Correspondent Gifford Ventures on the Road Not Taken By Katie Essenfeld When he was just 20 years old, Rob Gifford decided to take the journey to China. He started as a student wanting to broaden his academic horizons but left as an Asian culture enthusiast craving more. Since then he has become Beijing’s correspondent for National Public Radio, reporter for programs such as “All Things Considered” and “Morning Edition.” His book “China Road: A Journey into the Future of Rising Power” tells of his journey along China’s National Highway 312 and China’s difficult yet extremely hopeful political and economic situation. It was selected as the common reading at Elon University for 2010, and Gifford spoke at Elon on Tuesday. “Theme of hope is everywhere in China,” he said to his audience at Elon on Tuesday.“People are hungry for success and are very hopeful.” Gifford chose to examine China through the lives of ordinary people rather than describe high politics. He started his trip with a view from the bottom up and met a variety of characters that epitomized the hopefulness of China. A Chinese man working at a local noodle bar gave Gifford his take on low- level corruption: “I can tell you what I’m going to do about it…endure, that’s what I’m going to do.” “That is what the Chinese people have always had to do,” said Gifford. Telling of his recent return to Shanghai after five years away, Gifford said he noticed an incredible change in the way the city is thriving. The middle class has become more globalized. A national
sandwich chain’s newfound popularity is something Gifford took as a sign of change. “It was known that Subway sandwiches were not doing well, people eat noodles not bread,” he said, “but now in Shanghai there are lines around the block, whether it is a Subway sandwich or a Gucci handbag you are seeing on all different levels, the rise of consumers.” He said it is clear that the gap between urban America and urban China was becoming significantly smaller. The Chinese work force is also experiencing drastic changes at over the past year. Workers have learned that going on strike could lead to results and changes for the better in factories. After 12 suicides occurred in one factory the government started to raise wages. “I think we may well see more strikes and we may well see more protests,” he said. “People are starting to realize the possibility about gaining better labor rights.”
Not only have the economics of China changed but the spirituality has taken a different turn as well. “The nightclubs are full but the churches are full because everyone has emerged from the wreckage of Mao-age,” Gifford said. A sense of nationalism has swept the young demographic, causing people to discover their roots and culture. “New nationalism is even stronger now, which is a dangerous drum for communists to be banging,” said Gifford. China has adopted their own forms of popular internet sites like Facebook and YouTube to accommodate the technological desires of the Chinese people. Gifford said, “The Internet hasn’t led to any revolution but has increased people’s maturity. They use it just like we do for different sources of news, finding restaurants, talking to girlfriends or finding a job.” Gifford’s speech emphasized the drastic change in China’s economy, consumerism and globalization but he is still skeptical on how long this hopeful situation will last without downfall. He said he worries that the rise of China will eventually fall based on their past history. He left the audience with feelings of optimism for China’s future but fear for history repeating itself. “I hope it works for the benefit of the people of China but in the back of my mind I’m just worried it’s all going to end in tears,” he said.