Life in China

With 1.4 billion people inhabiting its land, China has quite an interesting historical record with politics.

Unlike the democracy in Western countries, the People’s Republic of China is a socialist country, which means the Communist Party is the only ruling regime. The person with the greatest political power is the Chairman, and he is elected by his predecessor. Therefore people don’t have the right to vote. We had 7 chairmen since the great founding leader Mao. Each chairman usually holds for 2 terms, each term for 5 years. But last year, the constitution changed for Chairman Xi, who can now stay in office for an unlimited number of years.

Photo by danielvfung/iStock / Getty Images

Photo by danielvfung/iStock / Getty Images

Living under a socialist regime is also different from a democratic one. There are subtle differences in our lifestyles, for example there is less freedom of speech in China than many places in the world. Politics is especially a sensitive topic. There’s usually not much positivity when people talk about it, but criticizing the government publicly is something you is greatly frowned upon. There is heavy censorship on what people write and publish on social media. The two famous social media platforms here are Wechat (like a more privatized Facebook) and Weibo (like Twitter) where people like to voice their opinions and complaints. The web manager is also very active in deleting any posts that contains sensitive information. I’ve seen many of my friends forwarding with indignation articles about homosexuals (whose marriages are still illegal in China) and government behavior that we don’t see on public media. These articles were usually deleted half an hour later by the web manager. This article would probably face the same fate if it were published on a Chinese website.

Being at an international school in China can also be a bit challenging. In the history textbook approved by the Department of Education for most public schools, the Culture Revolution in the 1960s and many other actions of the government during the tumultuous 20th century were left out. We study the Western curriculum of IBDP and AP, where communism was portrayed very differently than in Chinese textbooks. However, we were not allowed to study or purchase any textbooks that involve modern Chinese politics and history. The schools ordered many books, such as one that that talk about South African Apartheid, the US Civil War but nothing about China. It came with the name Rights and Protests, but never arrived. Last year, our sociology textbooks were handed to the Department of Education for checking, when they came back, there was a sentence about Chinese TV surveillance being crossed out. No one would have noticed it if the Department of Education hadn’t done so…The thing that annoys most foreigners is probably the Chinese Firewall, which blocks government-undesirable websites such as YouTube, Google, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, etc…

When I was in the US, I was asked a lot about the changing of China’s one-child policy in 2017. During Mao’s time, he encouraged people to have more children in order to provide the country with more soldiers and labor force in the future. But in the 1970s, it became obvious that the resources in this country could not sustain such a bourgeoning population, thus the one-child policy was introduced in 1975 to reduce population. Urban families could only produce one child, if they had more, they would get fined based on a certain percentage of their family income or lose their jobs if they worked in the government. When I went to school, most of my classmates were either only-child or had siblings with foreign passports. However, there were some exceptions: rural families and ethnic minority families were allowed to have two children since their populations were low. As ethnic Mongolians, my family could have another child, but my parents chose not to. That is because raising children in Shanghai is very expensive, but most of my cousins back in my hometown do have siblings.

Photo by Nikada/iStock / Getty Images

Photo by Nikada/iStock / Getty Images

The one-child policy effectively reduced population after being in place for 40 years. Some significant problems also began to reveal. China now has an increasing aging population, and a much smaller working population. A young couple has to support children and four aging parents all by themselves. Many old couples become empty nester once they lost their only-child. Over the course of the one-child policy also saw the tremendous increase in ethnic minority population and decrease in the majority Han population. Some of my relatives speculated that the government feared if this trend continues, one day China will be controlled by ethnic minorities again (like in the Yuan and Qing dynasty), which explains why they opened two-children policy for Han families, but remained two-children for ethnic minorities. But even after the loosening of the policy, many parents are still unwilling to have another child due to the tremendous amount of burden it would add to the family. Nevertheless, being an ethnic minority in China is a good thing. Yet the majority group has a lot of bias and misunderstanding about us; we enjoy many “positive discriminations” such as 50 bonus points for Gao-Kao (the life-determining university entrance exam, a total out of 800 points).

When I was a child, I never found politics interesting, because to me it was just a bunch of old men talking. When I grew up a little, I found it to be the devil, based on the stories I heard from the old people who experienced the Cultural Revolution. As I become more mature and more knowledgeable about the country’s situation and political mechanics, I gain an understanding and tolerance of my government, our politics, and the countries we once regarded as “enemies”.


Megumi Pelkachina, politics