I have been to China--to Da Lu (the Big Land), to Jung Gwo (the Middle Kingdom. I traveled around the Five Economic Zones of the Guangdong Province, north of Hong Kong, and was truly spellbound. Riding in the bus across major highways with clever clover loops, traveling down small country roads flanked with green patches of vegetables and tea plants, walking down city sidewalks filled with people rising to work with the strength of the tall buildings in the morning horizon, my thoughts stayed in motion. I visited high schools, huge campuses with residential housing for students and apartments and cafeterias for teachers, as well as smartly-designed classroom space. I have many impressions. And the words are now coming.
The first one to share with you is the imbalance of trade. Yes, I saw the shipping containers at the port filled with exports ready to come to the West. I saw the increased wealth taken from our American cities---the evidence of high priced cars and luxury apartments in the furniture manufacturing district of Foshan. And yes, I compared that vision with the one that I know well in Martinsville Virginia where acres and acres of furniture manufacturing sites remain empty, once-vibrant shopping malls are now parking lots filled with grass, and the people who depended on a good living making furniture at the factory are without hungry and without work. Yes, I thought about all of those inequities as we traveled through the province. And I remembered what T. Friedman said when he spoke on Wake Forest University's campus a few weeks ago, "For China, we are roadkill." The imbalance is obvious. But who can stop that? For those industrial sites, although running at top speed now, will begin to slow when those Chinese workers demand a higher standard of living as they move into the middle class. And the production cycle will move to Vietnam, Indonesia, and other places with a cheaper labor pool. But the inequity between our two countries was more troubling than just empty or full manufacturing sites.
They have our industries and our industry. And we are lagging way behind. Simply stated, while we have been exporting our industrial age to China, we could have been importing their industry, their hard work ethic, their desire to learn, their willingness to work at menial labor for the good of their family, their hunger. That desire that we as Americans used to have has also gone off shore. And that is my lament.
For this is what I saw. I saw Chinese young people in the Guangdong Province, thousands of them, wanting to come to the United States to study. No, they did not want to come to taste the good life, to simply buy a new car and an American house. Those ambitions are being fulfilled in their own hometown because the so-called good life is coming to them. The streets are filled with Mercedes and signs of increasing wealth are everywhere. These young people who came to the information sessions and listened to the presentations are wanting to come to the United States because we still have some of the best universities in the world. And these students want to learn. They want to improve their mind, to increase their understanding of how life works, to gain skills in medicine, business, and some even in the liberal arts. They were hungry to learn. They were motivated to study. They wanted more.
What if we could import that? What if we could in trying to balance the trade between the two countries say we will give you our textile industry if you will give us your industry, your willingness to study extra hours in the evening, to sit through a class and not complain about the reading assignment, to actually understand that learning is hard work and takes great discipline but is essential for the well-being of an individual and certainly for the development of a country.
China, you now have our industries; in return we want your industry! We want our young people to be as hungry to learn as yours are. It is only fair.