The Changing Face of China

I have been a China watcher for a long time. During “The War” I thrilled to the news of the Flying Tigers and other units that helped defend China, and for years prayed with my Christian-school classmates for the American missionaries who were hiding, first from the Japanese invaders and later from the Communists who took over that job of official terrorism and purging. I watched the rise of the Reds before and during the McCarthy era and by 1964 began to study the tactics and philosophies on both sides of the ideological battle. As much as any ordinary citizen could, I followed the course of the conspiracy — the new imperialism — that was enveloping much of the Orient, locking half of Europe behind an iron curtain, and attempting to subvert the rest of the world. I had no idea in those years of worldwide pessimism that I would ever visit Red China or that my son would go deeply into a fractured former Soviet empire!

In recent years I have visited several areas of China and have seen its changing face and its economic impact on the West. Even earlier, in visits to “Free China” (Republic of China on Taiwan), I had opportunity to see the differences and learn more of the history from people who lived it. By the way, the word “free” above can be either an adjective or an imperative verb, depending on your fervor and the object of your attention. Taiwan is a vibrant example of free enterprise and liberty. Mainland China has two faces, the younger one changing and the older one still repressive. I saw both visages again in my late-2004 trip, and in greater clarity.

The focus of my travel, as always, was to judge dog shows and do a little canine consulting, but I always am privileged and treated to private tours arranged by my hosts, and the one-on-one learning experiences that are so much more instructive and flexible than travel-agency tours. In addition to judging a German Shepherd Dog specialty show and the hound, working, and companion (non-sporting) groups at Nanjing’s first all-breed show, I was asked to give organizational advice for clubs and show superintendents. As a canine training consultant, I also toured one of the police dog training centers and discussed techniques. Many of the police dogs in the province were also entered in the show, something I had not seen since I judged in Pakistan a few years ago. There, 4 of the top 5 GSDs were owned by the Pakistan Armed Forces! In China, as almost everywhere in the world except the U.S. and Canada, the international (German) type is what is found.

Two veterinarians from Alaska and Montana appeared at the Nanjing show, and suddenly I was no longer the only non-Asian in a sea of Chinese. They were there to study veterinary acupuncture. At the GSD specialty, they were amused and amazed at the mayhem of amateur double-handlers (owners or kennel-helpers running in front of their dogs and handlers, shouting and trying to make the dogs more alert and pulling). As usual, such would-be helpers had no idea that being so close to the dogs ruined the gait, with galloping and straining being the result instead of a smooth powerful trot. This is a mental bloc shared as well by Americans and Europeans who become infected with the madness of GSD exhibition. So, doubling was soon stopped; they were told not to come into the ring after they would not listen or learn how to do it without ruining the view of movement. Normally, GSD specialties are held outdoors on grass, but in downtown Nanjing I saw no parks at all. However, the indoor location in the giant exhibition center was considerably larger than a basketball court, carpeted so that the footing was better than artificial grass would have given, and surprisingly satisfactory for GSD people.

My choice for best Open Male (above 24 months of age) was a Mack Aducht son with great reach and drive. Close behind was an Enzo Buchhorn son with equally great movement but not quite as pleasing a topline. Both of these males were imported from Germany and grandsons of World Siegers. Best Open Female was a large Sieger Rikkor Bad-Boll daughter who did not resemble him, but must take after her dam’s side almost entirely. She was nearly perfect in proportions and gait, but should have had more pigment in her coat. There were some outstanding younger dogs, too, but the idea of a printed catalog has not yet fully caught on in China, so I did not carry away any info on the pedigrees, names, and placings except for those three adults. China’s wealthier capitalists, government agencies, and to a lesser extent a gradually expanding middle class have been buying some of Europe’s top GSDs, mostly promising youngsters.

As is common in some parts of the world, Shepherdists like to hold their exhibitions mostly as separate events with specialist judges. With my background as an SV judge and the author of the big book on the breed, they had such an opportunity under the auspices of the Nanjing Kennel Club.

