Opinion / Op-Ed Contributors

Chinese, American, or Pacific Dream

By Patrick Mendis and Gary Schwarz (China Daily) Updated: 2014-11-13 07:50

When President Xi Jinping welcomed his US counterpart Barack Obama and other APEC leaders in Beijing earlier this week, he offered his vision of an "Asia-Pacific Dream". Dreams are common and shared by everyone, everywhere. Yet the American Dream is synonymous with economic opportunity and political freedom; it has become a common currency for aspiring leaders ever since Dr Martin Luther King, Jr. made his famous "I have a dream" speech.

The American Dream traces back to the pilgrims, who came to the US on the Mayflower ship to escape from religious persecution in Europe. This human experience was solidified when Thomas Jefferson penned the trilateral concept in the "Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness" in the Declaration of Independence. The first and last pillars are related to the economic and spiritual aspects of human livelihood; the second pillar of "liberty" is concerned more about the political freedom of every individual as if "all men are created equal" and they all have "unalienable rights"."

Like Dr King, Jr., Obama revived the American idealism in his book, The Audacity of Hope: Thoughts on Reclaiming the American Dream, when he was still a senator. Growing up in Indonesia, Obama became the first "Pacific" US president. Xi has himself seen the American Dream firsthand when he spent time with his American host family in Iowa. When President Xi introduced the Chinese Dream, he seemed to invoke former premier Zhou Enlai's wisdom that "common points are basic, differences are local, so we seek common points while reserving differences" (People's Daily, March 23, 1965). The rejuvenation of Chinese culture and Confucian ethics is the core of Xi's dream as a civilization-state and national identity.

While both leaders are at different stages of their political career - Obama retiring within two years and Xi stepping into his second year - they are united in principle to make their countries and citizens realize their dreams. The two dreams differ, however. The American is an individual dream, the Chinese is a national dream.

In the American Dream, everyone - irrespective of his or her circumstances of birth - has freedom to exercise his/her will for personal destiny. The Chinese Dream is a collective dream for the people and national prosperity. Here, the social configuration of nation is the people, the Party and the government in a singular entity as if it were a Confucian polity in unity. The Chinese Dream is, therefore, a national dream.

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