Cultural Enhancement Series starts with Fallows’ talk about China

Joanna Williams

Journalist James Fallows talked to an attentive crowd Tuesday evening in Van Meter Auditorium as the first speaker in this year’s Cultural Enhancement Series.

Fallows, a correspondent for The Atlantic magazine, discussed the misconceptions about China and the lessons he learned while traveling and now living there.

“I think many people don’t know how big, chaotic and diverse China is,” Fallows said as one of the first misunderstandings Americans have about China.

He said it’s easy for Americans to think of China as simply one unified country, but that it’s just as diverse as the U.S with varying languages, accents and racial differences.

Fallows also discussed what he called “the stark contrast between absolute control and chaos.”

He said China is well known for control the government has over the media and right to assemble, but some things such as driving are almost lawless.

Another misnomer about China is how different the demand is for political freedom, Fallows said.

“We discuss democracy and liberty as almost the same thing, but in China those two demands are separate,” Fallows said.

He explained the demand for democracy is much more “muted” in China, and though people would like more freedom to read what they want and where they can travel, they don’t look at the U.S. government as the best example of democracy.

“For the foreseeable future I think Americans should go easy on the democracy talk and not talk about government until we have ours figured out,” he said.

Fallows also said the the U.S has easier problems to face than China. He noted that China faces overpopulation along with environmental problems.

Other points discussed included how complex China’s technology is, the importance of age to the Chinese and how permeable Chinese society seemed to him.

Fallows said that despite the problems China faces, students should still travel there and explore the country.

“A message I’m trying to convey, especially to the students, is to do two opposite sounding things: take it seriously, but don’t be afraid of China,” he said.

Lexington freshman Missy Graehlager said she has always been interested in China since she was a child, even going as far as to save up money to adopt a child from the country. As Graehlager got older, she became more hesitant to visit. Because of this, Fallow’s point about not being afraid to travel there resonated with her the most.

“I’ve always had a passion for it and now that I’m older I’m kind of scared,” she said. “I think it’s because I’m more naive in the subject, that’s why I came tonight.”

Bowling Green freshman Missy Edwards said that she agreed with most of the misconceptions Fallows spoke about involving the U.S. and China.

“It was interesting,” she said. “His major points about the misconceptions about China were really true.”

Edwards said she initially came to the program for extra credit but left saying she was eager to attend more lectures put on by the Series.

“The poet (Ntozake Shange), I’m really excited about that,” she said. “I’ve seen a documentary on the History Chanel about Jerry Greenfield, and he seemed great. Plus it’s free ice cream.”