Sunday, October 2, 2016

I Voted!

My ballot, with the bubble for Clinton bubbled in.
I'm very excited to tell you all that I've mailed in my absentee ballot for the presidential election. So, Americans, definitely make sure you get out there and vote for Hillary Clinton. I did, and I'm 7000 miles away from Donald Trump. Y'all who are closer should be MUCH more motivated.

Also, if you're planning to vote absentee and you're like "OH CRAP ARE WE SUPPOSED TO BE MAILING THOSE IN ALREADY?!" no, don't worry. You still have plenty of time. I just mailed mine really early so I could get the super-cheap, super-slow, possibly-on-a-boat shipping option.

I've only talked to a few Chinese people about the US election, but several of them said they don't like Hillary Clinton (or rather, 希拉里 xī lā lǐ, her Chinese name) because she is not nice to China. (Trump is more of an unknown quantity here- though a few Chinese people told me Trump is definitely worse.) I hadn't really thought about that before- yes, US politicians are always talking about how China is doing all kinds of shady things and can't be trusted, but that kind of talk never really bothered me because I don't take it to mean anything bad about the Chinese people, just the government. (Though sometimes the whole "companies are sending our jobs to China" comes across kind of ... racist. As if Chinese people aren't regular people who, you know, get jobs. I get how US politicians have a responsibility to prioritize Americans' jobs over jobs for people of other countries, but sometimes discussion of this issue can get really bigoted/racist. [Insert joke here about how I came to China to steal their jobs.])

Growing up white in the US, I knew that of course the Chinese government was evil. And communist. And that "communist" means "evil." (I remember one time, a Chinese-American friend was asking why people always take it for granted that communism is bad. Like in history class it's like "What do we know about communism?" "It's bad." Blew my mind because I had never questioned it.) And about China's human rights violations, and about the very shady/murderous/power-hungry things that Mao Zedong did. Which is all true. (Mao is still seen as a great leader here. Ugh.)

And in the American evangelical church I heard even more about it. How China persecutes Christians. And yeah, there's truth to that. And when I first came to China, on a mission trip, our leaders told us not to use any Christian vocabulary in public- to use the word "father" instead of "God", "CJ" instead of "Jesus", to look around awkwardly while we prayed before meals instead of bowing our heads. And DON'T TALK ABOUT Tibet, Taiwan, or Tiananmen Square. (I've since learned that these are probably pretty reasonable rules for a group of white people on a mission trip, because that's going to attract attention. But if you're just one individual Christian living your normal life and not explicitly working as a missionary, you don't need to be so paranoid.)

But actually living here is a very different story. I have to interact with the government and with Chinese police several times per year, to apply for visas and residence permits, to register my address (which foreigners are required to do), etc. And it's all a huge bureaucracy. In my experience, the Chinese government is not evil, just full of complicated and unclear rules which may or may not actually be enforced. I'm here legally and I'm not scared of the government or the police. But I do get worried every year when it's time to renew my residence permit or apply for a visa and there's just so much red tape and various papers I need- what if suddenly they say they need another form that I don't have, and my application is denied and I get kicked out of China?

And here's an interesting anecdote: Back when I was teaching English, there was one time that some police came to the school and wanted to talk with a foreign teacher, and I ended up getting picked because I speak Chinese. They just asked me questions about my life, how I feel about my job, working in China, etc. Because they want to make sure the foreign teachers are doing okay. Because it's good for China when people come and teach English.

And about Christianity in China- yeah, there are churches here, that's totally legal. I get the impression that the churches are closely watched and sometimes not allowed to do certain things, but the average Chinese person is totally unaware there are restrictions like that. There's no "we're going to get arrested if they find out we're Christians!" China officially allows 5 religions: Catholic Christianity, Protestant Christianity, Buddhism, Taoism, and Islam. You can search online and find a church near you. And I've gone to many different churches and Christian groups- both Chinese and international- and their teachings are all within the range of stuff I've heard in American churches. There's nothing that screams "the gospel is being censored!!!" Yes, I've read the news articles (from the English side of the internet) about persecution- that does happen. But it's not something I've ever seen any evidence of in my day-to-day life in China.

And as for the communism aspect... eh, I've never really noticed anything along the lines of "this aspect of buying things works completely differently from the US because COMMUNISM." I've heard it said that China isn't really communist but isn't really capitalist. I don't know enough about economics to really say. And I always see students, starting in elementary school, wearing the red scarf, which means they are members of Young Pioneers, a youth organization run by the Communist Party. Seems like pretty much all students participate in this. It's about encouraging them to be good students. Doesn't seem like it has anything to do with the government or communism or being evil. I've talked to Chinese people who see the red scarf as sort of nostalgic-childhood sort of thing. Please don't freak out like "oh my, they're forcing children to join the communist party! HOW EVIL!" It's not like that.

Occasionally, though, I do see or hear something that suggests the Chinese government is kind of shady. Like the documentary about air pollution which went viral and then mysteriously disappeared from the internet. (You can still watch it on youtube though. Which is blocked in China.) Or when I was teaching English a few years ago, and some of my students were talking about the one-child policy and how it's not fair. They said choosing how many children to have is a human right. (In January 2016 the policy was changed so now Han Chinese can have 2 children. [Other ethnic groups aren't restricted by the policy.]) Or my friend from Taiwan who says he doesn't go around telling people that Taiwan is not part of China.

ANYWAY. My point is, yeah you can read about China's human-rights violations. That stuff is real and it's not okay, and there are activists who protest and try to right those wrongs. (And you don't really hear about them in the Chinese media...) And politicians like Clinton are right to be harsh towards the Chinese government because of those things. But it seems to me like a lot of Americans think that means China's not safe, that we constantly live in fear of the government. It's not like that at all. In my experience, the Chinese government is not evil, it's just a huge, unreasonably-complicated bureaucracy. (The US Department of State says traveling in China is pretty safe- just watch out for thieves when you're in crowded places, and people trying to scam tourists out of their money. [I can confirm those are actual risks you should watch out for.] Contrast that to the warning about North Korea.)

(And don't pretend the US government doesn't have any human-rights violations. Look at things like torture, police brutality, mass incarceration, Donald Trump. Yes, the Chinese government is worse... though maybe I'm biased.)

Anyway. Talking with Chinese people about the US election, I've discovered they don't like Hillary Clinton because of the things she's said about the Chinese government. Previously I had taken US politicians' statements about China to mean "well we all know the Chinese government is evil, we have nothing against Chinese people though," but now I'm realizing why Chinese people wouldn't see it that way. Fascinating.

Seriously, though- Americans, make sure you go vote for Hillary Clinton on November 8.

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