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Two faces of the China dream

By David Gosset | China Daily | Updated: 2013-05-31 08:55

The national vision is more a collective ambition than individual aspiration

Two faces of the China dream

David Gosset

After becoming China's president in March, Xi Jinping visited Russia and three African countries. His second foreign trip will take him on a seven-day trip to Trinidad and Tobago, Costa Rica, Mexico and the US beginning on May 31.

When Kamla Persad-Bissessar, the first female prime minister of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago, officially announced the visit, she mentioned "the China dream" but she also added, in an interesting association, that Xi's wife, Peng Liyuan, will accompany him during his visit. In the Xi Jinping decade, China's first couple operates as the medium of a message of dynamism, openness and confidence.

While the West seems preoccupied by retaining an obsolete global order, China is driving the remaking of the world; the former expects that the status quo that prevailed before the economic crisis will eventually be restored, while the latter expects a future that will increasingly conform with its aims and interests.

As concept and project, definition and positioning of a nation in a century of change, Xi's China dream can be presented as a triptych, the visions consisting of modern China, global China and China as a civilization.

Modern China is the recognition of the achievements that have been accomplished since the republic of Sun Yat-sen, but it is also the hope for even greater advancement.

Economic development and socio-political transformation in post imperial China took hundreds of millions out of poverty and liberated women - "Women hold up half the sky", Mao Zedong said - and extended life expectancy - 41 years in 1950, 76 now - and Deng Xiaoping's effort of reform and opening up remains a catalyst for improvement across Chinese society.

Internally transformed by more than 100 years of modernization, global China has become the world's most significant factor of change. In a new version of the Tang Dynasty (618-907), the Middle Country is absorbing foreign ideas and practices, but it also projects itself globally with the awareness that interdependence and cooperation characterize the 21st century. In the China dream, peace is to global China what progress is to modern China: a reality and an ideal.

The affirmation of global China comes without a missionary spirit, its horizon being neither hegemony nor even leadership but the return to the centrality of the Middle Country.

When Beijing welcomed the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recently hard on the heels of the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and publicly issued a four-point proposal for peace between Israel and the Palestinians, the Middle Country, assuming the role of mediator, was in effect in a position of centrality.

By contrast with the American dream, the China dream cannot be a narrative of pure newness; it is a future with the memory of 4,000 years of history, a movement of renaissance expressed in the vision of China as a civilization.

In architecture, design, fashion and in the arts, a renewed Chinese aesthetic is gradually imposing itself, from tea to calligraphy, Chinese flavors and forms have been revitalized.

China as a civilization aims to reinvent the country's classical culture but it is also the reinterpretation of traditional ideas. While growth that can be quantified is transforming Chinese people's lives, the quest for harmony has underlined the importance of the environment; in effect, there is a call for balance between material growth and sustainability.

If the China dream is more a collective ambition than individual aspiration, Chinese people have already recognized living expressions of their national metamorphosis.

In what can be regarded as happy coincidence but also as revealing synchronicity, Peng Liyuan - or what in Chinese cyberspace is called Liyuan feng, or the Liyuan Style - is the symbol of the country's spirit.

Perfectly at ease with foreign dignitaries, ambassador of a reinvigorated Chineseness, poised, Peng stands at the intersection of modern China, global China and the China of civilization reminiscent of Soong Ching Ling, the wife of Sun Yat-sen, and she is the new face of the China dream.

In the correspondence between the message, the China dream, and the medium, China's first couple, the Xi Jinping decade starts with a master class in communication on a grand scale.

The author is director of the Academia Sinica Europaea at China Europe International Business School, Shanghai, Beijing & Accra, and founder of the Euro-China Forum. The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.

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