Mitchell Blatt has been a contributor to ChinaHush since 2011. He has lived and traveled in China, working as editor of Map Magazine, lead author of Panda Guides Hong Kong guidebook, and a freelance writer. Now, for the first time, he shares his best journalism and essays in ebook form. Included is the introduction to his new ebook Finding Harmony: War, Protest, and Harmony in China and Hong Kong.
In 2011, I stepped off the plane into China for the first time, as a study abroad student in Nanjing. The first day when I met my classmates and we walked down narrow alleyways with stalls and three-wheel tricycles was surreal. Vendors shouted at us to buy all kinds of products we had never seen before, and we shouted, “Nihao” back, and they smiled. It seems all very ordinary now, after I have been around the country, celebrated the largest ethnic festival in China, witnessed ethnic hunting tribes putting on a gun show, and observed Benny Tai and his supporters planning their occupation of Hong Kong, all topics that will be covered in this book, but at the time, the everyday sights of China were astounding.
This book isn’t really about me, the journalist and traveler, apart from a few travel articles and articles related to my perceptions; it’s really about the extreme changes China has seen over the past three years and the unique cultural treasures that exist here that won’t change so quickly.
But in my travels and work as a journalist, I have run into many of these news-making events and important cultural materials, and I have documented them in articles that I have collecting for the first time all in one source: this book. Even in March 2011, towards the end of my study abroad semester, the earthquakes halfway around the world in Egypt, Libya, Syria, and elsewhere were making their impact felt in Nanjing students’ lives. In March and April 2011, the Arab Spring was on full throttle. On April 3, it was reported that Bahrain shut down the opposition newspaper and Syria appointed a new prime minister. At that time, Nanjing University foreign students must have remembered how the closing time for bars around the city changed from 3 am to 2 am (the ones who were good students of Chinese culture, anyway). Also on April 3, Beijing artist Ai Weiwei was arrested at the Beijing Capital International Airport.
One month later, the Hong Kong student activist group Scholarism would be formed by Joshua Wong. In 2012, Scholarism protested against a “national education” plan that was temporarily scrapped. Now Wong is one of the leaders of the Umbrella Movement/Occupy Hong Kong, a protest for “real democracy” in the 2017 election and beyond (more on that in the “Protest” section).
From 2011 to 2014, China’s GDP growth rate crashed from 9.3 percent in 2014 to below 8 percent in 2012 and ’13. In the third-quarter of 2014, the GDP grew at a rate of 7.3 percent, the lowest since 2009.
In education, Shanghai students won the international PISA test/competition in 2012 and 2009. In 2014, it was reported that Shanghai would drop out of the test in order to deemphasize the obsession with test taking and rote learning methods.
This problem is covered in my article in this book titled “Looking for Freedom from the Chinese Education System”. The article focuses in part on the education of students at one of the best rural schools in Yunnan, one of the poorest provinces in China. Although the students there might not be as fortunate as those in Shanghai, they are still better off than the more than 50 percent of students who, according to the Rural Education Action Program at Stanford University, don’t attend school. All the while, the number of Chinese students enrolled in Chinese colleges is actually declining, according to the World Bank. From 2010 to 2012, it dropped from 99.2 million to 95 million.
The U.S. and China just struck something of an agreement on climate change at the 2014 APEC summit. This is a big issues for both countries. As far as China goes, the country produces the vast majority—78.95% as of 2011—of its energy through coal, and that amount is actually an increase of 1.7 points from 2010, although it is a slight decrease from 2008. Their energy consumption in kilowatt hours increased from 3.5 trillion in 2009 to 4.4 trillion in 2011. By 2010, their CO2 emissions topped 8 million.
This has also been a great time for traveling, and I have a few travel articles in this book attesting to that. Indeed, after studying abroad in 2011, I embarked on a 2 month trip throughout Southern China, much of which is recalled in my article “Summer Travels”. There is also an article on traveling and eating spicy foot in Hunan province and the other articles about various localities that required travel by default.
The train network has been built at a startling pace. The length of tracks surpassed 100,000 km in 2013. From 2011 to 2013, it increased by 10,000 km, from 93,200 km to 103,100 km. High speed trains now top 300 km/hr, and daily ridership of high speed trains was already up to 1.3 million in 2012. I remember back in 2011, sleeping overnight as I would ride from Nanjing to Beijing or Guiyang to Kunming, but now those days are limited, as many of the slow overnight trains are being phased out on some routes. Almost 2.8 million domestic Chinese aircrafts took flight in 2013. In 2008, that number was just under 1.9 million. These developments let me go all around the country to electronics recycling towns, cosplay conventions, ethnic villages with wooden drum towers, and more.
Not only that, the world outside of China has been on fire since I started writing columns about foreign affairs for China.org.cn. In the year of the anniversary of World War I (covered in first essay), we saw Russia invade and annex Crimea, the U.S. begin strikes on targets in Syria, and continuing tensions between China and Japan. The issue of Chinese territorial disputes in the East and South China Seas is a potentially threatening one, which could lead to war with miscalculations. I visited Japan to see the Yushukan War Museum—at the Yasukuni Shrine—in 2013, just after Prime Minister Abe visited it, and I had some hard conclusions on the experience, which I shared in the second article.
My articles are organized in three sections: “War”, “Protest”, and “Harmony”, each relating to different parts of the world. There is nothing much more to say now. I let my essays speak for themselves.