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Breaking barriers, building bridges

By Meng Wenjie | CHINA DAILY | Updated: 2023-12-06 08:23
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Diverse global voices in the Youth Power series explore Shenzhen's transformative journey in China's 45-year reform and opening-up, showcasing rapid growth, inclusive policies, and global impact, Meng Wenjie reports.

In 2023, China celebrated the 45th anniversary of its reform and opening-up policy. Shenzhen, the city in South China's Guangdong province, is the policy's original incubator and the first Chinese special economic zone. Transforming from a small fishing village into a modern global metropolis, it has long stood as a microcosm of China's dynamic 45-year history of implementing this policy.

The latest episode of China Daily's Youth Power, titled "Gen Z's Perspective — 45 Years of Reform and Opening-Up", aired on Nov 30. In the program, eight young people from different countries converged in this legendary city to discuss the events and changes over the past 45 years.

In the latest episode of Youth Power, eight young people from different countries gathered in Shenzhen to discuss the events and changes over the past 45 years. [PHOTO BY DONG MING/FOR CHINA DAILY]

Xiong Tian, a Chinese student at Tsinghua University, was raised and educated in Shenzhen. Among the city's many marvels, she believes that the Shenzhen International Trade Centre Building stands out as the best embodiment of "Shenzhen speed". It was completed in just 37 months, setting a record in China in the 1980s by constructing one floor, spanning 1,350 square meters, in only three days.

"I think this place best represents the phrase 'Time is money, and efficiency is life'," Xiong said, quoting the slogan that was commonly used in the 1980s, reflecting the era's determination for economic development.

Reflecting on the history of how Shenzhen was once a small village and then became the factory of the world in the 21st century, Xiong said that daring to be the first in and for the world encapsulates one of Shenzhen's key spirits.

As an epitome of China's reform and opening-up policy, Shenzhen has not only witnessed the rapid development of China's economy but also the evolution of different policy phases. Diego Rodriguez, a Spanish student studying energy and power engineering at Tsinghua University, pointed out that Shenzhen is the first city globally to alter the approach in measuring city growth: shifting from GDP (gross domestic product) to GEP (gross ecosystem product).

"China is prioritizing the development of the country to make growth more sustainable," said Rodriguez. "And it's doing this in various ways."

Jood Sharaf, a Bulgarian student at Tsinghua University, voiced concerns about the inequality in rapid economic growth. She noted that China's coastal cities expanded considerably faster and were more engaged in international trade. As a result, talented people from other developing areas frequently relocated to these cities in search of better prospects, with western parts of the country lagging behind.

"But there's starting to be a reversal of this tendency," Sharaf said, highlighting that the Chinese government is implementing measures to distribute economic benefits more equitably.

"For example, the Belt and Road Initiative passes through the heart of underdeveloped areas. Many projects have also promoted investment and attracted young people from these areas. These individuals, who may have studied in Beijing or Shanghai, are now returning to their hometowns to work on these projects."

Ye Xueying, a Hong Kong student at Wuhan University's School of Chinese Classics, shared the story of Huang Wenxiu. Huang, a graduate of Beijing Normal University, exemplifies the group of young people who pursued education in major cities but made the deliberate choice to go back to their hometowns after graduation.

According to Ye, Huang returned to her native Guangxi Zhuang autonomous region in Southwest China and worked as a village Party secretary in a severely underdeveloped community. She dedicated herself to efforts aimed at alleviating poverty.

"People like her are a crucial part of the reform and opening-up policy," Ye said.

While sharing Huang's case, she also mentioned the same slogan "Time is money, and efficiency is life", which was one of the key principles during the initial stages in Shenzhen's development.

"It sounds very much like utilitarianism, but it didn't end up with utilitarianism; it ends up with eliminating poverty," she said.

Rodriguez echoed this sentiment. "What the reform did was seek a way for the country to develop and ensure that the resulting wealth is distributed among all of the country's people," he said.

Jane Amelia Ma, an Indonesian student studying at the Southern University of Science and Technology in Shenzhen, believed that China's reform and opening-up policy has not only improved the lives of Chinese people but has also benefited other countries.

"For example, in my country Indonesia, we didn't have an advanced metro system like Shenzhen. But now we have one under construction that will connect Bandung, a city near Jakarta, the capital of Indonesia, with the help of China," she said.

Dylan Austin Walker, an editor based in Beijing, hails from Longmeadow, Massachusetts in the United States. He pointed out that in Springfield, a neighboring city, a Chinese company manufactures subway cars that are distributed across the country, including Boston, the capital of Massachusetts. Notably, most workers at the factory are local residents, which, according to him, exemplifies how technological advancements and industrial development in China have a positive impact on other nations.

"As a lot of people say, if China develops well, it benefits the world," he said. "China is not interested in exporting its way of thinking or system to other countries. But if something were to be exported, it's just this thought of allowing other countries to understand that there are other ways you can try and just respect their choice."

Reflecting Walker's viewpoint, Sharaf added that the policy of reform and opening-up has not only driven the development of China and the world but has also offered successful experiences for other countries.

"Some African countries have developed their economic zones," she said. "This means China's policy isn't just for its own domestic economy; it's a kind of model for others to follow and it's a way of interaction instead of imposition."

But economic advantages are not the only outcome of China's reform and opening-up policy; it has also nurtured an open and inclusive mindset.

For example, Sharaf, an international relations major who has studied in both Western countries and China, noticed a higher degree of openness in China toward scholars and academic perspectives from various countries.

"Here, I learn more about Western philosophy or policies in different countries, like Africa and Asia, compared to my studies in other countries," she said.

Walker agreed, referring to his own academic experiences in China. "We had a more inclusive and open type of education in our major compared to what is taught in the West," he said. "We're not only learning from the Chinese perspective but also from diverse international viewpoints in an unbiased and objective way."


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