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Peter lived for nearly a half-decade in China, including two as a Peace Corps volunteer, and is the author of Socrates in Sichuan: Chinese Students Search for Truth, Justice and the (Chinese) Way. It is the intention of his blog to foster the sort of intercultural understanding necessary for long term relationships.
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Building Bridges and Mending Fences: A Chinese Dream for America    

By Peter V
2425 Views | 30 Comments | 11/27/2018 1:57:06 PM

I was wakened this morning by the sound of Chinese—the nasal enunciation of those jack hammer monosyllables aroused me from my sleep as sure as if someone had poured cold water over my head. As my mind focused, I thought I recognized the rapid-fire monotone of a newscast or documentary emanating from some distant electronic device. Suddenly, the thought occurred to me that, for reasons my half-awake state of consciousness could not currently recollect, I had returned to China—or perhaps had never left. Turning towards the window and seeing the blue sky I relaxed, knowing I could not possibly be back in Chengdu. Realizing Yong was beside me in bed both cemented my belief that I was indeed in the States and revealed the source of the sound.

My wife was transfixed to her IPhone, viewing what turned out to be a China news documentary about the jrecenlty completed Hong Kong-Macau-Zhuhai bridge, the world’s longest sea crossing bridge. After what seemed an inordinate amount of time to be watching a program devoted to a hunk of steel, she discoursed glowingly and at length on the details of the project, including its cost (19 billion), its length (34 miles) and the fact that  it consists of three cable-stayed bridges, an undersea tunnel, and four artificial islands.

In my book, Socrates in Sichuan: Chinese Students Search for Truth, Justice and the Chinese Way, I had discussed some of the differences and similarities between Chinese culture and American culture noting, among other things, that the average level of Chinese nationalism was about where it was in America the day after 9/11. Here seemed to me a classic example of what I had written about, and I was contemplating whether I could pen a column on how excessive nationalism relates to the topic of dating Chinese women when a thought gripped me even more frightening than the thought that I was still in Chengdu. What if what I had identified as excessive Chinese nationalism wasn’t anything peculiar to China but a simple and natural pride in what your country has accomplished that any self-respecting nation should personify? The fact that I could not discover a similar sentiment in America was because, well, we hadn’t done much of anything lately.

Rather than being about building bridges the news on American infrastructure was about bridges collapsing. The American Society of Civil Engineers recently gave American’s airports, bridges, dams, water system, grids, ports, roads, railways, and public transport a grade of D+. They estimated that the amount of money required to bring these up to an acceptable standard would be 4.6 trillion dollars. The current resident of the White House had promised to “make America great again.” But this obviously did not apply to infrastructure, since Republicans have devoted no new dollars to this cause since Trump took office. The massive Republican passed tax cut, 90% of which went to the top 5% of earners, would mean no additional dollars will be available for the foreseeable future.

On another front, in the last forty years China had lifted more people out of poverty than at any time in human history. During the same period, wages for Americans had stayed flat, the average American family stuck where it was four decades ago. And while the American economy is booming and unemployment was at a record low, most of the benefits are being realized by the wealthy, most of the jobs created minimum wage, and the gap between rich and poor continues to widen, now at the highest level since right before the Great Depression.

The one unquestioned superiority America can claim is with our military, where we spend more than the next seven countries combined. But what if while devoting a massive amount of money to protecting us from an external threat, our nation decaying from within? In addition to the crumbling infrastructure, America ranks 27th in health care and education; the drug epidemic is ravaging the nation, with a record 72,000 heroin overdose deaths last year; we incarcerate more of our population per capita than any other country on the planet; and, for the first time in our nation’s history, life expectancy is declining for a portion of the population driven, most researchers believe, by the “diseases of despair” (drug abuse, alcoholism, and suicide) among white working class men.

