A Deeper Understanding of China

It is an amazing truth of life that despite the terrible pain involved in childbirth, the love of that a newborn child brings a woman to choose life over enormous pain. Even more perplexing is the ability to mentally suppress that pain and excitedly enter into another pregnancy. Maybe that is just a man’s point of view but I imagine I am not the only one who thinks that.

Last night, Tracy and I sat spellbound through the documentary, “Up the Yangtze” – one of the few films on Netflix with a 5 star rating (If you have not yet tried it, we highly recommend Netflix!). It chronicals the touching story of the dramatic economic changes ripping through every segment of society in modern China. For those of us who have adopted from China, the emotional struggle of a very young Chinese girl forced to earn a living in support of her family (who are unable to read) brings home, in desperate fashion, the lifestyle awaiting our orphaned children. If you have adopted or are thinking about it, I highly recommend this film – it will leave you with a burning resolve to do something…anything!

And for those of us who have made the trip to China, at least for me, it was a vivid reminder of how we westerners are seen in China. Just as my childbirth pain from two weeks in China was subsiding, this raw documentary reminded me how difficult it was to bring Meili into our world.

The unfortunate reality is that most westerners are seen as super rich – and in comparison to the average life of a person in China, we are. That also makes us a target of financial goals set in the hearts of Chinese tourism industry. Due in large part to the nature of travel within China, the government’s best way of keeping track of foreigners is to assign a “travel guide” to you. This travel guide is then encompassed by continuous circles of financial expectations like the ring roads around Beijing by friends and associates. The end result is an acute sense that your fair skin and light hair are the markings of a potential financial windfall to the eager sellers of touristic junk – and you stick out like sore thumb. At every stop, your handlers/tour guides chase off the rift-rafts while steering the group into the “museum” of their choosing. While you browse the artifacts (20% artifacts, 80% store), your guides make small talk with the shop keepers – whom they know intimately from so many trips. After a few days, you begin feeling under attack and begin to move through crowds like a secret service agent protecting the President – head up, thousand yard stare, walking fast with spouse in hand.

The tragedy is you never gain access to the true wealth of the nation – it’s strong and amazing people. One night in Nanjing I ventured out of the hotel (at night your white skin glows less) and looked for the first alley off the beaten path I could find. I was able to see this rare humanity in its true habitat and it was a beautiful thing. I snuck out of the touristic orbit and witnessed real China, first hand.

“Up the Yangtze” lays bare the world surrounding the foreign visitor as they “experience” ancient China and the changes we bring with us. It is moving and unsettling – a raw reminder of what made our visit to China so painful. One day we will return with Meili to see her birth country – hopefully the continual change will have delivered a new birth of hope for the peasants who are affected most by this radical change. Meili is the daughter of one of these migrant families from the country side – her story, but by providential intervention, could have been detailed in this film.

And yet through it all, I am still so proud to have a daughter of mighty China in my family. And we plan to raise her with the knowledge of her birth countries greatness in spite of its troubled leadership. Under that massaged “hello”, greeting you over the endless spread of fruit and muffins at the morning buffet, is a confused sailor on the rough seas of change. Deep in their dark eyes is true China, strong, proud, and independent – just like little Meili.