Sun 9 Nov 2008
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With the recent election and financial crisis, I feel like I am missing out on a very important point in American history. I guess “missing out” is not the correct terminology because it is more like I am very far removed from the epicenter. I still feel the shock value of what is happening in America, but I don’t necessarily experience it in real time.
On one hand, it is almost a blessing. Not having CNN playing in the cafeteria or more than one popular newspaper printed in English has allowed me to live in blissful ignorance of the rankling of politicians leading up to Election Day. On the other hand, on Election Day I would have killed to be back in America. Instead I went to an expatriate café that was having an election party for Obama supporters. The owners had promised that if Obama won, everybody would receive a free beer. The café was absolutely packed. Almost everybody there was a student skipping class (the polls closed in the late morning China time) to watch the polls return on live TV. Obviously, most of them were Obama supporters (which includes Democrats and Republicans), but there were a couple McCain Republicans in the mix as well (really self-imposed torture I believe). Also there were several other foreign students who came to watch. (A TV crew from Finland was also there, so look out for me on Finnish TV!!!) Even though I was in China, in that café I felt like we created a little piece of America just for that morning. Today in class, my Chinese teacher shared her thoughts that the choice for Obama was good, because he is black. Some Americans in the class tried to explain why that isn’t/shouldn’t be a factor in politics, but since I’m sure we can’t even find a consensus on that feeling using English, it was pretty much a lost cause to try and start the debate using Chinese. Whatever anybody’s feelings on that matter are, the truth is that most foreigners see Obama’s election as significant mainly because of his race. My teacher today tried to explain that it was in the interest of many countries, because it shows that a leading world power can have a minority as their leader. Although China is not diverse in the sense that it is not home to several races, China does have over fifty minority groups, each with their own distinct culture. Like any minority group, there is the same struggle against prejudice and the inherent disadvantage that comes with not being part of the majority. To see that the world’s leading power has chosen a minority to lead them is something people all over the world can relate to and understand its significance. All I can say is that I have never been so proud to be an American as when I was crammed in that room, drinking Chinese beer, and celebrating something only a democracy can afford: my right to choose a leader. I’m sure some of my relatives aren’t really enjoying this paragraph, so I will move on to my perspective of the financial crisis. However, the historian in me compels me to share this factoid: During Obama’s presidency, America will celebrate the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation.
I must admit that my perspective on the financial crisis is very limited. I was a little behind on the news, so I basically missed the whole debate in Congress about what steps the government should take to lessen the impact and solve the problem. I have attended a lecture given by Andrei Schleifer, a professor from Harvard who came to speak to Beijing University’s business school. Since the audience was Chinese students, Professor Scheifer explained very simply the American economy, which was great because my capacity to understand economics is very limited. The most interesting thing about the talk was Scheifer’s last PowerPoint slide, which asked the question: Is this the end of America’s market economy? It was even obvious to me, the economics dunce that I am, that the answer was no, but I realized that I had to think about the audience he was addressing. After all, it has only been within the past three decades that China’s economy has shifted towards a market economy.
I feel like being abroad has very much removed me (for better or for worse) from the constant and daily reminder of the severity of this crisis. One time, a Chinese student once came up to me and asked me if I was “afraid for my life.” In truth, the meaning of his question was lost in translation, but it made me realize just how easily it is to slip into a state of ignorance about the problems facing my country when I am abroad. The thing about the crisis I have been discussing the most lately is the sharp decline in American consumerism. As a result, the demand for exports from China is low, which has caused several factories in China to shut down, putting several hundreds of thousands of Chinese out of work. Since finding work is hard enough in China, the loss of these jobs is a big concern among the Chinese. I guess in the months to come there will be more concerns in China as the effects of the American financial crisis continue to shake the world economy.
I guess I will wrap this up in saying that one thing I notice about my personal analysis and opinions on the current events in America are that I now consider how these events not only affect America, but China as well. When I discuss American issues with my Chinese friends (or other foreign friends) I always have a small sort of reality check that indeed I have a very American centered point of view. You don’t realize there is such a thing until you are confronted with the Chinese point of view. My stay in China has certainly opened my eyes up to new perspectives and a great awareness for how American issues have a global effect.