On an August day in 1983, I went to a hospital in Shanghai to visit my father. He'd developed liver problems in the mid-1960s while being tortured and forced to do hard labor by the communist government on a labor camp as punishment for his "anti-government activities." That day, his liver finally collapsed and he was dying. As I sat by his bedside, he said to me "Leave China if you can, and stay as far away as you can. Nothing good could ever come out of Red China." He died the next day.Two years later, I left Red China for America, the shining democratic beacon of the world.
Today, the black-and-white contrasts between the democratic capitalist U.S. and the oppressive communist China have faded into grayish contradictions. By the time I began to write "Two Tales of the Moon," my recently published novel, it was 2014 and China seemed to have convinced the world that it could grow a capitalist economy under a communist party-controlled regime. So, I decided to go back and to fact check China's claim.
It's true that the economic boom over the past two and half decades has lifted many Chinese out of dirt-poor living conditions. However, it's often the party members who have benefited most and become filthy rich. At least half of China's 1.3 billion people are still toiling long hours under sometimes subhuman conditions for a dollar or two a day. In Shanghai's glitzy districts, beggars and unemployed migrants wandered the streets lined by Chanel and Prada stores. Ghosts only occupied the sky scraper-like luxury condos and apartments, and air pollution hovered over the futuristic-looking city like a concrete dome.
To me, China has become a country of contradiction.
But on the opposite end of the world, here in U.S., the contradictions related to China are no less prominent. I hear our government accusing China of human rights violations, currency manipulations and opaque financial and banking practices. Yet, China is the largest holder of U.S. national debt. We worry about cyber security threats from China, yet high tech companies like IBM and Microsoft are willing to reveal their source codes to China in order to gain the privilege of doing business there. We say we are proud of products made in America, but we have exported our manufacturing infrastructure to China for many decades.
Just about every large corporation has rushed into China to chase a dream of profiting from the country's 1.3 billion customers. Take Wal-Mart as an example: High flyers on Wall Street love Wal-Mart stock, but they seldom buy Wal-Mart products. Middle and working class Americans complain that companies like Wal-Mart have exported their jobs to countries like China, but they are the ones who love Wal-Mart's inexpensive products.
By the time I finished writing "Two Tales of the Moon," I became convinced that America's once shining beacon somehow dimmed a bit, and the Red China I left 30 years ago is not as bloody red as it used to be. Communist China and capitalist America will be bound by dreams of money and profit for a long time to come, if not forever.