Saturday, April 10, 2010

Red Army

It was a beautiful morning at Osaka Castle. The sun was shining over the wide moat and the expansive grounds, and the cherry blossoms were out in full force. But, thanks to its fatal design flaw, namely a bridge over the moat, the castle was invaded by hordes of Chinese on a scale I've never seen before. I've seen Chinese tourists in China, carrying flags like the various battalions of a sneaker-wearing, trinket-buying army aspiring towards commodious living, but that was in China and in Tiananmen Square to boot.

Seeing this many tourists with this much enthusiasm at about 7:30 on a Saturday morning was a little much, but it's to be expected. Cities like Shanghai, Beijing and Tianjin have a purchasing power equivalent to central Europe. They have about 50 million people between them.

The three richest provinces are Zhejiang, Jiangsu and Guangdong, which have a purchasing power more like that of Mexico, Turkey or Brazil. They have a combined population of about 220 million people. That gives us 270 million people who live in at least second world conditions, a number that will continue to grow. Thomas Friedman writes in Hot, Flat and Crowded that by 115 million Chinese will travel overseas 2020, more than from any other country.

What this means is that we should at least learn to say "ni chi dian shenme?" ("what would you like to eat?") and maybe even follow in the paths of a tour guide I saw at Versailles last year, presumably a French national who was leading a captivated audience around in (what seemed to me) fluent Chinese.

There are two benefits to this increase in the number of Chinese. Chinese traveling abroad will, hopefully, be able to produce a narrative of their country as more than the country of the Tiananmen Square massacre, the Google censor and General Tao chicken with fried rice, to go. Conversely, as more and more ordinary people travel abroad, they might come to learn that there is a website called YouTube, a sort of Youku for the laowai.

Chinese, I think, are very conscious of their status in the world, similar to Koreans. Korea, I think, is more considerate of its reputation in the world than it is of actual matters of right and wrong, good or bad. That might seem a tad shallow, but it produces results. Koreans, who often have studied abroad in Canada, America or Australia and visited Japan, know how things are elsewhere and which things are better. A possible outcome of this travel is that China, too, will demand freer Internet, more responsive government and maybe even elections, just like all the other big kids.

1 comment:

MKL said...

Good post. You're totally right. Chinese tourist will become a big force, something like Japanese used to be for Europe, Chinese will follow their path. Even here in Taiwan they had to allow tourists from China to come, although they're only allowed in groups and can't walk around alone. There's always many of them near Taipei 101 and it's funny to see, when Taiwanese protesters place themselves near these groups and their buses with banners in support of Tibet or any of the other 1000 reasons to protest. They're mostly ignored by the Chinese. In that moment I feel happy, that I'm here and not on the other side of the strait :)