Hello China. Nice to Meet You.

Thanks to the Kalispell Chamber and all our fellow travelers for such a memorable introduction

By Diane Smith

Along with over 100 of our Montana neighbors, David and I recently traveled to China. That’s right; we went from small-town Columbia Falls to super-populated China. The Kalispell Chamber of Commerce organized the trip; it was fun, fascinating, and hugely eye-opening.

I’d been to Asia before, but not China. Before this trip, I assumed from our media depictions that China was gloomy and over-crowded with a censor on every corner and a palpable sense of fear of its government among its citizens. I also figured since it’s a communist country, China wouldn’t know much about successful capitalism and innovation. Boy, was I wrong.

Let’s get some facts out of the way. China’s 2013 population was 1.357 billion, compared to the United State’s 316 million. Despite the 4X population disparity, both the US and China have about the same land mass. In other words, there are a lot more of them jammed into our same amount of space and it shows in the high-rise apartment buildings that go on for miles in every major city.

In 2015, China’s economy grew larger than the USA’s. It was the first time the USA was knocked off our perch as the world’s largest economy since we overtook Britain in 1872.

China wasn’t gloomy and while it was way more crowded than I’d opt for, the people were cooperative and pleasant with a “we’re all in this together” kind of attitude. The port city of Shanghai is one of the most beautiful cities I’ve seen and “Chinglish” is common. China blocks Facebook, Twitter, and most of Google. Digital downloads of the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, or the Washington Post were intermittent. Fortunately though, I could download the Flathead Beacon each day!

The Chinese speak openly about most topics including its one-child policy, awful air pollution, and a 2000-plus year history that’s filled with stories of concubines, enslavement, conquest, and resilience.

Communist China’s embrace of capitalism was a surprise. Already a major force in the global economy (when 1.3 billion people are turned loose on a project we shouldn’t be surprised at their success), but I didn’t expect that they would all be so good at finance, sales and marketing, and people management.

I don’t have much idea yet about how China is going to affect our lives and those of upcoming generations. What I do know is that a country of its scale and ability could affect us profoundly, even those of us living beyond the major cities. And that’s why this trip was important and why I’m so impressed with the Kalispell Chamber for making it happen. With a population of about 21,000, the entire city of Kalispell could probably fit in a few high-rise apartment buildings in Beijing. But just because we have plenty of elbow room doesn’t mean we shouldn’t get to know our way-more-crowded global neighbors. Thanks to the Kalispell Chamber and all our fellow travelers for such a memorable introduction.

Learn more about Diane by following her column here or visit American Rural at AmericanRural.org.

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