“Theories are dead but people are alive,” I thought over and over again about this single sentence days after I was back to the place I belonged, a place where I had things to do on daily basis and people to meet as usual. Everything was going as it should be and this seemed perfect but there was something that held me back from my daily routine, a quest to pen down the experiences I had during the ten days trip to world’ s emerging large economy, China.
While thinking about everything that I experienced, this one sentence came back and forth in my mind, reminding me of that quiet evening when the other members of delegation and I sat facing the blue ocean of Pacific in the port city of Qingdao, feeling the warmth of the sun-rays at one end and the calming cool shade at the other.
With the silence of wind and the number of waves touching the sands of Qingdao, I felt a strange calmness of the stirring conflicts I often have in my thoughts. With this I felt it was a perfect time to break the silence and to pose the questions I have had for so many days.
Our fifteen-member delegation had total of four members from IDCPC (International Department of Communist Party of China), interpreting everything for the us and helping us have a better experience.
By now there was no formal meetings and no seminars, there was the blue ocean, the quiet wind and the members of IDCPC sitting with us, I couldn’t get a more perfect time to start a conversation, so I began my inquiry. Well, it somehow seemed an inquiry, “They say China has a communist political-economic system, but I find it a bit modified version of communism because it seems like China is embracing capitalist economic system.”
“Well, that’s partially right but I think, theories are dead and people are alive. As time changes, little adjustments make better sense because system affect people on daily basis while theories seem perfect in books.” one of the members of IDCPC explained.
“But this theory”, I assumed, “has never been limited to the books. It has been reason for huge changes in the world’s political and economic system, causing revolutions around the globe. It is questionable whether the communist revolutions have really brought what it was needed to; for a classless society or economic equality or there could have been a better solution. Perhaps, strengthening the state, its legislation and implementation of constitutional laws would lead toward a more just system where no capitalist, politician or anyone could exploit the rights of subordinates. And ultimately, there would be no oppressor or oppressed.”
Anyways he continued, “When theories are applied to systems, modifications become crucial with time.”
I repeated his earlier sentence, “Theories are dead, people are alive.” This sentence and his respond reminded her of a sociological research paper I had just read couple days ago, suggesting that when people come up with new facts that no longer fit the theories, they have the right to question the existing theories and urge their modification or perhaps if they no longer work, we can always replace them with new theories.
“And when it comes to the world,” I thought, “there can never be a perfect political or economic model, the nations of the world keep experimenting new theories and models and keep learning from the process. Perhaps this is exactly what China is doing, learning from the past and modifying its system when and where needed.”
I found these ideas interesting and thought there must be something very strong behind the system’s strength and the way it is crafting a promising future for its people.
And perhaps, I was jumping to conclusions far earlier than I should have but I thought two reasons could be behind its strength, first; China has world’s largest political party, the “Chinese Communist Party” with over 80 million members, of course the factor of having world’s largest population counts here and the tight organization explains it all why it is still in power after so many decades of communist revolution but there is something else that makes the system and people different in particular.
“What was that?” I questioned myself. “Perhaps, a philosophy to strengthen society?”
I found no harm in posing this question, “I guess every nation of the world has something that it is inspired by, some have religion, some have art and so on, what is it that influences people’s lives in common here?”
“There can never be a single influencer and I guess every individual has his/her own inspirations, but what I feel like Confucianism has had a monumental impact on people from centuries However, a large number of population in China follows Buddhism,” one of the members of IDCPC explained.
“That’s more of a religion and I’ve heard Chinese intellectuals considering religions such as Buddhism superstitious,” I asked.
“Ahan, that is true but it isn’t that uncomplicated. You’ll have to wait to listen more,” he assisted.
And he continued, “While Confucianism is based on golden principles adopted by the teachings of the China’s great philosopher, Confucius. It has nothing to do with religiosity (to some extent) but Buddhism as world knows, has to do a lot with faith. Confucianism teaches to live in today without harming anyone, it teaches principle-centralism, ways of governing and pays attention toward the social interaction. Buddhism emphasizes on suffering and sacrifices today for a better hereafter.”
Another of the IDCPC member added, “Though both teachings are connected with personal development and spiritual peace, a larger population in China does not have any religion and as you earlier said they consider them superstitious. So, most people who either follow the teachings of Confucius or Buddha or both, do it “not” as ritual but for social equilibrium and stability and believe that both basically teach humanity.”
I was wondering if both teachings are a part of the curriculum or modules of educational institutions where kids are raised with these teachings or they are part of the traditions and culture.
But before I could ask more of my questions, we had to leave for another destination. And by the way, the reason why we could breathe in the open air opposite the beach was that it was too close to the Qingdao Urban Planning Museum. It was where our hosts first brought us to. With a large 3D model of the city, this museum explained everything about Qingdao’s present, past and future plans.
