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Cover Story November 16, 2006


  Untitled Document

Nine Days on the Yangtze River
by John Smylie

We have all heard that China is a country on the move. Charlene and I can vouch for that. We buy toys, tools and T shirts from China. China uses the money to build dams, nuclear power plants, highways and high rise buildings.
We spent three days in the current capital, Beijing, one day in Xian (an ancient capital), nine days on the Yangtze River and two days in Shanghai.

October 1 is the equivalent of our fourth of July. We visited the forbidden city and Tiananmen square that day. China no longer has restrictions on internal travel for Chinese citizens. Almost 400,000 Chinese tourists visited the capital that day along with a few foreigners such as ourselves. When you consider Disneyland has a big day with 20,000 visitors, try to visualize a crowd of 400,000 people. The crowds were polite. The lines moved smoothly. China needs no outside tourists to fill up the stadiums for the 2008 Olympic games!

It was fun watching so many people truly enjoying the sights of a mighty city. The Chinese are virtually rebuilding Beijing and other tourists spots for the Olympic games.

The one child per married couple rule was obvious in the crowds. It was unlike our theme parks where the parents (and more often the grandparents) are trying to control two or more children. The behavior of the children was excellent. Sibling rivalry was eliminated with each child having the attention of both parents. It made for a happy crowd. The Chinese government has some concern now about raising a generation of spoiled children. There are a number of exceptions to the one child per married couple, including simply paying a large fine.

We saw all of the tourist things - a portion of the great wall, the terra cotta soldiers, the forbidden city, Tiananmen Square, the winter palace, lakes, a typical family home in Beijing, the almost new City of Shanghai, the old European street in Shanghai, the great dam, the scenery of the gorges upstream of the dam, the Ford Focus plant at Chungking, the party boats on the Yangtze at Chungking, the undisturbed Ming tombs, the new cities for the displaced farmers, the outside of the first emperor's tomb, the farmer who discovered the Terra Cotta soldiers, the pictures of all the prominent visitors to the terra cotta soldiers (from Nancy and Ron to the Clintons); two silk factories, an exquisite Jade museum and workshop, a Chinese opera, a Chinese dance troupe, a Chinese acrobat show ending with six motorcycles in the steel mesh globe, a museum equipped with the relics from a newly discovered emperor's tomb (more relics than King Tut's tomb with jade relics instead of gold including an elegant set of at least one hundred different size bronze bells). The museum gave an impressive musical program using a replica set of bells.

We did not appreciate the pictures of the great wall until we actually visited it. The towers were located within two arrow distances of each other - perhaps one hundred fifty meters - yards in our terms). But the elevation between towers was typically more than one hundred feet (ten stories). We did not visit more than two towers. It is a tiring climb. The Chairman (Mao Tse Tung) is still revered in the public's mind. Since we visited on the national holiday, we were part of several hundred thousand visitors that day who hiked on the same part of the tower that The Chairman hiked following the successful revolution. It was a solid throng of people. Our Viking guides recognized the problem and got us to the wall very early.

The great tomb of the first emperor has not been disturbed. It is more massive than the great pyramids of Egypt. The archeologists are concerned that excavating would destroy the relics. The archeologists are currently making non-invasive investigations - radar, sonar, etc. The historic records report great interior protection such as spear traps, poisons, a lake of mercury, perhaps explosives. The records also report one-third of all the treasures of the empire are buried in the tomb. Looking at the treasures on the outside of the tomb (the Terra Cotta soldiers and two half size bronze chariots and horses) makes you wonder at the treasures that must be in the tomb.

It will take many years to complete the restoration of the Terra Cotta soldiers. The soldiers were vandalized during a peasant revolution. The roof collapsed as a result of fires during the revolution. There was only a cursory mention of an army in the historic records. It was not believed the reference was to an actual army of stone soldiers until they were discovered by a farmer digging a well. The soldiers are in pieces which are being restored as in a great terra cotta puzzle. The tomb will have to wait many more years. The Chinese are patient with respect to their overall philosophy.

That patience is not exhibited in the massive construction projects. The almost new city of Shanghai was built in the past ten years. Shanghai is a city of more than 19,000,000 people. The Chinese control the car traffic by only licensing 5,000 new cars per year in Shanghai. The licenses are auctioned. You can imagine the cost of a license. The cost for housing (mostly condos) is comparable to the more expensive areas in Southern California.