Of course blame for all of this cannot be laid at the foot of President Trump. Indeed, the president’s well-known campaign slogan can be seen as a tacit acknowledgement of the fallen condition of America, although he seems better at diagnosing than at fixing what ails us. Consider, for example, one of the president’s most popular proposals during the campaign and one that continues to draw cheers at his rallies: the wall along the Mexican border. Here, it seems that like the government itself, Trump decided to borrow from China. Instead of copying China’s current infrastructure spending to generate national pride and economic benefit, however, our president decided to reach back to China’s first emperor for inspiration. A couple of thousand years ago, a defensive wall was a great idea, and the one that Qin Shi Huang helped put into place no doubt played a role in holding the empire together.  Flash ahead to the present day, and the military usefulness of a defensive wall is rivalled only by the slingshot, which is why China long ago transformed its wall into a tourist attraction. Perhaps Trump can do the same, charge admission and reduce the national debt, or at least recover what it’s going to cost to build the damn thing.

Despite my views on the border wall, the concept of turning to China for inspiration on the project of rebuilding America’s greatness has some merit, and I am not just referring to infrastructure spending (although that’s not a bad place to start).  A nation that has a five thousand year history undoubtedly has something to teach a country that has been around for a couple of hundred as surely as a couple that has been together for fifty years has some important lessons to pass on to newlyweds.

One of those lessons has to do with the value of social harmony (hexie shehui). Going back to Confucius, it is the notion that a feeling of good will and cooperation among citizens is necessary if society is going to flourish. The idea was put front and center by Hu Jintao, and continues to play a role in the Chinse Dream advocated by the current president Xi Jinping. America, by contrast, no longer seems to be “one nation indivisible.” Instead we are splitting into two separate tribes—Red America and Blue America—with little to say to each other.  Demographers inform us that we are even self-segregating in our living locations, opting to reside alongside those who talk, think, and vote the same way as we do.

This emphasis on social harmony goes hand in hand with the concept of face—the idea that members of a society should eschew confrontation and harsh words in favor of civility and good will. A harmonious society is inconsistent with open conflict among its members. When I allow my opponent to keep face, I don’t attempt to humiliate or undermine them; instead, I defer whenever possible and at the very least acknowledge the reasonableness of their point of view. While such an attitude may strike many Americans as insincere or even cowardly, those of us alive before the invention of Fox News remember a time when the American politics was much more tempered and politicians from different parties engaged in civil discussion and even compromised to pass legislation. No more. If this most recent election demonstrates anything, it is that our government is now as divided as our people.

“Crisis” seems not too strong a word to describe the current state of national schism and internal decay. It’s been said that the Chinese character for “crisis” contains the character for “danger” and for “opportunity.” Regardless of the accuracy of the assertion, the insight behind it seems correct insofar as in the wake of the election the reality of divided government means that politicians are going to have to reach across the aisle and work together to get anything done. Thankfully, some in the opposing political parties are doing just that, even talking about infrastructure being a top priority, sounding, if I may say so, almost Chinese, or at least trying to implement two things Chinese have shown themselves to be particularly adept at, social harmony and infrastructure, building bridges and mending fences.

Copyright owned jointly by Author and CyberCupid Co., Ltd. Breach of copyright will be prosecuted.
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#2018-11-27 13:56:51 by JohnAbbot @JohnAbbot

Peter, I had never imagined the day would come when one of your blogs would set us all off on a heated political debate, or perhaps "battle" would be a better descriptor. And yet here we are. 

I will try to address the bigger picture you've painted here shortly, but before doing so I cannot stop myself from responding to one of the detailed brush strokes you used in the process of creating that bigger picture.

The current resident of the White House had promised to “make America great again.” But this obviously did not apply to infrastructure, since Republicans have devoted no new dollars to this cause since Trump took office.

As I recall Trump did try to earnestly get the ball rolling on infrastructure, and invited the party of the left to work with him to get things moving. Virtually everyone who was involved in analyzing and explaining to "the people" what was happening politically in the US thought that infrastructure was the one area where the parties could come together because everyone on both sides of the house and the Senate knew how important it was to get infrastructure fixed before there was nothing left to fix. But the pundits were wrong.

It turned out that the party on the left was committed to doing nothing positive or bipartisan for the good of the country in any manner. Instead they loudly announced that they were, to the person, going to commit every ounce of energy they had to obstruct the duly elected President at every opportunity. And that is exactly what they did. 

And now that they have won control of the house, what is the party of the left promising to do? They are promising to go right to work creating up to 85 investigations into the Trump Administration, thereby guaranteeing that nothing is going to get done on infrastructure for at least another two years.

