Traveler’s Journal

I recently visited the People’s Republic of China (PRC) for a vacation with friends and family. I went with high expectations. My expectations were exceeded in all regards.

I arranged the tour through China International Travel Service (CITS), which is the government tourist agency in the PRC. The tour guides were all very professional and met our group’s demands in every respect. Accommodations and food were all top shelf. At the end of the trip, our only complaint was that they worked us too hard to see all of the astounding sights.

The guides answered my questions very openly and felt free to discuss problems without hesitation. As we passed through the major tourist sites, I found it interesting that there were large groups of Chinese tourists. These were organized tours in which low-income workers and farmers participated. Most also appeared to be of retirement age. I have traveled in Europe, Mexico and Latin America and never encountered anything like this. It was wonderful to see working-class people enjoying major tourist destinations.

We visited many sites on our 10-day vacation to include the major metropolitan areas of Beijing, Chongqing, Xian and Shanghai. Included was a three-day cruise on the Yangtze River.

One of the high points was when we were taken upstream on a small tributary to the Yangtze to the village of Longping where we boarded small “Peapod” boats. These are traditional boats used for transportation in the area. They are owned and operated by local farmers who use the boats to supplement their income.

The boats were very primitive and were operated by five-men crews called “trackers.” The crew first paddled a boatload of tourists out and then just at the right moment jumped off the boat and used ropes to pull the boat upstream similar to the Volga boat men. They skillfully turned the boat around just at the right moment (with a government security agent watching carefully on shore to make sure there were no mishaps) and guided it back downstream. Along the way, one of the crew sang a traditional song and at the end treated us to the most beautiful smile I think I have ever seen.

The tour guide explained that the government has designated these people’s work as protected and provide support so that tourists can enjoy this magnificent experience. I marveled at the high level of skill it took to operate the boat safely.

We visited Chongqing, which at a population of 40 million is the largest city in the world. It’s on the Yangtze. We went to the Communist Party administration building, which is adjacent to the city square where people come to dance together every night of the week. The tour guide pointed out the historical significance of General Joseph Stilwell from the United States. He helped the Chinese repel Japanese aggression during World War II. However, the tour guides noted that when he advocated to Chiang Kai-shek that he unite with the Communists to fight the Japanese, President Roosevelt’s administration recalled him and ended his career.

We visited the Three Rivers Gorge dam project, which is the most ambitious engineering project in the world. As a result of this project, the tour guides noted that 1.1 million people will be displaced. One of the tour guides indicated the displaced persons would receive a good compensation package including improved housing, amenities, cash and land. The project will provide electricity to major cities such as Shanghai.

We visited the Great Wall and as I was scaling the formidable steps, I realized that this structure, which is the only manmade structure visible by naked eye from the moon, was built brick-by-brick by workers. We visited many Buddhist temples and other structures of the various dynasties that ruled China up until the early part of the 20th century. It gave me a better appreciation of how much progress China has made in terms of human rights since Communists took power in 1949.

On our flight back to the U.S., I talked with a Chinese corporate manager from Shanghai. He explained the situation in Tibet to me in terms I had never heard before. He told me that Tibet was a feudal-religious society in which slavery was acceptable up until the time Communists took power. The Communist Party immediately abolished slavery after the revolution. Until that time, priests ruled the area and had slaves themselves. This helped me understand what the Tibet independence movement is about and the furor over the Dalai Lama in the U.S.

On special request, we visited the birthplace of the Communist Party in China in Shanghai. The First National Congress of the Communist Party of China was held on July 23, 1921, and was attended by 13 delegates including Mao Zedong, Dong Biwu and others. Moreover, two representatives sent by the Communist International also attended the congress as non-voting delegates. We visited this historic landmark on May 25, which marked the 56th anniversary of the arrival of Communists in a silent march into Shanghai in 1949.

On an in-country flight, I read a copy of the Shanghai Daily, which reported that the Communist Party of China had 69.6 million members at the end of 2004. This was a net growth of 1.37 million over the previous year. There were nearly 13 million women, 18.6 percent of the total. Slightly more than 4.4 million, or 6.3 percent, were minority ethnic group members. Almost 57 percent had achieved a senior high school education and 27.3 percent completed college or above.

I was really puzzled by the proliferation of private corporations, many from the U.S. The tour guides explained that the government retains ownership of all property, but works with private companies to run the corporations. The government rents land to the companies and assesses taxes. In a country which has a recent history of unmerciful bombing by the Japanese, this makes sense. This arrangement makes it almost impossible for them to be bombed without foreign countries damaging their own capital, enterprises and employees. It should be remembered also that their close neighbor, Japan, was the object of two atomic bombings, at Hiroshima and Nagasaki, dropped by the United States. This occurred just as Japan was preparing to surrender to the Soviet Union. Immediately after this, U.S. generals openly advocated both invading and dropping nuclear weapons on China.

In sum, I highly recommend a trip to this socialist country, which has made astounding advancements in terms of technology, culture, education, living standards, health care and human rights under the administration of the Communist Party of China. I heard many Chinese people talk about the importance of learning from the U.S. I would suggest that we have much to learn from the Chinese.