In 1998, fleeing a racially-charged, drug infested north Minneapolis neighborhood, I ran away to China.

In Part One of my story, I recount how I arrived one month after Bill Clinton had toured. People who spoke no English stopped me in the street and gave me the thumbs up sign. The following spring, an American airplane “accidentally” bombed the Chinese embassy in Belgrade. I watched China’s students march while they chanted, “Democracy is hypocrisy.” In my classroom, they informed me that in China, there is no racism.

This statement was hotly contested by a young woman who was a member of a Muslim minority group in China. “China occupies our country!” she seethed. “They take away our language!” She proceeded to educate me on the situation of the Uyghur people in China.

In Part Two, I accompanied her to her hometown on the Silk Road when she applied for her Chinese passport. I traipsed with her to so many police stations, I thought I would die of following. We bargained with passport forgers in dark hotel lobbies, whispered with Muslim Pakistani on a crowded train and, finally under a billboard that pictured Chinese minority people dancing over the slogan, “The army needs the minorities and the minorities need the army!” we decided which officials to bribe with brandy so they would issue her a passport.

Part Three tells the story of her twenty-one year old brother. He couldn’t go to school because he didn’t have money, and he couldn’t get a job because the jobs went to the Chinese. Muslim extremists had tried to recruit him, and his sister worried constantly that he would join them. Instead, he joined his sister and I in southern China where there is less political activity. He introduced me to the Muslim small businessmen from adjacent countries such as Pakistan, Kazakhstan and Russia. He deeply admired America, yet often was urged to distrust it by these men who offered him jobs and an education.

With these companions, I was often pushed to defend America, sometimes when it was indefensible. I recount a side of China to which few foreign or Chinese travelers have access.


© 2008 Reva Rasmussen
All rights reserved.

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