Imagine the new China – a prosperous nation with a vibrant retail economy and mobility for the masses. A kingdom that harks back to the Tang and Song era where music, art and literature flourished and foreigners flock to learn and trade with the people residing within. Think that this vision is not until at least 10 years later? I think China is precisely entering a new Golden age at the moment and it starts in 2010.
My first visit to China in 2003 showed me the nation on its pre-opening ceremony, with modern skyscrapers amidst polluted and dirty, unkempt cities. Two years later in 2005, it showed me a growing retail sector, but with limited access for people in the interior. In 2008, I experience the full-blown boom of the Chinese people on my visit to the gambling mecca of Macau and saw a growing domestic tourist market in Zhuhai. We all saw the magnificent display put up by Beijing in 2008, and early this year, I saw the purchasing power of the Chinese in the European luxury goods market. Stepping into China and spending the past 3 weeks traveling, I discovered the nation’s newfound confidence.
China tooday is the world’s second largest economy by total GDP, the world’s largest automobile market, boasting some of the fastest developing high-speed rail network, building some of the tallest skyscrapers, longest bridges, largest ports and a booming middle class population. Visiting the Expo, I saw hundreds of thousands daily willing to spend 160 Yuan or US$25 for entry tickets, with restaurants selling 40 Yuan (US$6.5) set lunches packed with diners. Modern shopping malls are filled with brand names like Zara, H&M, and Uniqlo, and Hermes was so bullish on China that it chose to start a new Chinese-only brand right out of Shanghai. Airports from Beijing to Shanghai are all packed with planes loaded with passengers, as more A380s enter the nation’s airport.
As the rest of the world talks of recovery from a financial crisis, it seems to me like the economic miracle is still on the works in China, and felt like there was no crisis that ever took place. I once doubted the ability for a country to carry on growing economically at a speed of 9% per annum for the past 2 decades and entering the 3rd decade. As economists have pointed out, China faces the prospect of a housing market bubble with a stagnating economy that will follow thereafter. Where do they get this idea from? Naturally Japan, a close neighbour which have shown a similar growth pattern. Demographics-wise, both are very different and China has the benefit of a burgeoning middle class which has just begun to support the domestic retail market. Land size wise, China has a far larger territory whereby it could invest in infrastructure development. Unlike Japan which has a saturated infrastructure development in place, the Chinese government have successfully shown how government driven investment have allowed the economy to continue to expand smoothly even with the rest of the world mired in crisis. Furthermore unlike the large Japanese conglomerates which have stifled innovation, cities like Beijing and Shenzhen is home to a budding entrepreneurial scene. This will lead to growth in small and medium enterprises which have formed the backbones of stable economies all around the world.
Having said that, I do believe the world still looks upon China with doubt and mistrust due to the so-called Communist Party and its sometimes harsh treatment of dissidents. But, as we remember what Deng Xiaoping once said it doesn’t matter if it’s a black or white cat, a cat that catches the mouse is a good cat. Why do we need to bother about the party ideology as long as it does what it’s meant to do, its a responsible organization. The CPC have brought millions of Chinese to a standard of living that many democracies have not been able to do. Indonesia, India, and the Philippines are all democratic countries, b are ut can they rival the development brought about by the single united party that China have? After all the Chinese believe that unity is strength. And as the world rages on about pollution in China, the Chinese government have shown their willingness to solve this problem by focusing on clean and renewable energy like wind and solar power. While overseas Chinese looks down on their mainland counterparts for their ‘rude’ and socially-unacceptable behaviour, the Shanghai Expo’s theme of Better City, Better Life seeks to address this by educating visitors on modern urban living. The government in China, at present, have shown their willingness to approach issues at hand, building infrastructure projects that benefits the public. From Shanghai to Nanjing, I have taken comfortable high-speed trains with 100% on-time departures and arrivals, and taken affordable subway rides at 2-4 Yuan per ride. These subway stations also no longer the old, dirty stations that one sees before, but instead looks as modern and as clean as the ones in Singapore’s north-east line.
The question beckons of the world’s harsh words on the Chinese government on human rights crackdown and their lack of accountability of the government towards its people. But the way I see it, the government has transformed a rural third world country to one that is comfortable to say allows up to 30% of its population to live comfortably like those in far developed countries. With respect to accountability, China has made their cities less polluted, ensure adequate natural resources, reinforced law to bring justice to cases of corruption, develop the poorer western regions, reduced the effect of annual monsoon floods, trained its military to provide aid in natural disasters, made the country one of the safest places to live in the world, and at the same time sustaining a stable economy. How would this not count as accountability to its people?
Finally, the Chinese government and its people have started to re-discover its culture and heritage. A strong country is just but a shell without enforcing its ‘soft’ power through a strong cultural heritage. China has a vibrant arts scene from its ancient traditional paintings, ceramics and jade carving to modern contemporary art that I have witnessed in Beijing 798 Art District and Shanghai’s Huaihai Road Art Galleries, the country is willing to show the hallmark of a civilization that can count as one of the oldest in the world. Movie making has also moved on to a new level with directors like Zhang Yimou making motion picture epics and blockbusters like Red Cliff endearing people around Asia to take on renewed interest to one of four great Chinese literature – Romance of Three Kingdoms. With ideology and religion, China seeks to assert its peaceful rise through promoting its culture of Confucianism. Confucius Institute will project the traditions of the Chinese people in the region and show its importance to civilizations extending beyond China including Japan and Korea which are close trading partners and strategic neighbours. It will also serve to bond overseas Chinese to China.
Now we come back to the final point of living under a communist regime in China, and had I seen what the Chinese government accomplished in the past 7 years, I can safely say I would gladly vote for the Communist Party of China whatever its name. After all, any government that truly can change the life of people for the better is a good government, no matter its political stance and name.