State Rep. Touchstone explores China with political group

By BUSTER WOLFE,

State Rep. Brad Touchstone said he would like to return to China on his own after he came back from a two-week trip last weekend.

Touchstone, whose District 101 represents Lamar County, was part of a seven-person troupe of young professionals that toured China sponsored by the American Council of Young Political Leaders. He said his thoughts about going China followed along with most American’s feelings about the country and its people.

“I think my initial impressions have been formed by what we have been taught about the Chinese people,” he said. “I think my anticipation was that the image we have of the Chinese government is a reflection of its people – closed off form the world and views the United States as an adversary. Obviously, I had this notion of what Communism looked like; I had never seen the way a Communist country works. I think have the traditional notions of an adversarial Chinese culture.”

Touchstone said the picture he imagines was both changed and affirmed.

“The biggest impression I took away from the visit there is that there does seem to be some disconnect from the government and the younger generations in China,” he said. “Of course, my delegation was a group of young political leaders from the United States. Our host organization, which was called the Chinese youth Federation, is a branch of the Communist Party, but is made up of young political leaders in the Chinese system. Even though they were actually affiliated with the Communist Party, I still felt that there some disconnect between the ruling party and what is kind of blossoming in the young Chinese men and women, particularly professionals.

In fact, Chinese youth are probably more interested in U.S. politics than their American counterparts, Touchstone said. 

“They are focused on what we are doing more than any other country in the world, not so much as an adversary, but in admiration,” he said. “I think they admire our country, our consumerism, Hollywood, music and all of these things. In the young Chinese, you saw a lot of imitation of America in their way of life.”

The Chinese government is ruled by the older generations who have been part of the People’s Revolution and before relations with the United States were normalized, Touchstone said.

“So there is a lot of distrust in the people that rule China,” he said. “However, in the younger generation, I don’t think that’s the case because there has been much more normalization of our relationship. There’s not that much skepticism in our relationship with the younger generation as there is with the ruling class in China.”

However, Touchstone said the Chinese are divided by the loyalty to their way of life and loyalty to Communism.

“The Chinese definitely would like to strike a balance to opening up their markets, but maintaining their culture,” he said. “Sometimes it is difficult to tell whether the younger generation respected the way the government works over there or whether they might too liberally criticize it. There were definitely instances where we as a delegation weren’t having candid conversations with our contemporaries. We met with a lot of state-owned entities. It was apparent that you weren’t having candid conversations with them.”

One telling incident occurred at the last meeting with the seven Americans and the Chinese hosts, Touchstone said.

“We met at the very end with a group of young Chinese professionals,” he said. “I asked them, ‘I’m looking around, guys, and I see a lot of things your government is doing to help the economy. But what are some challenges that still face young Chinese professionals like yourself?’ Well, I can name all the challenges that face young Americans; they do exist: student loan debt, finding a good job, housing, you name it. I can tell what our challenges are despite our government’s best efforts to help us. The Chinese said, ‘None, we don’t have any challenges.’ It wasn’t an open experience for me because they were not at liberty, I guess, to say what challenges they still have.”

One Chinese young professional approached Touchstone after the meeting and asked him why he was in China. He said, “It is a bilateral government approach to improve relations that’s been going on since the 1970s.”

The man said that it was unfortunate that the meetings had been government-arranged.

“You will only get 10 percent of the truth,” Touchstone repeated. “It became clear to me that there are people like him who don’t feel at liberty to speak about the government.”

The trip, however, also gave Touchstone a different perspective on his traveling companions, which included three Republicans (including Touchstone), three Democrats and one independent, all from various backgrounds.

“The trip made me respect our differences and put them into perspective,” he said. “While we are all different as Americans, we are pretty unified in our core beliefs.”

Touchstone said he also admired some methods that the Chinese were using, including education.

“When it comes to education, they are doing things hands down better than us in some ways,” he said. “When it comes to language, most Chinese are able to carry on a conversation with you in English. They have a huge emphasis on arts, learning calligraphy and learning dance. They put a lot of emphasis on mathematics and science. Their primary education system in a lot of ways is ahead of ours now. Our secondary system is still something that they admire. Most of the young professionals that we saw on the trip said they were educated in the United States.”

However, one crucial element that Touchstone missed on his trip was coffee.

“They drink hot water,” he said. “Literally, they drink hot water in the morning. And of course, they drink tea, but a lot of it tastes like perfume. It didn’t cut it as coffee. I was so glad that we stayed at one hotel that was pretty Western, and I had a big old pot of coffee.”