Thursday, April 21, 2016

Different Ideologies May Spell Tension But Not Disaster

Dr Tsu Yao came to the U.S. in 1949 as a young man of seventeen. He had spent all of his youth moving from one safe location to another, as the Japanese attacked his homeland, and WWII ensued: from Beijing to Shanghai to Hong Kong to Shanghai to the interior of China. He said nothing--nothing--prepared him for the interior. In fact, coming to the U.S. was not as much of a shock as the interior had been. (See posts onetwothreefour.)
When he came to the U.S., China closed its doors to the outside world for the next thirty years.  There was little information in the media. That all changed with Nixon's visit in 1972. 
Dr. Yao returned to China in 1995 for the first time. He was amazed by all the changes, changes that multiplied with each successive visit. (See post five.)
The media had also blossomed, not always in a good sense. Dr. Yao said that media tended to harp on the negative aspects of China, rather than pointing out the positive. (See posts sixseven.)
The media hasn't been doing their job as educators. 
“Like in most countries, the general public is not that interested (in politics.) Their analytic abilities are pretty low. They cannot see what’s presented to them or what’s behind it or what that may lead to. So that’s the problem. I would say that’s true of both countries—U.S. and China. China even more so. In the first place I would say that the Chinese population overall is definitely not as well educated.”
Really??? Everywhere in the U.S. the Chinese are outperforming everyone else. 
“Well, I’m talking about China as a whole. If you’re talking about Shanghai and Bejing that’s a different ball game. The people in the interior of China –those in their 40s and up-- if they had a junior-high education, they regard themselves as educated.
“Strictly speaking, they can read the newspaper. But they don’t have the analytic skill to follow through... 
“The educated are the ones who are in the government or in the party or in the private government—but they are still a relatively small class.  In China those are the people who run the society, because they have the contacts, they have the knowledge, they have the ability.
If only a handful of people are in charge, what does that mean for U.S./China relations? How do we continue to get along?
“That is the next major problem for the next 30-40 years. It will be a period of high tensions, I would say, because the ideologies of the countries are so different."
Still, similar ideologies didn't always guarantee peace, he pointed out. 
"Just look at what happened before the First World War: USA, Germany, France, and Britain—they were not all that different. They were all western, all more or less the same background. Germany and Britain—the royal families were even related. How could you have something like the First World War happening? It’s almost impossible to imagine.” 

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

China: Three Steps Forward...Two Steps Back

Dr. Tsu Yao was born in Beijing right before Japan invaded, and before WWII got going. His family moved around numerous times to avoid bombs and food scarcity and lack of schools. (See posts onetwothree.)
After the war ended, and another war began (the Communists vs. the Nationalists), they moved yet again: this time from Shanghai to New York. (See post four.)
Dr. Yao finally had a chance to return to China in 1995, 46 years later. He was impressed that despite so much change, his old house in Shanghai was still standing. He continues to be impressed by all the changes each time he visits. ( See post five.)
One big change is our access to information. Forty years ago nobody was there to report. China wasn't talked about much. Even U.S. Ivy league history professors dismissed the place as unimportant. (See post six.)
Now there is an open channel of information flowing both ways, and thus everyone should be well-informed. This is not the case, though, says Dr. Yao.
“The man on the street—in both countries-- have incomplete and mistaken ideas about what the other country is like.  Because the media reporting is slanted, not complete. Let’s talk about America’s view of China. which is probably no better than the Chinese view of America—although I don’t live there and don’t know, even though I have been back many times.
"The citizens need a better understanding of each other. In China, you can say that the leadership can ignore the popular opinion of the citizens (because citizens don’t vote.) But in the U.S. it’s different because it’s a democracy. The elections are by the people, in general. And I would say a very large number of people, even though those who are relatively well-educated with a college education, their understanding of China, especially the contemporary China is extremely limited and slanted. It’s not their fault. I would blame it on the media.


