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China 2009

Image of a group of IPS students at the Great Wall of China
Photo Credit: Moritz Zander

Study Trip Report, Beijing, China

Though China is often portrayed as monolithic in Western media, the IPS global study trip to Beijing showed us the diversity of experiences and opinions that form modem Chinese society. Our first day in Beijing gave us a picture of the past and future of Chinese society: we met with Qi Bin, the Director General of the China Securities Regulatory Commission, who was educated in the U.S. and worked for Goldman Sachs for several years. In the afternoon, we spoke with Mao Yoshi, President of the think tank Unirule Economics, who, under the rule of Chairman Mao, was sent to the countryside where he nearly died during the Great Famine. Hearing these divergent experiences reminded us just how far China has come in the past two decades.

China’s progress was a major theme throughout the week. On our second day, we met with David Dollar, the Country Director for China and Mongolia at the World Bank, who called China “the ideal client”. The government's effectiveness in carrying out reforms is obvious in the explosion of economic growth, though we also discussed the growing inequality and urban-rural divide. As China grows, its presence on the international stage is increasing, a topic we covered in our Q & A with the Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs, He Yafei. Mr. Yafei gamely answered questions ranging from Sudan to Myanmar to Taiwan; hearing his perspective on these issues provoked serious debate and discussion amongst the students even after we left the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

We continued to talk about the differences in viewpoint between China and the West the following day with Jin Canrong, a professor at Renmin University. As Mr. Canrong pointed out, the U.S. and China “are both in the same boat” so we will have to put differences aside and tackle the challenges brought about by the financial crisis. Two other professors we spoke with, Li-An Zhou of Peking University, and Xiao Geng of Tsinghua University and Director of the Brookings-Tsinghua Center for Public Policy, also spoke about the causes of the crisis and the government's response. Napoleon Navarro, the Country Director for the United Nations Development Program, shared with us his experience working with the Chinese government on issues like the environment and public health.

Later in the week, we met with Frank Hawke, President of Kroll in China, and Andy Andreasen, Managing Director of Asia Information Associates Limited (a division of Baker & McKenzie). They are part of Beijing's large “ex-pat” community, visible proof of China's liberal economic reforms and the attractiveness of China to foreign investors. Both men were born and raised in the United States, and came to China when China opened to the West in the late 1970s. Hearing stories about the changes they've seen reminded us of what Mr. Hawke called the “juggernaut” of China and its impressive progress. We can’t be sure of what the next few years will bring, as China is still grappling with its growing international role as well as domestic demands, but we can be sure that the country represents an increasingly important global power.

In between our thought-provoking meetings, we were able to sightsee. The classic grandeur of the Forbidden City and the Summer Palace served as a reminder of China's long history as well as the many changes to Chinese society in the past century. The Great Wall of China, one of the Seven Wonders of the World, was absolutely amazing. Following a short excursion hiking up the wall and back, we met with an American businessman who is heading up an economic development effort in one of the poor towns near the great wall, training and employing local peasants in hotels and restaurants. The homemade noodles were delicious, and the walk through the village showed us yet another part of modern China. From ancient past to 20th century struggles to 21st century challenges, the global study trip provided us with incredible insight into the complexity of Chinese society, and an appreciation for the emerging opportunities and challenges for China and for China's relations with the world.

- Molly Elgin ('10)