Even the police dogs didn’t look half-bad. Some of these may also have been imported, but most were younger homebred dogs from German lines (certainly no AKC-lines which seldom look much like the international GSD). Many entries were shown by men in uniform. Some of the contestants were also used in daily demonstrations, with obedience, scent detection, and protection work shown to the appreciative public. The breed in China will improve as they see the quality of the few outstanding dogs that will do all the show winning, and the popularity of the GSD will grow even more as a result of their useful work. Other breeds such as the Springer Spaniels and Labs that are used by the police and participated in the demonstrations will also become more in demand. I would guess that the “gate” numbered in the thousands, and after the show, many spectators mixed with the showdogs and owners on the floor of the huge ring.

In the all-breed event that took nearly 2½ of the 3 show days, I was assigned 3 groups and Best In Show, while my colleague and friend Alex Lin of Taiwan judged the other groups and Best Puppy in Show. We found Chow Chows and Pomeranians to have excellent representatives, the latter having become so popular in the Far East that it is almost considered an Oriental breed. Puppy Pom and Chow entrants were truly delightful, and I found it a little difficult to choose between two fantastic adult Chow males. I ended up with the Open Male Chow as my best male and Reserve BIS, behind a very correct Bulldog bitch that I awarded BIS. Yet, the day after the show I saw a male Bulldog that was even better – owned by the show chairman, who was ineligible to compete under club rules. Other breeds that are quite popular in this part of the world are Goldens, Huskies, and Rottweilers. However, the GSD is far-and-away the population leader here as it is in almost every other country.

Travel to and in China is not an activity for those westerners looking for ease and comfort. First, face the grueling experience of dragged-out time and cramped quarters en route. It depends on your departure and destination cities whether layovers and ground travel extend the trans-Pacific portion by at least as many hours. For example, this time it took 35½ hours from leaving home to arriving at my hotel in Nanjing, including the 4-hour drive from the Shanghai airport at the end. Layovers were not long in Atlanta, Chicago, and Tokyo on the way over, but I had a 23½ -hour layover at Narita airport and a 5-hour one in Chicago on the way back, in addition to more normal waits in the other airports. So, I left the Shanghai hotel at what was 4:30pm Sunday back in Alabama, and got home about 6:30 Tuesday night (but no sleep until I took my election-supervisor wife and the ballots to the courthouse several hours later!). So, unless you live in a major gateway city and can count on a short stop in only one connection city, you can count on 1½ days or more to make such a trip. If you can sleep on a plane, good for you – I cannot.

Fortunately, most foreign assignments include sightseeing and local entertainment, unlike so many shows I do in the U.S. where all you see are the airport, motel room, and show site. Part of the enjoyable experience involves meals and party-type celebrations. Cultural differences may confuse you if you have not traveled much. I have judged and lectured in about 30 countries and can go with the flow, even though I don’t participate in tossing down shots in the “kampai!” (“kampei” in Chinese) habit of celebratory binge drinking found in Japan and the two Chinas. But I’m willing to try the duck tongues, goose heads, lamb stomachs, “phoenix feet” (chicken claws), and other traditional foods. Meats are generally chopped into pieces with never a thought of removing bones first. You select live seafood in aquariums, and then that exact swimmer is prepared and brought to your table. I almost suspect the waitress of saying something like, “Here is Henry, the fish you met downstairs, sir.” Americans are not used to seeing their food “on the hoof” or looking back at them before being eaten.

Vegetables are usually unidentifiable, but delicious. Shrimp is eaten (by the natives) with the shells on, and diners spit out the heads, as they do any unchewable bones in other meats. Turtles and sometimes birds are often served in bowls, with the head and neck arranged so they seem to be peering over the rim at you, ready to climb out of the broth onto your lap. I am very adept with chopsticks, but I suspect there are many restaurants where they would not have a fork in the building; at least, I never saw one. Meals are served community or family style instead of individual servings. You reach your chopsticks into the bowls and platters on the turntable and eat from the same vessels everybody else does. Exceptions to the no-serving-spoon rule include soups and sometimes rice. This far north into the drier regions of China, noodles are more often served than rice. Conversations are loud and lively, and meals are important social functions.