Our guide was one of the privileged class. He was the only child of a retired army general The general currently owns a prosperous coal mine. His father bought him a Ford Explorer which costs twice what it costs in the US. He related some of his early escapades - one of which resulted in his expulsion from the equivalent of a private high school. Confucius established the requirement for testing for government officials and other employment which is still in effect today. Our guide studied at home after being expelled and finished number 7 out of 130,000. He was a superb guide, but all of the Viking Cruise guides were excellent. Our guide informed us not to expect ice tea or Chinese Fortune cookies. They are an American invention.

There are some advantages for a controlled economy. In the US we cannot build a project if the habitat of an endangered toad might be disturbed. It was necessary for the Chinese government to displace one million one hundred thousand farms to build the big dam. Oops! They miscounted! The China Today Newspaper admitted a miscount of 200,000 persons while we were there. One million three hundred thousand persons will be displaced. The Chinese government will have to build two more cities of 100,000 to take care of the additional 200,000 displaced farmers. What would the ACLU say about that? The new towns are high rise condos with shopping malls and each contain a population of about 100,000. The farming families are moved from their individual plots and small villages into those towns.

The Buddhist temples are being restored by the government. The dormitory of the temple we visited in the mountains was at least five hundred feet above the temple. I thought the priests are truly devoted to make that climb every day - then I saw the cable car partly hidden in the forest leading from the temple to the dormitory! Another dream crushed.

We do need to send Al Gore to China. China publicizes their care for the environment prominently. They still burn their crops. They say it returns the fertilizer to the soil. The farmers in the US and other countries plow the crops back into the soil. Plowing the crops into the soil eliminates the carbon dioxide of the burning crops.

We saw the sun for perhaps fifteen minutes during our entire trip because of consistent haze. The official policy reports the haze as fog. We could smell the fog. We call it smog.

China, like the US, has extensive coal deposits. They use it for many of their power plants without the pollution controls required for the US and European plants. While the Chinese publicize their solar electric installations, solar electric installations are small installations in remote areas. China is initiating massive nuclear power projects. Between ten and twenty nuclear power plants are in the design phase. The Chinese electric utilities do not require an environmental impact study to decide whether to build.

A social security problem of massive proportion exists in the future. One billion pensioners will have to be supported by four hundred million workers. They will no doubt change their population policies before the full impact hits.

The current farming system works. With genetically improved rice, corn, wheat and soybeans the farmers produce enough food for themselves and the city dwellers.

The farmers are all independent entrepreneurs. The farmers own their plots. The typical farmer's cash income is less than $300.00 annually for each family according to statistics printed in the China Today News. That income is marginally adequate because the farmers have no expenses for food and shelter. The farmers' lives are much improved over the old system of communes. Their children are not enthralled with that lifestyle. Who is going to farm those five acre plots in the future?

The government admits many problems exist and discusses them carefully in the China Today Newspaper which is a daily paper published in English. The paper is fascinating to read because the opinions are carefully neutral on every subject except for corruption. I suspect government censors carefully neutralize all opinions before publication. The corrupt officials are immediately dismissed, but there was no mention of the final disposition of those officials. The problem of the low income of the farmers, too many college graduates and not enough craftsmen, too many holidays, inadequate medical care and the lack of consumer spending were all subjects featured in the paper during our tour.

Each city has its own personality. Beijing is the center of power with majestic tourist attractions similar to Washington DC. Chungking is built on hills with almost constant fog similar to San Francisco. Americans are especially welcome in Chungking, because the flying tigers were based in Chungking. The population remembers.

You will not find many Japanese cars or Japanese agencies in Nanking. The Japanese massacred more than 300,000 people in Nanking. Everyone has a relative or friend who was killed, tortured or raped in that massacre.

Xian, as the ancient capital, is trying to recover its glory as a tourist city with the museums of the terra cotta soldiers.

Foreigners are welcome in Shanghai because it is an international city and a financial competitor to Hong Kong.

The government will be careful to keep the population satisfied with their plans. The army is now a volunteer army. I doubt the volunteer army will fire on its own population if there is another revolt.

China is changing rapidly because of the partial acceptance of free enterprise ideas. It is a powerful country economically and militarily. We can work with them or we are liable to be working for them.

About the author: John Smylie is an attorney with offices in San Marcos and Vista. He is legal counsel for The Paper and a contributing columnist on both legal and travel items. He is a world traveler and often writes of his travel adventures.





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