Given China’s vastness, it was only due to the remarkable thoughtfulness of our hosts that the six members of our Chase group were able to see and experience so much during just ten days in Peking, Sian, Shanghai and Canton. In terms of simple geographic expanse, a week and a half visit to China is something equivalent to trying to see New York City in less than one and a half minutes.
One is impressed immediately by the sense of national harmony. From the loud patriotic music at the border onward, there is very real and pervasive dedication to Chairman Mao and Maoist principles. Whatever the price of the Chinese Revolution, it has obviously succeeded not only in producing more efficient and dedicated administration, but also in fostering high morale and community of purpose.
General economic and social progress is no less 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. Eighty per cent of school‐age children now attend primary school, compared with 20 per cent just twenty years ago.
Each step of the trip was choreographed precisely by our hosts and, though virtually all our requests were granted, we clearly saw what they wanted us to. Still, there was little sense of the constant security found in some other Communist countries. Issues such as Taiwan and Cambodia evoke strong positions, but conversation does not founder on ideological shoals. The Chinese seem so totally convinced of the correctness of their own world view that they do not feel they have to push it aggressively.
Despite the constant impressions of progress, however, some gray areas and basic contradictions also emerged. Three major questions remain in my own mind.
First, can individuality and creativity continue to be contained to the degree they are now in a nation with such a rich cultural heritage?
The enormous social advances of China have benefited greatly from the singleness of ideology and purpose. But a stiff price has been paid in terms of cultural and intellectual constraint. There are only eight different theatrical productions in the entire country. The universities are rigorously politicized, with little room for inquiry unrelated to Chairman Mao’s thought. Freedom to travel or change jobs is restricted. When asked about personal creativity, one ceramics craftsman answered only that there was not time for individual art if the masses were to be served.
Second, will the highly decentralized Chinese economy be able to adapt successfully to expanded foreign trade and technological improvements?
Considering the problems to be overcome, economic growth in China over the last 25 years has been quite remarkable, with an annual average rise in gross national product of 4 to 5 per cent. For the 1971–75 period, this growth should range between 5.5 and 7.5 per cent a year. These results have depended largely on a wise emphasis on agriculture and a nationwide policy of decentralized, balanced industrial development. The industrial spread reflects strategic factors, the laborabundant nature of the country and inadequate transportation. There are, for instance, now only a handful of commercial jet airplanes in China, and flights are entirely dependent on weather conditions owing to limited guidance facilities common in most parts of the world.
Third, are we and the Chinese prepared to accept our very real differences and still proceed toward the closer mutual understanding that must be the basis of substantive future contact?
I fear that too often the true significance and potential of our new relationship with China has been obscured by the novelty of it all. Pandas and Ping‐Pong, gymnastics and elaborate dinners have captivated our imaginations, and I suspect the Chinese are equally intrigued by some of our more novel captitalistic ways.
In fact, of course, we are experiencing a much more fundamental phenomenon. The Chinese, for their part, are faced with altering a primarily inward focus that they have pursued for a quarter century under their current leadership. We, for our part, are faced with the realization that we have largely ignored a country with one‐fourth of the world’s population. When one considers the profound differences in our cultural heritages and our social and economic systems, this is certain to be a long task with much accommodation necessary on both sides.
The social experiment in China under. Chairman Mao’s leadership is one of the most important and successful in human history. How extensively China opens up and how the world interprets and reacts to the social innovations and life styles she has developed is certain to have a profound impact on the future of many nations.