Since 2008 I have visited more than 50 places in China, traveling to the country once a year and living there from 2015 to 2022. My wanderings have taken me to 25 of the 34 provinces, autonomous regions, and municipalities in China.
In the 15 years since I first landed in China, many things have changed for the better, most notably the relentless construction of infrastructure. Bullet trains criss-crossing the country, modern highways, subways, and airports are all examples of this construction boom. In addition, tourism facilities have gone from rudimentary in many cases, to now having the capacity to receive hundreds of millions of tourists every year.
Another important issue of concern, that of pollution control and environmental protection, has been tirelessly addressed. Compared with other countries and regions in the world, we can see that the proportion of new energy vehicles here is very high, and the construction, speed, and scale of many ecological projects, such as wind turbines and solar panels, as well as desertification control, are impressive.
Arnaud Bertrand and his family at a campsite in northwest China’s Qinghai Province.
TCM and More about China
My interest in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) arose through experimentation. I had been suffering from headaches for years, which seriously affected my life. I tried almost all the methods in modern medicine, but all in vain. After consulting a traditional TCM expert in China, who prescribed me a herbal mixture, my pain was gone within a week, and I have never had a relapse since.
Through research, I found that there are many diseases that couldn’t be cured with modern medicine, but effective diagnosis and treatment plans can be found in TCM. This is especially true for some chronic diseases, such as physical pain, insomnia, eczema, and many gynecological diseases. My idea for founding Me&Qi is simple: I want to help people understand that if modern medicine couldn’t solve their health problems, they can try TCM and see if they can get help.
My research on TCM prompted me to study ancient Chinese philosophy, as many of TCM concepts, such as yin and yang, and qi, were directly inspired by it. In fact, besides medicine, I am also very interested in many other aspects of China. For example, through travel, I have developed a strong interest in Chinese history, and gained a lot of knowledge from the historical sites I have visited. I am also very interested in China’s governance system, its history and current situation, and topics concerning international relations.
Investing in the People
From 2014 to 2021, China spent nearly RMB 14 trillion (US $2.1 trillion) via various funds to help lift people out of poverty. It is roughly equivalent to the amount spent by the United States in the Middle East and Afghanistan wars after 9/11, which clearly illustrates the different priorities of the two countries.
In fact, China spends almost all of its money on its own people and development in a bid to make the country more prosperous. This is admirable. It serves as a fundamental guarantee for its human rights.
What is the significance of human rights? It was solemnly enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which says, “the people of the United Nations have in the Chart reaffirmed their faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person and in the equal rights of men and women, and have determined to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom.” This is precisely what has happened in China over the past 40 years.
China has provided decent living conditions for hundreds of millions of people, and men and women enjoy equal rights. Undoubtedly, we have witnessed unprecedented social progress here.
It can be said that in recent decades, no other country in the world has done as much to realize the great aspirations of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Lack of Understanding
In May this year, I participated in a debate at Harvard University, organized by two conservative American organizations, the Intercollegiate Studies Institute and the Abigail Adams Institute. My opponent was Adrian Zenz, who is well-known for criticizing China on some of the most controversial issues, such as the so-called Xinjiang issue.
The theme of this debate was “Which system, Chinese or the Western, can better bring stability, prosperity, and freedom to its people.” The debate lasted for about an hour and a half, and in the end, a vote was taken to determine who won. I didn’t ever expect that I would be the winner, in a debate at Harvard, defending the position that the Chinese system is superior to the American one (especially on freedom issues).
After the debate I had a conversation with the audience and there were also many comments on YouTube, where the debate had been streamed. The vast majority of viewers held a positive attitude towards what I said in the debate.
This made me realize that the current negative attitude of Western people towards China is more due to their lack of understanding of China. Some of them have not been exposed to different viewpoints and only know how the West views China. From the discussions with the audience and the comments on YouTube I have read, I believe that Westerners are now more open about China than we usually imagine. They can see different perspectives and realize that there is another side to the stories they hear about China and communism.
Arnaud Bertrand discovered through much research that there are many diseases which can only be effectively diagnosed and treated with TCM. The picture shows a 200-year-old TCM pharmacy in Hangzhou City.
A Multilateral World Order
I like to view this issue from the perspective of Western politicians across different generations. We have a post-war generation, and then we have the current generation. Francis Fukuyama, an American political scholar, once put forward the “theory of the end of history.” He believed that the liberal and democratic system of Western countries may be the final form of the development of human political history, the best of all possible systems in history. All this would end with the world becoming a liberal democracy. Contemporary politicians still retain this idea: most of them still believe in the hegemony of liberalism, and the goal of the West is to unify the world into one great liberal democracy.
We have come to realize that this is daydreaming. We will gradually see the emergence of a new multilateral world order, and soon Western politicians will realize the mistakes made by the previous generation of politicians. They will realize that there are other civilizations, cultures, and governance systems in the world outside of the West, which also have their own advantages.
Of course, it takes time to realize it, as the generation that emphasizes liberal hegemony (in the West) still holds power. But they will soon realize that their desire for hegemony and the idea of turning the world into their ideal is something unrealistic. The more they are aware of it, the more politicians with new ideas will be elected, and the mentality of the West, on issues such as freedom, will gradually change.
China’s National Governance
In terms of national governance, China can become a source of inspiration for the United States and other Western countries. This is not just my opinion, but a fact.
If we study the new direction of the U.S. revealed in several speeches by Jake Sullivan, the national security adviser of the Biden administration, we will find that the U.S. is greatly inspired by China. He believes that the neoliberal principles that have guided the U.S. in recent decades — especially the state’s weak economic position and the market’s dominant position — are wrong, and the U.S. must adopt a new “consensus” that is very similar to what China is doing. That is, to strengthen the role of the state in the economy, adopt better planned industrial policies, ensure worker employment, and weaken the role of financial capital in the economy by adopting a Chinese style five-year plan.
Therefore, even if they are never willing to admit it, China has actually greatly influenced Western leaders.
Arnaud Bertrand is a French entrepreneur, who founded HouseTrip, Europe’s largest holiday apartment platform, and Me&Qi, a website that popularizes traditional Chinese medicine. He is also an opinion leader with a large following on X (formerly twitter).