Which leads nicely into thoughts on the big picture you have provided. First, as to your description of where China now stands compared to where the US now stands regarding infrastructure, I suspect that to some degree your comments apply to almost all the 1st World Democracies, not solely to the US. All of our Western countries (Canada in my case) are far behind China when it comes to infrastructure, as well a lot of other areas of National importance.

But that has more to do, in my opinion, with the manner in which our so called Democracies have become so corrupted that they can no longer function as anything but an endless source of unearned wealth for our politicians  and unearned power for our global elite. China, on the other hand, has managed to remove a great deal of the corruption from the picture and is demonstrating how a well run benevolent dictatorship can get good things done for the good of the people.

Maybe that was just another way of saying what you were saying yourself. 

#2018-11-27 14:15:26 by anonymous18694 @anonymous18694

There is a price to pay for running down infrastructure. Unfortunately, it is now time for countries like the U.S.A and Australia to pay that price.

#2018-11-27 14:47:56 by Barry1 @Barry1



"trying to implement two things Chinese have shown themselves to be particularly adept at, social harmony and infrastructure, building bridges and mending fences"


An interesting and largely true article, Peter. Great stuff.


However I must point out that many millions of Chinese live in impoverished conditions. Sure, the middle classes have been surging forward in leaps and bounds over the past decade or two. But what about the multitude of poor farmers and those otherwise incapacitated folk, who fall through the cracks, leading lives of despair and quiet desperation?


So whilst the communist government there does an excellent job at building huge bridges, what about the huge numbers of people living hand to mouth every day? Or those who cannot afford the medical treatment they may urgently require?


The communist government likes to defy international law by building huge military infrastructure around the Spratly Islands and other half submerged atolls in the South China Sea. No doubt, this is amazing infrastructure. Do you think the governments of the Philippines, Malaysia and South Vietnam, will also be mighty pleased and impressed by all this?


What I am getting at is the questionable morality being exhibited here.  The government spends huge amounts of money on wonderful towers, buildings, bridges, etc, so that they give the impression of being a leading edge country. As far as infrastructure goes, indisputedly they are. But is all this stuff more important than earnestly attempting to raise the standard of living for ALL its citizens, rather than just a grinning proportion of them?


As far as human rights go for many of their citizens, this is a whole other story. To be fair, one cannot look at one aspect of the society, while ignoring equally (or more) compelling alternate aspects. I cannot go into specifics as it may get this website into trouble with the Chinese censors. But if I could, I'd describe things to you Peter, that may slightly take the shine off your immense adulation and admiration for this country.  :^)





#2018-11-27 20:55:53 by autumn2066 @autumn2066

Personaly I don't agree with your view, but I won't talk too much about it since I know very limited about your western world.

It seems that many western people admire those luxury infrastructure achievement and the miracle of the high speed train transit network, while forget that most of the apparent success and bubble boom came at the expense of destroying the natural environment and harming the interests of the public.

Huge taxes have been spending on massive luxury infrastructure and military and police to control social stability.Comparing with these two fields, only a little part of the taxes were spent on public education and public health and social charity assistance.In some countries,education and hospital systerm have been used as a big business to enrich some people in a legal way robbing money from the public. 

Behind the huge investment and financial expenditure is the incredible collective corruption and corruption, which has created a huge social security deficit and a huge local government debt, leaving behind many mines under the ground of economic field.And all these negative data would never allowed to be shown nor be talked in the media. Everyone who has a history-mirror brain will see these mines fields with cautious perspective,not just appreciate the superficial prosperity.

Sooner or later all these fantastic bubbles and fancy price will trigger a latent danger of inflationary of the consequences, and like what have been happening before many times all over the world, none a government( no matter west or east) would take any responsibility for all these tragic and bloody economic losses.All the economic deception and predation from devaluation will punish ordinary people,the public is the only one whom has to swallow and borne all the the bitter fruits after economic breakdown.In political and economic games,the public is scapegoat.

I wonder if it has reminded you western people something similar in Japan in 1990s or USA in 2008? I wonder would anyone here still appreciate those powerful groups' grand manors and luxurious drivings when he realized that he has been the contributor since he has been stealing money in the name of laws and tax. :)

Only naive people believe that those powerful groups care about the public's benefit. If the world is a cake, only when you eat less, the others could get more to eat.If the world is a zoo,either you out of the game, either you fight to win.

