Thomas Melburn is a junior studying Environmental Studies at the University of Utah.
When reflecting back on my study abroad to China, I think of the culture of enchantment that China has developed over the four thousand years they have been established. Four thousand years. That alone, is enticing enough for anyone who wishes to immerse themselves in traditions and beliefs dating back that long. Not only is China special because it is so old, but also because of the massive contrast taking place between the old and archaic undeveloped areas and the gleaming developed areas. China is unique because it currently holds the position of a developing nation and a developed nation. One of the restraints holding them back from being a developed nation might be the fact that China has the largest population in the world. Beijing, one of China’s many mega-cities, holds over twenty million people. That is over twice the amount of people in America’s largest city. 1.5 billion is where China stands on their national population. This is a difficult figure to grasp hold of because of its enormity compared to America’s mere 300 million people. We are now witnessing the unprecedented pace at which China is developing. Never before has a country been so exuberant in their development, which is why China is so unique. Nevertheless, nothing ever makes sense without context, so here are some graphics that provide a little insight into the vastness and complexity in China.
China, which is associated with all sorts of negative connotations in our western world, is establishing itself as a country with deep cultural roots and a momentous effort to become the world’s powerhouse of initiative and growth. Shanghai, which we did not go to on this trip, houses six of the tallest ten buildings in the world. The buildings are not the only staggering figure in China however. The consumerism and spending that the Chinese are not accustomed to is picking up. Everywhere you look in China, it is easy to see the Western influence. In fashion for example, name brands are taking off. Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Prada, are visible everywhere. Men and women are driving Mercedes Benz’s, BMW’s and Volkswagon’s. Not too long ago either, China began to buy more American made cars per year, than the Americans did. The fact is that Ford and GM have a bigger market in China than they do in their own homeland. Where does this leave America in the world? Unlike Americans, the majority of people in China do save their money and it is generally about half of their annual income. Now it is looking like this custom of saving is dwindling, like it did in America long ago.
So it seems that the Chinese are taking up consumerism at a fast pace, which is scary to think about considering its one and a half billion person country. Plain and simple, the world cannot handle the consumerism of America and China together. Therefore, the Chinese are making progress to become the leaders in the environmental and sustainability realm. Which is very good news. We were privileged to meet with a few nongovernmental environmental organizations while we were there and the current problems facing China are ones mostly of sustainability. Sure China is growing at an unprecedented pace, but is it sustainable? This is where it comes in handy to have leaders who are all engineers that focus on solving problems as opposed to lawyers who tend to place blame onto others and in return cast away any solutions that might hinder a problem solved. Enough about that though, here are some pictures that depict Chinese culture and how they feel about the US.
All in all, China was a very wonderful place to visit. Beijing had the most blue sky days in over ten years while we were there. So, you could say that our timing was lucky, but I think their environmental solutions to combat the pollution is finally paying off. This gives hope to the rest of the world in how to sustainably build a country without sacrificing economic growth. It is time for America to have a change of heart of China and in doing so, build more reputable relations with the Chinese because lets face it, China is not going away for a long time and we have much to learn from them.