It was in my 4th grade class that I first became associated with the relationship between the U.S. and China, or rather, the lack thereof. Due to my poor vision and my assigned seat in the back of the classroom, I was forced to go through 4th grade twice. With knowledge, and ultimately glasses, my vision was restored to 20/20.
Imagine, in 1963 and 1964, a 4th grader in the suburbs of Washington, DC, learning about China for the first time through stereotypes and generalizations. My teacher described the Chinese as “Red” and “Communists!” She then proceeded to describe Communism by saying, “All people are equal.” What is wrong with that, I wondered? Her comparison of the U.S. and China left me further confused as she claimed America’s greatness by the statement that everyone was equal here, but I knew that wasn’t true.
Today, I am glad this teacher sparked this dilemma in me, as it has been a tapestry I’ve since woven more into in the intervening years. Since 4th grade, my abiding interest in all things China has flourished, and my work has progressed towards issues of social justice and working to create level playing fields for all people.
A Half-Century Later
Now, a half-century later, having traveled extensively in China and climbed a career ladder that has taken me from juvenile justice, social services, mental health and education to government, politics and business, I reflect on what it means for people to be treated “equal.”
Clearly, communism and socialism do not equate to equality, nor democracy, nor capitalism.
These thoughts came flooding back to me as President Xi Jinping of China met with President Ma Ying-jeou of Taiwan recently in the first-ever encounter between leaders of the two strained Asian neighbors. This is the first meeting since before the Chinese Communist revolution of 1949 and the hasty retreat of the Chinese Nationalists across the Taiwan Strait. The meeting was seen by the world as a breakthrough gesture “meant to promote peace and mutual prosperity.” It was a remarkable moment in an effort to bridge the divisions of civil war and decades of hostility between two nations, or rather, one nation and a renegade Province.
How do you blend the worldviews of Communism, Socialism, and Democratic Taiwan?
President Xi set the tone saying that the people of China and Taiwan were compatriots, “One family with blood that is thicker than water.”The meeting was symbolic at its finest and should not be seen as much more than another dance move of a long choreographed recital in China’s attempt to ultimately put Humpty-Dumpty back together again. Yet, politics being what it is, not all saw this symbolic gesture in a positive light. The Voice of America reports, “The top contender in Taiwan’s upcoming presidential elections, opposition Democratic Progressive Party candidate Tsai Ing-wen says one key thing the sitting president did not highlight during the meetings or in his remarks to the press after the closed-door talks concluded, was ‘the island’s democratic values, freedoms and the will of the Taiwan people.’”
The world has to respect the patience of the People’s Republic of China’s vision to take the long view of reuniting with Taiwan in a peaceful manner. This is not only in the best interest of the people of China and Taiwan, but all of humanity.
Ultimately, China and Taiwan will be reunited, something the world can see.
It may take a lifetime or longer to sort out all the nuances of democracy, capitalism, socialism, communism and freedom and how these concepts impact our fellow man, but it will happen.
As I learned at an early age, having 20/20 vision helps and as you age and mature one sees the world more clearly. Let’s hope that peace prevails as the respective leaders sort out historical grievances and ultimately see things in the same light or more clearly.
Often, clarity takes time.