Tonight I met up for dinner with some coworkers and some who recently left the company.
And of course one of the topics was about the Sichuan earthquake.
They were all disheartened by the situation.
But what was also interesting was these 20-somethings' evaluation of how China's leaders have responded to the natural disaster.
Everyone praised "Grandpa" Wen Jiabao for immediately going to the quake-stricken zone and sympathizing with the victims. They thought he was definitely a people person who really cares for the country's citizens. In the first few days he had been working around the clock and trying to mobilize as many resources as possible.
On the other hand, they felt President Hu Jintao was not very earnest in his concern for the survivors. They felt the coverage of his inspection tours were staged and his words sounded hollow.
"That's the Chinese way," sighed one. "He doesn't know how to show empathy."
But they felt former President Jiang Zemin was worse, doing silly antics for attention.
We then talked about the development of the country, and they felt China is developing so quickly and this is the right direction.
But I pointed out that most of the country is left behind and the most crucial thing for these underdeveloped areas is education. I said the country can only move forward when the gap between the rich and poor, the urban and countryside areas is smaller. And the best way to do that is through education.
That means the government needs to pay teachers in these areas better. I've read stories of heroic teachers who only make a few hundred RMB a month, and sometimes they aren't even paid on time.
I said if the central government made this a priority, they would make sure these teachers were paid well and on time. That way the students can be ensured of a good education.
But my friends said while that's the way it should be, it was impossible because China is so bureaucratic that money for education goes through so many levels before it actually ends up in the teachers' hands. It would be a complete restructuring of the government system which would take a long time to reform. And education may not be a priority for many of these areas that would prefer to concentrate on economic development.
This is short-sighted thinking. Only through education can an area develop itself economically and socially.
That is how Hu can make his "harmonious society" a reality.
If the schools that were flattened by the earthquake were found to be shoddily constructed, nicknamed "tofu buildings", then hopefully the central and regional governments will pay more attention to the countryside and of course the crucial need to invest more in education.
That is one of the good things that may come out of this natural disaster. Children are the future of this country -- any country. And education is the crucial tool they need in order to help China continue to grow and hopefully in the future become an influential power that is not only economically strong, but also has good leadership skills on the world stage.