“What’s going on in China in the last 30 years? I would use the description of, ‘Three steps forward, two steps back.’ But at least it’s one step forward net.  
"The problem with the American media is that they tend to concentrate on the two steps back and ignore the three steps forward and the net of one step.”
(...to be continued. Next: Different Ideologies May Spell Tension But Not Disaster.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

News About China is a Recent Phenomenon

Dr. Tsu Yao has travelled many places in America and China. During his youth, he and his family zigzagged across China to avoid the chaos of the World War II. When the war ended, and the country went into yet another war, he came to America. He got all of his education on the east coast:  New Jersey, New York, Massachusetts. He has spent a good part of his life on the west coast. In 1995, 46 years after leaving China, he returned for the first time. While he was still able to find his old house in Shanghai, he marveled at the rapid changes that were taking place. In his short, three-week visit an entirely new airport was constructed. (see posts onetwothreefour).

Despite all his experience in both places, he felt more confident discussing the U.S. 
“I’ve probably been able to watch America better, because between 1949 and 1995 I was here. In the early years, 1950’s, 60s, there was very little news about China put out by the western press. The only news came from the Canadians or the British. 
"I remember reading the Toronto Globe sent a reporter into China. America didn’t send in reporters until after Nixon’s visit (In 1972.)"
"So my knowledge was very limited about what happened in China during the 50’s and 60’s. My knowledge of that period came much later when people started writing about it. The western press has only been there (in China) the last 40 years. 
"I remember something I heard from an American professor of Chinese History. He was a professor at Princeton. He said when he first joined Princeton’s history department, ‘You’re studying Chinese history? China has no history.’ But this was the 1950s.”
So things have changed since then? Yes, he agreed. Although not all of it is for the good.
(...to be continued: Next: Three Steps Forward, Two Steps Back.) 

Monday, April 18, 2016

China Revisited: Even in Three Weeks There is Tremendous Change

Dr. Tsu Yao can trace his family history back hundreds of years. His father was one of the first few to go the world-famous Tsinghua University, which had its beginnings in bloodshed, mayhem, and forgiveness. (see post one.) Dr. Yao was born in Beijing in 1932, two weeks before Japan attacked Shanghai, and his family spent much of WWII (1937-45) in search of safety and good schooling. (see post two.) After the war, when the Chinese civil war broke out, the family moved yet again—this time to New York. Dr. Yao, who had lived in Hong Kong and Shanghai—both very cosmopolitan areas—found that while New York was not too different, the Carolinas, with their “white” and “colored” drinking fountains, were.  (see post three.)
Dr. Yao graduated from Princeton in 1957, obtained his Ph.D. in Physics from Columbia, and went to MIT in 1964 to do his post-doctorate.  When his career in physics wasn’t moving forward, he joined the Bank Of America in their long-term-planning and risk management team. “My background in math and theoretical physics was a help.”
He went back to China for the first time in 1995 on a tour. He’d been gone for 46 years, but his house was still standing in the French Concession—although it was no longer called that. 
His street, which used to be Avenue Foch (named after a famous French Field Marshall) :
was now called Yan’an Street (named after the WWII Communist capitol in the center of China) :
Also, the electricity was now a uniform 110V.
“Mao’s idea was that Shanghai was such a feudal--and later colonial-- place. He was just going to let it rot. The city was essentially neglected. There was no new construction between 1949-79. For 30 years nothing changed. When we went back in 1995 it was just starting to change. The first subway had been built. “
That subway ran right through the street Dr. Yao had grown up on—Avenue Foch/Yan’an Street. Also, a new airport was in the works. When he entered the country, he came in to the old Hongqiao airport in the southwest part of Shanghai.  By the time he left, the current international airport was open in Pudong, and he flew out of there.  “So even in those three weeks, there was already tremendous change.”
Since 1995 he’s been back about every four or five years. Each time “it just completely changed. Especially the high-rise buildings. In 1949, the highest building was the Peace Hotel (at ten stories.)" 
Peace Hotel 1949
"Now there are probably 100 times as many high-rise buildings.” 
And the Peace Hotel is dwarfed by hundreds of tall buildings, including the second tallest building in the world:
Shanghai Tower stands tall at 121 stories


(…to be continued…News about China is Recent Phenomenon.)