A perquisite to foreign dog-show judging assignments is the opportunity to delve deeper into the history and culture of the host country. China has a recorded history of some 5,000 years, and more details are unearthed all the time in the course of archaeological digs. The city where the shows were held, now known as Nanjing, with a current population of between 7 and 8 million, was once the imperial capital, especially during the Yuan and Ming dynasties prior to the 1600s. I visited many museums, gardens, and shrines, including one of the 4 most important Buddhist temples in China, called Qisia. Here, Maoist-sanctioned vandals during the so-called Cultural Revolution did much damage similar to the Taliban’s destruction of sculptures in Afghanistan that you saw in the news. At Qisia there were 100 sculptures carved out of a stone mountain, many in relatively deep grottos. The sole sculptor chiseled 99 Buddhas and then, temporarily stymied for inspiration, for the final piece he did a self-portrait in the likeness of a stone carver poised with hammer and chisel, thus completing his work about 1500 years ago.

An advantage that a seasoned traveler has over his fellows is the unfiltered observation of the political situations, and the reactions and feelings of ordinary people in these countries. I am convinced that I get a much truer picture of the economic and political scene than journalists and government officials can, because of the differing types and classes of people that we contact and the amount of in-depth time I spend with “the locals”, learning to trust each other because of common interests.

How is China changing, and how does it affect Americans? What had been the last anti-capitalist giant is fast becoming the most blatant example of neo-capitalism. Banking firms are numerous, some strictly controlled by the government and others less so — and reputedly less safe. The biggest symbol of western decadence, besides having dogs, is the huge and flourishing stock market. Construction is proceeding at an enormous collective pace because of the vast number of projects, although “coolie labor” keeps individual projects from being completed as fast as they would if machines were to replace the hand work of multitudes of people wielding brooms and shovels. In the semi-arid northern half of the country, wind-blown soil combines with concrete construction dust and China’s incredible air pollution to leave a coating on everything. Trees and grass are almost more gray than green. Many buildings, most of them enormous apartments or factories, are unfinished shells awaiting completion as well as people and machines to move in. Thirty-mile-long stretches of ripped-up highway lanes lie quiet and idle, while workers concentrate on very short sections; we are used to only a few miles at a time, and not tearing up roads until there are men and machines ready to work on those sections.

The edges of Marxist-Maoist communism are slowly rusting and crumbling, although there will long be the cold hard heart of the “people’s dictatorship” beneath the changing veneer. “Red tape” has a big double meaning here. For a few nights, I stayed in an un-rated non-tourist hotel, and when we checked in, we were told we also had to ride with the bellhop to the police station to “register”, which process took 45 minutes of their studying passports, copying information by hand, and reading forms that we filled out. A computer scan or photocopy at a hotel would have been far more efficient. Thankfully, the other nights were spent at 3-star and 5-star hotels where the check-in was easy and fast. I noticed innumerable examples of the lack of liberty for individuals, and the continuing despotic power of big-government regulations and personal emphases of minor functionaries. One that directly affected me was the unexplained and sudden cancellation of one scheduled dog show in Wuxi, in another province. The city government simply called off the event with about two weeks notice. In my consultation with dog club people, I recommended prevention of such last-minute disruptions might be accomplished if they would set up alternative sites. I suspect the “right” people had not been bribed sufficiently, but there is no way of finding out for sure. People are much the same everywhere, whether Wuxi of Chicago, Beijing or Washington. It’s just that the people have more power in the West, whereas “people power” is still largely only a myth and a misleading slogan in China. The rule of law and constitutional rights are not even in their infancy there — more like in an embryonic stage.

Dog activity is also rudimentary. It wasn’t all that long ago that Mao’s men forced the people to eat, kill, banish, or otherwise rid the country of dogs. In the past couple of years, exponential growth in dog interest has revived or been born, puppy markets teem, and pet stores are found everywhere in the bigger cities. The quality has been poor, as can be expected. Many disqualifying show faults are found, even in dogs that are exhibited in the shows. Monorchidism, undershot Rottweilers, obvious or apparent mixed breeds — all are shown. However, while some of these dogs follow the Russian example of fake breed purity, there are more and more top-quality dogs being imported and bred. Fewer locals are being fooled by opportunistic Westerners now than when I first judged in China, and more are becoming better educated in cynological matters. In a Nanjing pet-grooming shop I saw a world-class Afghan Hound that was not in the show because he also was owned by a show official. With China’s imminent emergence as a world economic super-power, the face this country presents to the dog world will also continue to improve.