The first time any Chinese seeing USA people dare to yell to their president or seeing French workers dare to march and protest in streets in TV,would said a word with an unbelievable tone ------ "WOW?!"

Yes, wow!

In east world,few people dare to dig deeper into unfair news,because it will cross the line of sensitive areas, and might irritate the powerful groups.Many people who dares to question government might be thrown into prison after a few times warnings and threats,powerful groups have no much patience to appreciate any question and satire.

Keep writing satirist articles? You could try, I bet you would regreat.

In this case, all the public could ever know should be treated as limited and might be fake.

About social harmony, it is another topic. I prefer keeping silenceand let you guys talk.

#2018-11-28 01:32:33 by QinQL @QinQL

刚刚看到央视突传大喜讯,恭喜中国!中国科学家用行动告诉了世界,中国人造太阳所达到的高度,已经无限接近聚变堆稳态运行模式所需要的全部物理条件。率先掌握可控核聚变能源技术的中国,一旦能实现从试验转向大规模的量产突破,不仅可以免受石油进口安全的困扰,还能绝地反击成为新能源时代的引领者,人类也将进入下一个纪元,历史就此分为两段,从“ 石油文明 ” 走向 “ 核能文明 ” 。有人欢喜,有人忧。我想这一刻,是美国、沙特等国家最不想看到的!要知道, 石油文明让沙特和阿曼为首的产油大国,富得流油!同样,在这些联盟国的支持下,美国也受尽好处。因为石油和美元的挂钩,让布雷顿森林体系崩溃后,信用丧失殆尽的美元,依旧充当着世界货币。然而今天,伴随着中国的重大突破,他们拥有的一切霸权,将彻底进入倒计时。实验已经成功,大规模应用还会远吗?我相信中国最终,将成为人类进入新能源时代的开启者!科技就是第一生产力,恭喜中国!
Well done, Peter! The pic of the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau Bridge caught my eyes at first. You mentioned China's first emperor and thinker, Confucius, and the face view of Chinese culture, etc. You sound know china very well. 
China's 40 years, especially the last 5 years ( maybe it was the period you depart from china?) ,  being an average Chinese person, there are lots of changes in my daily life: the streets and alleys are full of new colored bikes. I can ride it by sweeping phone; Street vendors can use WeChat and Alipay to do their little business.  Many western guys  here have WeChat.  Lots of countries can use WeChat and Alipay as well. Alipay is more convinient. It can let us get automatic payment. The most convenient thing is online shopping. Last week I bought a bag of black sesame on Taobao. They are especially fragrant, fresh, cost-effective. I can imagine robot now . When I get old, robots can look after me 24 hours per day.
Just got a news, CCTV suddenly spread great good news, congratulations to China! Chinese scientists have told the world that the height reached by China's artificial sun is infinitely close to all the physical conditions required for the steady-state operation of a fusion reactor. China, which took the lead in mastering controllable nuclear fusion energy technology, can not only avoid the problem of oil import security, but also fight back to become a leader in the new energy era once it can achieve a breakthrough from experimentation to mass production on a large scale. Mankind will enter the next era, and the world history will be divided into two parts, from oil civilization to nuclear civilization. Some are glad, others maybe not so. I think it is the moment that some people from the United States and Saudi Arabia are not willing to see it. We know, with oil civilization Saudi Arabia and Oman who are leaders of several oil-producing countries become the richest in the world! Likewise, with the support of these allies, the United States has got plenty benefits from it . After the collapse of the Bretton Woods system and pegging oil to the dollar, which has lost its credit, USD still remains the world's currency. Today, however, with a major breakthrough in China, all their hegemony will enter the countdown. The experiment has been successful, the large-scale application won’t be far away.  I believe that in the end, China will open up a new energy era for mankind ! Technology is the first productivity, congratulations to China !

#2018-11-28 14:33:01 by Barry1 @Barry1



"China, on the other hand, has managed to remove a great deal of the corruption from the picture and is demonstrating how a well run benevolent dictatorship can get good things done for the good of the people"


Do you think the MILLIONS of impoverished lower classes in China would agree that the country is ably managed by a "well run, benevolent dictatorship", John?


