Once upon a time, there was a beautiful Kingdom that was home to epic mountain ranges, thousands of kilometres of coastline and delightful villages and cities stretch right across Asia. The lands rulers were benevolent and sophisticated, its traders skilled and prosperous which made this land prosperous and indeed, the envy of its neighbours.
Alas, the beautiful kingdom’s glory did not last. Foreigners invaded as its rulers became disenfranchised, losing touch with the needs of its people. Poverty and instability became normal. The people tried to resist foreign domination—their failure only made their condition worse as their once-mighty country descends into debt and poverty.
After one hundred years of humiliation, a valiant knight arose who momentarily invigorated the kingdom, but whose ideas were misguided resulting in policies that caused untold suffering, including the worst famine in modern history.
Finally, in more recent times, a godfather of the knight arose valiantly to revitalise the impoverished land and in a relatively short time, introduces reforms that lifted some 700 million people from poverty to prosperity. Majestic new buildings have now appeared, and 700 million people have risen from poverty to prosperity. The kingdom’s workshops made exquisite products, just as they had done before. It became prosperous once again and its people celebrated with joy and pride. How?
This is the story of China over the past thousand years. For centuries, China was the richest and most advanced country in the world, before faltering as the British and others inflicted a string of humiliating defeats. China won back its independence in 1949 when the Communist party seized control under the leadership of Mao Zedong—the valiant knight in our story.
With the death of Mao (the Knight in this story), the Chinese leadership were finally able to embark on a program of meaningful economic reform, although it would take decades more experimentation with socialism and command economics* before real change happened. Deng Xiaoping (the godfather) approved a series of reforms, created special economic zones for foreign firms and most significantly encouraged individual initiative in all of China. Farmers grew more food than the government’s quotas required (to sell on the open market) and encouraged hundreds of millions of people, including many skilled women, to become entrepreneurs.
These were dramatic changes. For the first time in modern history, the economic activity no longer had to be approved and controlled by the Communist party, but could now flourish is an environment of free-market capitalism as China business activity courted foreign capitalists to help their economy grow. As one official put it: “It doesn’t matter whether a cat is white or black, as long as it catches mice.”
No such rapid economic reform could have come without extreme costs: Cities with access to seaports grew rich while rural China stayed poor. Drug use and crime exploded as did feelings of envy many harboured for the newly rich. Ethnic minorities felt they were excluded from the booming sectors of the economy. Corruption was everywhere. Pollution became intolerable. It wasn’t surprising, then, when in 1989 discontent fuelled political protests. Students packed Tiananmen Square in the centre of Beijing and demanding social and democratic reforms that sadly, the gerontocracy that ruled China were not willing to give them, nor even knew how to. The order for the army to suppress was a message to tell the world that whilst capitalists were welcome in China, democracy was not.
Fast forward to today and China as we all know, is a very different place as businesses created by many ordinary Chinese produced almost all the new jobs and has skyrocketed China’s economy to levels of growth, COVID withstanding, that will as early as 2023 it is believed, will enable them to pass the US as the world’s biggest economy.
What China has achieved in the past 40 years is remarkable. It has witnessed the greatest reduction of poverty in the history of the world. The China of today, whilst no longer a kingdom, is still beautiful as it is exciting and a fantastic destination for young enquiring minds who seek a sound understanding of the nation which will undoubtedly shape all our geopolitical future.
Trips to China with Student Educational Adventures
From Nanjing’s imperial walls to Shanghai’s frenzied neon signs, China’s contradictions create the perfect platform for a unique and fulfilling school trip. Reconcile traditional village life and runaway urbanisation. Unpack the paradox of communist life within a powerful global economy. And meet China’s ambitious, diligent people to learn age-old customs like banqueting and bartering.
Not only will your students learn about China, they’ll also learn about themselves. As the great Chinese philosopher, Confucius once said: “Wherever you go, go with all your heart.” Our capable tour leaders will steer you through China’s complexity while teaching intercultural understanding, compassion and tolerance of other’s perspectives.
Please contact Student Educational Adventures about our range of trips to China with a particular focus or commerce & Industry or culture and social geography. Each of our trips is unique and intended to present your students with an overall impression of this vast nation and familiarise students with the grand narrative that characterizes modern China. These travel program further seeks to encourage students to examine the contemporary themes of social change, environmental degradation and exponential economic growth and geopolitics.