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Finding common ground in Africa

By Andrew Moody | China Daily Africa | Updated: 2014-04-18 10:06

Chinese dream is a concept that is deep-rooted in history and one that includes everyone in China

Is Africa now dreaming the same dream as China? Xi Jinping, in one of his first major speeches as Chinese president in Dar es Salaam last year, took the opportunity to draw a parallel between the two.

He said the Chinese Dream of national rejuvenation was in accord with Africa's vision of a united continent able to chart its own development journey.

But is the Chinese Dream now better understood in Africa and elsewhere in the world than the American Dream, until recently the most famous version.

A new survey by UK advertising and public relations giant WPP, The Power and Potential of the Chinese Dream, suggests the concept of a dream is now far better recognized in China at least than even in the US.

Nearly nine in 10 (89 percent) of respondents in China said they knew about the concept, compared to 73 percent of Americans. In the UK, only 13 percent had any idea of a British dream.

Nearly four in five (79 percent) of Chinese people also believed that having a dream made them more confident about facing the future, which was true of 55 percent of Americans and only 39 percent of Britons.

We look at the significance of the Chinese Dream and where it fits among the dreams and aspirations of other countries.

Doreen Wang, deputy managing director of Millward Brown China, the global brands research consultancy arm of WPP, who worked on the report, says the Chinese Dream has now taken center stage in China.

"Chinese people are more familiar with the concept because the government's education has raised the awareness.

"I still think, however, there is a gap between the national dream and individual dreams in China. The national dream is about building a powerful country and maintaining economic growth. Individual dreams are mainly concerned with their own financial position, maintaining their health and reducing pollution."

Dambisa Moyo, the internationally renowned Zambian-born economist and author, believes many in Africa are now likely to subscribe to the Chinese Dream rather than the American one.

"I think the financial crisis actually shifted the balance. People in Africa have seen 600 million people moved out of poverty over the past 30 years and they want to be a part of that."

Moyo, also author of the best-selling book, Dead Aid: Why Aid is Not Working And How There is Another Way for Africa, argues the Chinese vision is now the way forward for many Africans.

"I (for one) am a big Sinophile because I recognize we need China's investment and we need jobs and trade and we need something to happen. Americans are not prepared to write big checks to drive trade and job creation in Africa anymore."

Xi made achieving the Chinese Dream his central aim when he became head of the Communist Party of China in November 2012.

He sought national rejuvenation and for China to re-establish its position as a country of stature and power after the humiliations of the 19th century and the first half of the last century.

Some have suggested he was just echoing the American Dream, which dates back to the nation's founding fathers and is famously about individuals being free to achieve their goals and aspirations.

But many historians believe the Chinese Dream has its own heritage and originates with the country's first emperor Qin Shi Huang, who achieved his own vision of uniting China after the Warring States Period in 221 BC.

It was also evoked in one of the great classics of Chinese literature, Cao Xueqin's Dream of the Red Chamber, the mid-18th century novel that relates to the aims and aspirations of Chinese society.

The concept is also to a large extent embedded in the country that Chairman Mao aimed to create when he founded New China in 1949.

Harry Verhoeven, convener of the Oxford University China-Africa Network, says the Chinese Dream has direct relevance to Africa.

"That is why myself and a number of academics have been invited to China because there is very much an international relations component to the Chinese Dream that particularly pertains to Africa.

"African leaders are very interested because there are a whole range of issues that could fall under the Chinese Dream rubric from a deepening economic relationship, greater Chinese involvement in Africa's security and the establishment of new (Chinese yuan trading) financial centers, particularly in countries like Kenya."

The Chinese Dream, as expressed by Xi, is perhaps designed to be more stirring than the central themes that defined the leadership of his predecessors, who have tended to focus on practical goals. Deng Xiaoping with his famous Theory began the reform and opening-up process, kickstarting China's phenomenal economic growth of the past three decades and more.

His successor, Jiang Zemin also set a pragmatic course with his Three Represents, which related to economic production, cultural development and political consensus.

For Xi's immediate predecessor Hu Jintao, it was Scientific Outlook on Development that was important, placing technological advancement highest on the agenda.

According to the WPP survey, Xi's message about national rejuvenation accords with what Chinese people think.

Some 44 percent think they will be an equal power with the United States in 10 years, compared to just 12 percent who think they have achieved parity today.

The dream he mapped out was also about Chinese citizens enjoying greater wealth and affluence by 2020 and fulfilling their own goals and aspirations.

The Chinese are far more optimistic about their living standards increasing than either the Americans or the British, according to the survey. Nearly two thirds (63 percent) expected their income to grow by at least 7 percent a year, compared to just 26 percent of Americans and 17 percent of Britons.

There is much debate as to what distinctions are to be drawn between the Chinese and American dreams.

John Delury, co-author of the recent book Wealth and Power, China's Long March to the Twenty-first Century, says the major difference between them is that the Chinese Dream is a more of a collective idea than the more individual American one.

"It is a unitary dream. It is a dream for the country and all the people are united around that purpose. So you do see - in a crude sense at least - a difference between it and the American Dream, which is inseparable from an individualistic spirit, dating back to the 19th century of the self-made man."

Delury, who is also assistant professor of East Asian Studies at Yonsei University's Graduate School of International Studies and Underwood International College in Seoul, says the idea of a dream in China is not some nebulous concept, as some also have suggested.