Or would only a PROPORTION of the country agree with your assertion?  :^)



#2018-11-28 14:43:39 by JohnAbbot @JohnAbbot

@Barry1 - I appreciate much of what you say in many of your comments, but sometimes I am a little baffled by your feeling that the Chinese Government is not doing enough in the fight against poverty. You acknowledge, yourself, that they have brought a huge proportion of their population up to being middle class, and that process seems to me to be continuing on a pace faster than ever obtained by any country at anytime. Why do you assume that the Chinese Government isn't going to keep doing that?

I understand that they have set an actual goal to have every single citizen above the poverty line within a set time frame, and as I recall the goal line is the year 2030, although I stand to be corrected on the year. But in any event, I have never heard of any country ever having taken it upon themselves to bring everyone up above the poverty line.  Have you?

It isn't possible to achieve such an incredible goal instantly, so what exactly are you expecting of them? I am watching the Government of Canada, under the leadership of an infant clown, drive the economy into the ground. Until Trump that was also the apparent goal of the American Goverment as  and it still is the goal of the Democrat Party.

Australia seems to have made a change for the good in a recent election, but still, I don't see them moving forward at anywhere near the pace that China has been.  Am I missing something, or are you expecting too much in too short a time? 

#2018-11-28 17:01:53 by Barry1 @Barry1



"Am I missing something, or are you expecting too much in too short a time?"


Yes John, you're missing something.


You see, China is wasting BILLIONS of unnecessary dollars in constructing HUGE infrastructure around the Spratly Islands and other semi-inundated barren atolls in the South China sea.  For what purpose?  Apart from the excessive money being flushed down the toilet there, it's also mightily pissing off the governments of the Philippines, Malaysia and South Vietnam, not to mention the USA and other developed countries.  It's clearly breaching INTERNATIONAL LAW. Why? So it can say its military might is bigger than everyone elses in the region? Or maybe it's just a flagrant land grab aiming to extend its reach in potentially oil and/or mineral rich waters at the expense of its less powerful neighbours?


In the meantime, MILLIONS of its citizens, particularly in the rural areas, are leading tough lives, some with not enough food to eat, let alone the paucity of  moderately priced medical facilities available to them.


This is but one example of poor governance with misplaced priorities, in my view.


Do you want me to give more?  :^)



#2018-11-28 18:42:09 by melcyan @melcyan


 I liked your comment to Peter. I also think China is heading in the right direction. No other country is planning 10, 20, 50 and 100 years into the future. At present, the survival of the human species is at risk. If we are going to survive long term then it will be with China leading the way.

#2018-11-29 21:16:53 by paulfox1 @paulfox1


You are spot-on, (for a change, lol). There are many western countries that are building new infrastructure designed to last 15-20 years rather than the usual 50-100+. To me this is a huge 'red-flag' and is something we need to look at more closely.

China, unlike ALL western countries, appears to actually CARE for its citizens as opposed to viewing them as simply 'useless-eaters', or 'consumers'.

Sure, here in China you may be just the number on your I.D card, but at least Chinese people don't receive generic letters saying, 'Dear Taxpayer.....' or 'Dear Consumer....'

China is one of the few countries prepared to embrace a real future. Many of the western countries are only focussed on destruction.


The 'fight against poverty' is a 'joke'. If just a couple of billionaires, such as Soros and Gates for example, spent a few quid on poverty instead of population control and manipulating the 'leftist agenda', the poverty throughout the world could be eliminated in a week.

When I was a small child growing up in the UK, my mum would chastise me for not finishing my dinner. She'd say 'There's people starving in Africa/China/India' etc, and that was 50 years ago.

The world had 'Band-Aid' back in the 1980's in an 'attempt' to fix world hunger, yet it still prevails.

This isn't a 'conspiracy blog' so I won't 'go there', but I strongly suggest people do some research into the society known as the 'Red Cross'.


Don't let MSM wind you up. The 'agenda' between the US and China is not what we're told.

I think most people on CLM who have SOME experience of China would understand that if the USA picked a fight with China, it'd be suicide.

People need to remember that the USA s simply the 'school bully' - all mouth-and-trousers. Sure it has a huge military, but set that against China or Russia, and it's 'bye-bye'.


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