Aired: August 12, 2008 during Morning Edition 5:35 and 7:35
While I lectured at Shanghai Normal University, they housed me at their foreign experts building. Universities have been granted permission to rent out empty rooms to tour groups. So when I went down to the dining room for breakfast, I found myself sitting among retired Americans, tourists taking a bus tour of Shanghai and the other big Chinese cities.
They had bounced from tourist sites to factory outlets all of their trip and were soon to return home.
“What did you like most so far?” I asked an elderly gentleman at my table.
“I guess those stoplights that count down” he replied. China has electronic signs that count down the seconds until the light changes to red or green.
“Did your bus driver see the light was about to change to red and speed up and go through ‘on the pink’?” I asked.
“Yes, he did!” he chuckled along with others. The whole table was now listening to us.
“And was there a policeman standing at the intersection?” I asked.
“Well, yes,” he replied.
“Back in the United States, would you drive through a stoplight ‘on the pink’ if there was a policemen present?”
“Of course not,” he replied.
“So, we can then say that-in this situation-the Chinese are less afraid of their policemen than we are of our policemen in the U.S.?”
“Oh, my. I had never thought of that!”
“Did you see any police with guns?” I asked.
They hadn’t noticed.
I had to go lecture, but I left them with one more question: “And how many colors of uniforms to do see?”
I was first to breakfast the next morning. When the tour group came down, they swamped my table.
They saw no guns.
No, Chinese police do not carry guns. The People’s Armed Police, now under civilian command, only come when there is civil violence.
Green uniforms?...That would be the government police, the “Gung An.”
Blue-gray uniforms?...Traffic police.
White shirted?...Private security guards.
Police cars marked “Fa Yuan”?...that would be court officials.
The tour group had one more day in China, and they all wanted to know what they were not seeing in Chinese society around them.
We need so many more Americans in China, visitors to look and see and bring back an understanding of this new country.
Over the last 15 years, China has sent an average of 50,000 students to the U.S. every year, many of whom return to China and enter business and government.
China understands the United States.
Over that same time, although we are now up to 4000, the U.S. has barely averaged sending 1500 students per year to China.
The United States does not understand China. With an outdated image from Mao’s era, the United States with all its military power, can make some serious mistakes.
The only way you will really believe that the Chinese are less concerned than we are about running a red light in front of a policemen....is to go there and see China yourself.
John Richard Schrock trains biology teachers and lives in Emporia.