From the Expats

Look forward to a new-look China

By JULES QUARTLY (China Daily)
Updated: 2013-03-13 02:58

Nostalgia is a funny thing. Some of the veteran expats I meet yearn for the good old days when the spidery network of hutong in Beijing defined the capital city. They like to tell of the time long ago when a kebab cost a few fen rather a couple of yuan, and they get all misty-eyed at the thought of people riding around on bicycles rather than in cars.

Meanwhile, locals are busy moving into towering apartments, and while they don't like inflation, they aren't going to complain if their wages keep up with or even exceed the upward spiral of prices. Bicycles are no longer a precondition of marriage, but a new house and SUV are.

It would appear that while some Westerners want China to stay the same, the Chinese themselves are welcoming the future with open arms and a few swipes on their Made in China iPad.

In the wider context, it would be convenient for Western governments wishing to hold onto power for China to remain as a "developing nation", looking back rather than forward. They wouldn't have to worry about a resurgent China taking over one of the reins of a world economy they could no longer manipulate for their own ends.

On a theoretical level, it would mean the principally Western conception of democracy and what it entails is not the only interpretation on the table. Economically, the free market principle and virtues of private enterprise are not the only models on offer. It's good to have alternatives, and a Western way or the highway approach to world politics is arrogant and limited.

This is what the ongoing two sessions are all about.

Ahead of the 12th National People's Congress, which opened on Tuesday, spokeswoman Fu Ying said the country would continue on its path of "self-improvement and development of the socialist system with Chinese characteristics", meaning it would not slavishly copy other countries' models, since "we have no reason not to go along this road".

This statement of intent would appear orchestrated to chime with the accession of Xi Jinping as the top leader. As far as we know, his roadmap for the future includes "rejuvenation" and establishment of a "Chinese Dream".

In Xi's own words: "Everybody has their own ideal, pursuit and dream. Today everybody is talking about the Chinese Dream." Simply put, one could say the American Dream is fairly universal rather than particular to the US; and the Chinese Dream puts the emphasis on the collective rather than the individual. The American Dream with Chinese characteristics, perhaps?

As for "rejuvenation", Xi clearly defines this as working toward a "well-off" society by 2021, and a "prosperous, strong, democratic, civilized and harmonious socialist modernized country" by 2049.

It is the modern aspect of this rejuvenation that principally interests me. Essentially, modernization seems to equate with urbanization and there are problems managing this huge flow of people from the countryside to the cities, such as providing adequate services, quality of life (clean air) and a harmonious environment. Changes to the hukou, or household registration system, and the narrowing of a yawning wealth gap are among the other issues that need to be addressed.

The second strand of this modernization is what China will look like in the future and how it will fit in with a globalized environment, an interconnected world that is increasingly uniform in opinion.

Which is precisely why I prefer the idea of people and nations being masters of their own destinies, rather than slavishly copying other countries. By insisting on a Chinese Dream and self-rejuvenation, China is looking forward, which suggests the promise of new possibilities, rather than the same old way.

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