A Changing Global Climate—P.R.C., U.S.A., and “Blenders”
—by Jinny Batterson
“Adam,” as I’ll call him, is a very cute little boy. He is part of an accelerating trend. His father is American; his mother is Chinese. Although he’s only three or so, several times he’s already shuttled back and forth between the two countries. Before he gets to be school age, he’s likely to be fluent in at least two languages, perhaps more. All four of his grandparents adore him. He is neither entirely Chinese nor entirely American—he’s some of both.
No one knows for sure how many multi-cultural, multi-ethnic children there are in the world, but they now number many millions, perhaps close to a billion. In addition, our planet has increasing numbers of “third culture kids,” children whose parents, both from a single national or ethnic background, have relocated for long stretches of time to other countries and cultures to study or work. They’ve taken their children with them. These children grow up belonging neither entirely to their parents’ original culture nor to the cultures in which they’ve spent much of their childhoods. They’re at home everywhere and nowhere.
Immigration rules and patterns, economic globalization, more accessible international travel, disruptions due to wars or climate change, all have increased the chances that the next global generation will be among the most “mixed” ever. One 2011 study estimated that worldwide there are now more multilingual children than monolingual ones. International migrants, if taken as a group, would form the fifth largest population on the planet.
I’m not multi-cultural, nor even “third culture,” though I’ve spent over half a decade of my adulthood living or traveling outside the U.S. I love the United States, the country of my birth and citizenship, despite its faults. The longest intervals of my overseas time have been spent in the People’s Republic of China. I’ve come to love China, too, despite its faults. Its peoples, its landscapes, its many vibrant cultures continue to fascinate me.
The decade when I spent the most time in China (2002-2012) saw some of the fastest economic growth in its history and the lifting of hundreds of millions of its citizens from poverty into the middle class. The same period also saw an accelerating decline in the health of China’s natural environment. China’s air pollution is estimated to cause over a million premature deaths per year. Another looming challenge is the rapid aging of China’s population. Part of what drives this “graying” of China has been its “one child” policy, which slowed population growth for over a generation by limiting most urban families to a single offspring. This one child generation, now mostly young adults, is skewed toward males. China now has a shortage of young women of marriageable age. During the 1980’s and early 1990’s, many Chinese female infants and young girls were put up for adoption into Western families so families could try again for a son in this historically patriarchal culture.
As if these challenges were not enough, the proportion of multi-generational families that have long been a backbone of Chinese society is also declining. More working age Chinese are abandoning the countryside for better jobs in the cities, leaving grandparents and young children behind.
Of course, China is not the only country with problems. Watching television or Internet news in the U.S. is a near continuous reminder of problems and challenges within my home country. Pointing out China’s challenges is somewhat akin to the Biblical parable of noticing the speck of sawdust in my brother’s eye while ignoring the log in my own.
As our human numbers and appetites increase, our entire species is becoming more of a threat to ourselves and to our planet. The “Adam”s of the next generation, whatever their national origins, will have to face daunting challenges if human populations are to survive: developing better ways to reconcile competing natural resource claims while avoiding catastrophic environmental harm. Those of us already grown, however much we try to resist change, will need to shift some of our habits of thought and behavior.
When relations between the land of my birth and the land of my most extensive travels deteriorate or are in crisis, I can sometimes feel as if I’m a child caught up in a difficult divorce. It can be hard to remember that both “parents,” the U.S.A. and the P.R.C., are worthwhile and special, each in their own way. While I understand that they will never agree on everything, I have to hope that, for the sake of all children, they can learn to be better stewards of their disagreements. They need to be able to work together to help humans like me, but especially young people like Adam, survive and thrive in a world whose global climate does not recognize man-made boundaries.