Talking about this interesting city’s past, one could hardly imagine this port city in the far east of China, being thousands of miles far from Europe like many parts of the world did not survive colonization in late nineteenth century.
Though history reflects that German came in late to the practice of colonization but when they came, they sat their eyes toward large economies. And since China has always had a tradition of organized governance and strong economy, German invasion to the area surrounding Qingdao was perhaps for some kind of economic exploitation, this was what I felt from the info-graphics and text in the museum.
In 1898, the Germans got Qingdao and surrounding areas for 99 years lease. The German Governor’s mansion standing tall even today in the city reflects the history. However, German invasion did not last that long and by 1914 with WWI Japan succeeded to force the Germans out of China.
While crossing through the hallways of the mansion one could barely imagine that it was built more than a hundred years ago!
“Architecture equaled power in the past,” I thought, reflecting what I just saw and what I come across every day back in my home town of Gwadar with a history connected with Oman, Portugal and several other foreign invaders.
“That is a totally different story,” I assumed but given the present situation, I was somehow not in an illusion to think of Gwadar in Qingdao because according to a contract between Pakistan and Chinese government, under the projects of CPEC (China Pakistan Economic Corridor), Qingdao Port would be connected with Gwadar as a “sister-port” and similarly the idea of a free-trade zone of Qingdao would be replicated in Gwadar. And perhaps that was the reason why we were wandering in this city as members for a task-force arising hopes for social sector development in Gwadar.
“How is all that going to work?” I wondered but hesitated to jump to any conclusions this time, as this question has already created a somehow chaotic situation in the region and raised questions at both ends.
However, the journey continued and so did the stirring chaos in my mind. And with this, I reflected upon the time I had spent in the capital, Beijing the political hub of China, where we met with the officials of China Foundation for Peace and Development (CFPD) interested to work on few agreements between both countries under CPEC for education, health, awareness and women empowerment.
“How is all this going to work?” I repeated the question in my mind once more thinking about how complicated things on ground are. This question kept knocking my mind and therefore it sometimes became hard to escape the reality.
This made me realize, “How things are easily put on paper but takes sweat and blood to practically implement and sustain development in a region hit by economic crisis and security hurdles.”
However, apart from being hopeful, I knew, I could do nothing more, so I had to let go of it at least for now and one of the wonders of the world, “The Great Wall of China”.
Climbing the steps each at a time, made me think again and again how they could even carry those big stone bricks up to these hilly plateaus. We could only see one part of it and we were told that this wall with many fortifications spreads from east to west of China and expands thousands of kilometers!
Standing still after two thousand years, attracting people of the world, this wall truly was worth walking on. Seeing people from around the world walking on it and hearing probably an American kid talking about Trump, (it is totally a different topic what he was saying though). All this definitely made me feel we were walking on something that was globally valued.
I wondered how the native would feel walking on something their ancestors built centuries ago, or how the forces would guard their nation from foreign invaders back then. Anyhow, the question that I still find mysterious is, what actually happened during its construction which probably had taken a long time, perhaps decades.
Still having the thoughts about of the great wall, our next or the final destination was another point that dug through the pages of past and this time it was the “Forbidden City”. The first question that came in my mind was, “Why was it forbidden, anyway?”
To this our Chinese friend and member of IDCPC told us, “No one could enter this palace without special permission and neither could most of the members living within palace could go out.”
The Forbidden City was the imperial palace from Ming dynasty (1420) to early 20th century with the end of dynasties. It is said to cover the largest land area compared to any other palace of the world.
The unique architecture of course was appealing but there was something more to this place, it had a history of sadness and tragedies, specially related to women. It was what made me interested to know more about how the women specially the empress and her counterparts lived in this huge palace. We were told that the emperor had several wives and not all of them enjoyed equal rights and that there were harsh punishments for those who did not abide to the rules of the palace.
I felt the part of my mind that somehow supports feminist perspective (to some extent) became active here, though at this point I recalled Li Qing Zhao one of China’s most famous poetess who expressed herself in poetic melodies almost a thousand years ago and more recently, a line from the famous Disney movie mirroring desperate dreams of a young Chinese girl, “When will my reflection show, who I am inside.”
“Things have changed to a great extent since those times,” I assumed, reflecting today’s China where women are leaving behind the social stereotypes and paving ways to gender equality, be it academic achievements, economic opportunities or political arena.
My journey to the Land of Confucius came to an end with the dream to continue a struggle for gender equality in my homeland and keep travelling around the world to bring home more ideas.
She tweets at @mariyamsuleman
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