Beinstein column: America, Hong Kong, and the ‘great hope’
I’ve recently been lucky enough to travel some throughout East Asia, including in Hong Kong. And in speaking to the young people in particular, I do sense a great hope for a freer and more democratic future.
Hong Kong is filled with Chinese people from the mainland searching for greater opportunity. And such ventures often lead to a western education and/or a job with a western company. And such an experience can make all the difference in the world.
Take the case of a young professional I met. Born in Beijing, she got an MBA at Georgetown and now works in HK. Although resistant to any kind of revolutionary or radical talk, she says most Chinese are more focused on economic freedom than political freedom. She did acknowledge crying when she first saw the Statue of Liberty in New York. She was guarded at first, but yes, she said she too dreams of a day in which she can criticize her government without fear or retribution.
Or, take the example of a girl about to finish the equivalent of her senior year in high school in Hong Kong. She dislikes the hierarchical nature of Chinese society, those without esteemed degrees are often discarded as trash, she says. America, in her imagination, is different, more free and open. When I told her the story of Apple founder Steve Jobs, a directionless college dropout who would eventually begin what would become the world’s biggest company by market capitalization, she smiled.
Or, how about a traveler I met who just finished her school year at Vanderbilt University and was traveling back to Beijing to see her family. Her father is stuck in an old mentality, he still reveres Mao Zedong, hates America without being able to say why, and burns with rage at the Japanese. And yet she carries none of these sentiments with her. She has loved her time in America, notes how wonderful the service is in Japan, and is all too painfully aware of what Mao inflicted upon his own people.
This isn’t to say all is rosy, even in the minds of young Chinese people. They still see things in terms of race, one person scoffed at the notion of there ever being a Chinese American president, the white man would never allow it. Others see America as lazy and entitled. And they find Trump baffling, to say the least.
But they do seem hopeful, genuinely so. And they don’t act as if America is their nemesis or responsible for all their ills. And they certainly don’t see things as zero sum sports matches; in their eyes both America and China can have bright and prosperous futures.
And the young people I’ve met in America who have either studied or lived in China have reflected similar sentiments. They light up in talking about China’s golden age during the Tang Dynasty. They are the first ones to dismiss the myth that the Chinese only steal and copy; they’ve seen up close how smart, innovative and industrious the Chinese are. And they think the exchanges can be two ways; in many ways, for example, the trains and subways and airports in Hong Kong, and China more generally, are superior to ours.
Is there anything wrong with a future in which Chinese people buy Apple products and we import some of their infrastructure technology?
Abraham Lincoln once said, “The philosophy of the schoolroom in one generation will be the philosophy of the government in the next.” Lingering hatreds are never easy to extinguish entirely. But they can be and will be. From our side, more history about China should be taught in our high schools and colleges. And China, with even greater force, should sponsor its students to study in the United States.
And then all the distrusting rhetoric should disappear. And then finally, our two countries can be partners for peace around the world. Remember that little war we waged against England, now we’re best friends.
Remember Pearl Harbor, Hiroshima and Nagasaki? Now we work together with the Japanese like we’ve always been pals.
And, in roughly 70 years, we went from hating the Nazis to being strong allies with the Germans in Afghanistan.
Things change, they always do. Let’s just hope for once the dinosaurs in Washington and Beijing might actually listen to some young people for a change. The results might surprise them.
Alex Beinstein writes from Carbondale and grew up in Aspen. He was a Republican primary congressional candidate in 2016. His column appears monthly in the Post Independent.