In the western world, there are many freedoms we’ve come to feel entitled to. We eat and drink when and what we want. We study, read and listen to what we want. We have social media. And we post whatever content and whenever we want. We date, marry and build families when and how we want.
Living in our nice little ‘free bubble,’ we often forget much of the world does not operate as we do.
In the last 14 days, I’ve spent time observing and living in a communist culture I was not previously familiar with in Beijing, China. The more time I’ve spent here, the more I’ve realized the Chinese ‘normal’ is far from the American ‘normal.’
It’s a constant fight for attention with over 11.5 million people living in Beijing, alone. There’s pushing and shoving in every crowed place in a fight to go get where they are trying to go. Yet at the same time, there are classes citizens are born into that they spend their whole lives spinning their wheels in. There is no hope of climbing a ladder; instead many people are stuck as migrant workers in jobs created by the government. Many of those jobs are mindless such as standing guard at a doorway that in the U.S., would never have a guard. The privileged, small percentage are the only ones with an opportunity to study at universities and live a life with more choices.
It has truly fascinated me how out of touch we are in America about class distinctions such as the ones they live within in China. When I think ahead about hopes and dreams for my future, I really don’t think in a mindset of limitations. The cheesy saying, ‘the sky’s the limit’ really does apply in America whether that be for my career or for my family. But that’s purely because of the soil I was born on.
As I was climbing up the Great Wall of China about two weeks ago, it dawned on me how few children I had seen since arriving in China. I quickly remembered the national policy that would explain the lack of children that several generations were limited by.
For 38 years the Chinese people had a ‘population planning policy.’ They were limited to having one child per family in the government’s effort to promote economic growth. Last October, the policy was officially lifted allowing anyone to have up to two children.
Before leaving the Wall, I asked a woman her thoughts on the law change. With her year and a half son in her arms, she responded saying she thinks the changes shows the government’s concern about the aging of the Chinese population and this is their effort to close the gap of the age gaps in Chinese society. She also expressed she personally hopes to have a second child as thinks children benefit from having a companion while they grow up.
In that moment, it dawned on me given the dates of the policy, I would not have my two sisters if I was born in China. Putting that fact in perspective, my head started spinning.
So as I climbed one of the 7 Wonders of the world, I pulled out my camera and started taking photos of children and their families…my potentially creepy photo-shoot of children hasn’t stopped the entire trip.
Later in the week at the Forbidden City, I stopped a 21-year-old Chinese girl and asked her thoughts. She expressed that she also thinks the change is a good thing for the people of China but is concerned the government will change the law back.
I hadn’t even considered the possibility of the law changing back when she expressed her concern. But the people of China live in an element of fear of the government and what they may expect and require of the people. Again, I was reminded how different my life looks living on the other side of the world.
After almost two weeks of fermenting on these stark contrasts in our cultures, I’ve been humbled by the freedom I live in and been challenged to go home and be thankful when I jump back into American culture.
As I look into the eyes of the children in the photographs, I can’t help but wonder what limited freedoms they will face in their lifetime on the other side of the world.
After two weeks observing a culture living under the two-child policy, I compelled a tv-style video to tell the story.