"China's ruling elite for almost 200 years both the rulers and the thinkers - have had this very strong concept of a dream. In fact, Orville (Schell, his co-author) and I almost thought at the last moment of working 'dream' into the title of our book as a leitmotif."

Wang Yiwei, director of the China-Europe Academic Network and professor at the School of International Studies at Renmin University of China in Beijing, says the reason why the concept resonates with the Chinese is that it is deep-rooted in history.

"As a political phrase it may just date back to the 18th National Congress (of the Communist Party of China held in November 2012) but its three aspects, national prosperity, a powerful state and people's happiness are not new. They have a long history and are related to old Chinese concepts of wealth, power and harmony."

Sven Grimm, director of the Centre for Chinese Studies at Stellenbosch University in South Africa's Western Cape province, however, believes the Chinese Dream is more a derivative of the American Dream than projecting anything new.

"There are some points that are repeated about the Chinese Dream, implicitly or explicitly, and there seems to be an ambition to project this dream abroad (as with American soft power)."

He believes there are risks for China of trying to export its dream and trying to fuse it with a concept of an African dream without first ensuring that its economic engagement with the continent has delivered long-term development goals.

"Beijing should just heed the message that Diana Ross spread with the American Motown band, The Supremes. One of her hits was You Can't Hurry Love. Indeed. It should relax, deliver results and admiration, if not love, will come its way," he adds.

Whether the Chinese Dream translates to Europe is much more open to debate. The WPP survey certainly suggested this was not the case in the UK with only 20 percent believing national dreams could actually be regarded as positive, compared to 48 percent of Americans and 70 percent of Chinese.

Jonathan Fenby, the leading China commentator and author of the recent book, Will China Dominate the 21st Century?, says the British do not tend to go in for dreams.

"I don't think the British are very dreamy people. They tend to be very suspicious of people who say, 'I have a vision or I have a dream for you'," he says.

"Even when we had someone like Margaret Thatcher who perhaps had a vision, it needed to be put across in straightforward everyday terms. I think Britain as a whole regards itself as being more practical than theoretical."

But what of the wider European dream that some think is embedded in the European Union?

Rana Mitter, director-designate of the Oxford University China Centre and also author of China's War with Japan, 1937-1945: The Struggle for Survival, doesn't think the European Union is a substitute for a dream.

"It is not really a dream but a political model. It has a slightly technocratic feel about it and that has been one of the things that has been problematic for Europe in seeking to find its identity in the past couple of decades.

"I think after World War II, it had a very big specific idea about a desire never to go to war again and I think that is now inconceivable. It is less about that now and I think it is difficult to build emotion around European enlargement or the single currency. The point about dreams is that they have to be emotional."

It is with the American Dream that the Chinese Dream is most often contrasted.

Nearly three in four of Americans (72 percent), according to the WPP survey, say they believe life is much happier with dreams, although the Chinese score higher at 79 percent on this.

In terms of realizing those dreams, China might be the place to be in just 10 years. Forty-two percent of Chinese believe their own country will be an ideal place to live within a decade, while that is true of only 14 percent of Americans, 5 percent of French, 4 percent of Germans and 2 percent of Britons.

Junheng Li, author of Tiger Woman on Wall Street, which will shortly be published in Chinese in China, is one who has experienced both dreams first hand.

She was brought up in Shanghai and has gone on to build a successful career in the US, now running her own New York-based equity research firm specializing in China, JL Warren Capital.

"Frankly, I don't think there is much difference between the Chinese Dream and the American Dream. In America, the preoccupation is about getting rich, owning a house, a few cars, having a big family and being materially successful.

"I don't think that for many Chinese, their dream is all that different. The average citizen on the street also wants to own a nice house and car as well as freedom of individual choice. They also want a better life than their parents."

Verhoeven at Oxford says there were homegrown versions of the African Dream too, particularly at the dawn of independence in the 1950s.

"Kwame Nkrumah, the first Ghanaian president had this idea that Africa must unite and you also had ideas in Senegal of countries with a shared heritage of racial exploitation to work together," he says.

The Africanist adds there have been recent variants when former South African presidents Thabo Mbeki and Nelson Mandela floated the idea of African renaissance in the late 1990s.

"This brought together ideas of pan-Africanism, African traditions of democracy and also reconciliation and a range of other things."

Ross Anthony, research fellow at the Centre for Chinese Studies at Stellenbosch University does believe that messages coming from China do have a tendency to develop resonance on the continent as well.

"Terms such as 'win-win' and 'harmonious relations' have already been drawn on extensively by African leaders in recent years," he wrote in The Diplomat.

"One of the reasons Xi's concepts of 'World Dream' and 'Africa Dream' have more appeal in Africa as opposed to countries like Britain or the United States is because they are bound up with the growing economic influence China now exercises over Africa."

Wang at Renmin University insists dreams, however, are a more universal concept and it is difficult to draw distinctions between individual country dreams.

"I don't think the Chinese Dream is unique to China. It is a people's dream. It is similar to any other country's dream, American Dream, European dream. People are always pursuing happiness and better living conditions or whatever wherever they happen to be," he says.

He also believes it is wrong to assume that the Chinese Dream is exclusively just for Chinese people living in China.

"The Chinese Dream is not just for Chinese people but everybody in China. It is an inclusive concept. I think Africans living in Guangzhou or Yiwu in Zhejiang can also achieve their Chinese Dream."

 Finding common ground in Africa

Dambisa Moyo, the Zambian-born economist. Mark Wessels / For China Daily















(China Daily Africa Weekly 04/18/2014 page6)

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