Friday, April 15, 2016

1949: New York Not Very Different From Shanghai

Chinese-American Dr. Tsu Yao moved around a lot during World War II--from Beijing to Shanghai to Hong Kong to Shanghai--as his mother sought the safest location. They eventually moved to the deep interior of Chongking--a trip that took six months. They arrived a few months before the war ended. (see posts one, two, three.)
After the war, Dr. Yao's father--who worked with the Bank of China-- was recruited to develop the charter rules and regulations for the newly created International Monetary Fund. (est 1945). He came to live in Washington in 1946.
“But there was hardly any money in the IMF," said Dr. Yao. "Cause it was right after the war. After he wrote up the regulations, there was not much to do. He thought it was a very boring job. So he came back to Shanghai.”

But he still held a diplomatic passport. 
So, when China--instead of falling into a peaceful celebration at the end of WWII, entered into a civil war that the Communists won in October of 1949--Dr. Yao's father was able to use that passport to get his family out of China.
In 1949, the whole family moved to New York city. Dr. Yao felt right at home. 
Shanghai 1949
New York 1949

"Because I'd lived in in both Hong Kong and Shanghai, which were both very international cities, I did not find it very different.  New York City was just much bigger and people were better dressed."
Yet while New York City was cosmopolitan, he was in for a bit of a shock when the family traveled to Georgia and the Carolinas in 1954. 
“It was the first time I ran into the segregation issue.  We stopped and saw these water fountains (one for “colored” and one for “whites.”) We weren’t sure which we should go to. So we decided to use both.” 
(...to be continued. Next: China Revisited--Even in Three Weeks There Was Tremendous Change)

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Avoiding Bombs and Bandits

Chinese-American Dr. Tsu Yao enjoys history. He can trace his family back to around the end of the Mongul Conquest in China which Genghis Khan started in 1200. And while I worry over U.S./China relations, Dr. Yao is quick to point out that the two countries have been friends for as long as America has been America. In fact, China's top university came about from American funding (although it wasn't an entirely friendly affair.) (See post one.)
Dr. Yao was born right as Japan was ramping up aggression towards China. In fact, he was born just two weeks before Japan attacked Shanghai. Even so, the family moved there a couple months later, as Shanghai was considered a good bet. The city was like a Russian nesting doll--with a set of different countries nestled inside--and thus it provided people with a safe haven or two. (See post two.)
The attack on Pearl Harbor changed that. The International Concession (made up of Americans and British) was open to attack. The French Concession was taken over by the Germans (who had occupied France.) Foreigners who had lingered were put into concentration camps. But Dr. Yao's family continued to live a relatively normal existence.
He remembered the introduction of propaganda. The French Concession which now had a German consulate put out a Chinese-language newspaper that highlighted all the victories they were having in Europe. Four blocks away was the Soviet consulate which also put out a newspaper with articles detailing the heroics of the Russians.
"I remember reading both of them--and the two were completely opposite." He laughed. "Still, Shanghai was relatively peaceful." At least in the beginning.
By 1944, the atmosphere of the war had changed. Japan was losing.
The Allies started bombing Shanghai, as the Japanese were concentrated there. Bombs rained from the skies and food became scarce. Dr. Yao's mother decided it was time to move again.
The family headed to meet Father who was stationed in the war capital of Chongqing where he worked for Bank of China. They rode on horses and mule carriages, and at one point an American truck that moved 20 miles an hour. "At that time the highway system was terrible."
They had to travel through enemy territory.
"We often ran into bandits--Japanese, Chinese in collaboration with the Japanese, the Nationalists, the Communist troops, and also local bandits."
On top of it all, Dr. Yao's younger sister fell ill. They stopped in a Chinese-government-controlled city until the Japanese started attacking, forcing them to move on. Through it all, they survived--even the little sister--and they arrived in April, 1945. The 900-mile trip had taken them six months.

(...to be continued: Next: 1949: New York Not Very Different than Shanghai)