol—the Republican elephant. In a cartoon that appeared in Harper's Weekly in 1874, Nast drew a donkey clothed in lion's skin, scaring away all the animals at the zoo. One of those animals, the elephant, was labeled “The Republican Vote.” That's all it took for the elephant to become associated with the Republican Party.
Troy: Unlike most people in China, you actually know about as much as there is to know about the Tiananmen Square Protests in 1989,
which resulted due to people trying to practice democracy. Are there groups in China that try to make democracy a part of life? If so, what happens to them?
Ping: Not sure about groups. Individuals, yes. Do you know about Ai Weiwei
? A lot of Chinese people know of him, I think.
Troy: Yes, the political activist. What do Chinese people think he is trying to do?
Ping: We know he tries to send messages to people, talking about fighting for democracy and freedom… individual freedom.
Troy: So, what are people’s feelings about it?
Ping: We hope for it, we wish for it, but we feel hopeless.
Troy: What do you think needs to happen in China for this to become possible?
Ping: We need a more honest and open government, which may happen in the next 20 years or so. I think the central government is going a fairly better job compared with local governments. There are a lot of good policies and ideas initiated by the central government that are not implemented by lower authorities at all. That’s where a lot of the problems are. I know Chinese citizens want democracy; I don’t think the government is ready for it yet.
Troy: What does Beijing do to people who want democracy and are actually trying to spread the word?
Ping: Constantly watch them.. or put them into what is called “Black Jails”
Troy: Yes, I have heard of those. Pretty shady stuff.
Troy: So if this all works out and China gets democracy, do you think China will create its own system or do you think it’ll be modeled after another country’s?
Ping: Haha, this question made me laugh. We always copy other ideas and then make a better version!
Troy: Ha, yes, not always better though.
Ping: Most of the time.
Troy: Do you think a higher percentage of citizens would vote in China than they do in the U.S.?
Ping: Yes, for sure. I don't understand how you, as a nation, have the right to vote, then for the most part, people say "No, I don't feel like voting, it's not helpful. I have to drive allll the way to the voting booth." Try imaging not being able to. It is like they say in English, "You don't know what you have until it is gone."
Troy: Is there anything else you’d like to add to this topic?
Ping: Not really, I’ve probably said too much already. Haha. I hope the national security guys are not hacking my computer. I’m not too worried about it now. However, when I worked at *news agency name omitted*, I was really worried about it.
Troy: Because it is a non-Chinese news agency?
Ping: Because it is AMERICAN
Troy: Don’t worry, the NSA does the same thing to Americans here. Ha
Ping: They don’t come to your house and talk to you face to face, intimidate you.. do they?
Troy: Not that I am aware of.
Troy: Can I ask you one more question before you go? What is the one thing, the most important thing China needs to do to be better off, as a whole?
Ping: Deal with corruption, which we are doing a better job of now. A lot of government officers have been reported and imprisoned
.. more than ever before.
Troy: Seems like a problem they can solve, one way or another. Thank you for talking to me, Ping.
Ping: Thank you. Also, don’t use my real name in your article. I don’t want to be blacklisted for the rest of my life.