People have wondered for years what the long-term effects of China's one-child policy would be. US President George W. Bush's recent visit to Tsinghua University in Beijing ought to have given us some food for thought.
Several of the young men and women in the audience Bush addressed were born after the one-child policy was adopted in 1979. They are the first generation of "little emperors," as the children born in the 1980s have come to be called. These young people are strangers to war and revolution. They see China as it is -- a modern nation where opportunities to succeed abound. They wear the newest fashions and dye their hair. They watch MTV and read fiction on the Internet. But one fact remains: they did not grow up in an open society; they do not understand the meaning of dissent.
Tsinghua students are coming of age in a society that seems extremely open. Financial markets have been slowly unlocked, Hollywood culture has infiltrated all corners of society, high technology has found its niche and BMWs and Audis are the new rage.
Yet behind all the glamour and glitz lie serious questions about the future of China. When asked for his opinion on the Taiwan situation, Bush responded that he hoped there would be a "peaceful solution."
"Why can't you use the phrase `peaceful reunification?'" one student asked. "Why does the US continue to show an allegiance to Taiwan after all these years?"
Had China's media been more open while these students were growing up, they would have learned the history of the opposition party in Taiwan and they would have read about Taiwan's presidential elections. They would know about the Formosa magazine incident of the 1970s and that President Chen Shui-bian (陳水扁), was the defense lawyer for dissidents imprisoned as a result of that incident. They would also know the details of the peaceful movement led by Tsinghua alumni and others that culminated in bloodshed at Tiananmen Square on June 4, 1989.
They are familiar with none of this history because the Chinese media have kept this information from them. Hollywood films and foreign cars, Internet cafes and cellphones are not evidence of a fully open society.
Americans are seasoned missionaries of democracy. They often, however, take one thing for granted. Americans enjoy the benefits of an open media. They make their decisions on the basis of the information provided them. Every American has access to a multitude of views and the freedom to disagree without fear of repercussions. There are heavy responsibilities that come with such freedom, and the system has many quirks and more than a few faults. But, they have unfettered access to the information they need. People in China do not.
Talk of democracy, of popular elections and freedom of religion is useless in a society without a free and open media.
Chinese President Jiang Zemin (江澤民) is not a revolutionary of the old ilk. He has never been to war. He has guided China into an era of unprecedented prosperity.
In almost every respect, China has striven to create a system that resembles that of the US. Politicians and ordinary citizens alike have a deep respect for American ideals, if not always for American methods. But just as the US has its ideals, so does China.
Jiang's chosen successor, Vice President Hu Jintao (