Monday, September 03, 2007


One major difference between China and the Philippines, which I noticed while on the work component of my trip last week: the relative lack of social hierarchy and apparent relative egalitarianism. I've dulled this statement with qualifying words (relative, apparent) because I acknowledge its based on the observations of somebody who's pretty ignorant of Chinese culture and history.

Obviously there's some social stratification in China, but it seemed on the surface that it doesn't run as deep as the very stratified Philippines. My guess is that Chinese communism has played a significant role in this, but -- having no real knowledge of contemporary China (beyond what I read in newspapers and on websites, and what I saw last week), and no knowledge of pre-cultural revolution China -- I offer grains of salt to anybody who reads this.

First, I didn't see any of the extremes of wealth and poverty that are easy to find in the Philippines. That may be because wealth in China is indeed more evenly distributed, or it could be because I just didn't happen to see it in my 9 days there, or that the Chinese government (which blocks access to blogger, by the way) is better at sweeping it under the proverbial. Having said that, there was plenty of evidence of unshared personal wealth, particularly in the form of large, new European cars (especially black Audis). No doubt plenty has been written on China's current economic phenomenon, and to what extent the country's increasing wealth is being shared around. I shall add nothing to that body of knowledge.

Second, our driver sat in the same room, at the same table as the rest of us -- scientists, local communist party officials, token foreigner (me), local agricultural businesspeople. Not only did he eat with us, he toasted and was toasted by everyone else*, and chatted with everyone (except me, because we didn't share any language beyond "cheers"). In an equivalent situation in the Philippines, the driver would almost never join the professionals at meals. More than likely, he'd get a meal allowance of a couple of dollars and head off to a much cheaper place to eat alone or with the other drivers, if there are more than one.

*Our driver also didn't touch a drop of alcohol, which -- given he was the driver and considering the effects of the local liquor -- made him my own personal hero.

And -- because I still care -- here's another photo from the Forbidden City in Beijing:

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