Posts Tagged ‘history’

Junk Pacific

14 December 2008

Dear J-

When I was little I didn’t know the difference between Taiwan and mainland China; I knew that my parents had come to America via Canada and Taiwan, but not much beyond that.  We would get copies of the Free China Review (now the Taiwan Review) every month, shoved through the slot in the door, and full of pictures of a world I’d never seen.  I remember thinking that everything was so lush and green; maybe that’s why mom was so adamant about keeping plants in the house, and kept them going, even heating rooms that usually fell cold and unoccupied just so that the plants wouldn’t all fall dormant.

Consider that in 1949, the estimated population of China was 450 million people — this is roughly one and a half times the current United States population — and of those, half a percentage point (two million) flees to another country and sets up shop there.  But wait, it’s not just any half a percent; it’s a good chunk of the military, to say nothing of the intellectual and business elite knowing that life under Mao was going to become uncomfortable.  Plus, the government manages to smuggle out a fair amount of the national reserves backing up currency and commerce.

In this time, you do everything you can to remember and publicize the idea of a democratic China; newspapers, magazines, stunts — although you have the official sympathies of governments, you want to win the hearts of the public.  In this world, you hatch the idea of sailing across the Pacific to America, and then participating in a race across the Atlantic pitting a traditional Chinese junk against modern yachts.  Never mind that the rest of the world has considered Chinese technology a sad second-rate bunch since the Opium wars a hundred years ago, never mind that recorded history doesn’t include the voyages of Zheng He.  They nearly make it, but for the inexperienced crew and poor luck; the ship still exists, laid up on blocks in Sacramento, but for how much longer?  Sailor stories — tales of adventure — are always a good read; who will preserve this one for our children?