H Mazhari
H Mazhari

China 1989-2004

One famous Sinologist has said that, if you spend one week in China you can write a book about the country; if you stay there for a month you might be able to write one or two pages; and if you spend one or more years in the country you would be unable to write a single line about it. In fact the more you know China, the more you realize the complexity of the country and the difficulty of knowing it well: a country that has over 5000 years of history.

By accident or simply by destiny I found myself in China in 1988 for the first time and stayed there for over 1.5 years. Then again I was in China for a second time in October 2004 for only 10 days. Although, like many other people, I had followed all the news on the economic development of China through the TV or magazines, when I landed at Shanghai airport in October 2004, I found that the changes were so striking that I could hardly to believe I was again in the same city and in the same country.

During my first stay in China I wanted to understand the people with whom I had to live. The best way, I thought, would be to understand the Chinese society and their behavior, the values of the traditional Chinese society, and the values of the modern China and its social structure which has been imposed on it since the Chinese Communists Party came to power in 1949. "The values of traditional Chinese society are mainly based on the so called Confucian Philosophy" in which stress on harmony is one of the basic values:

Chinese designs BulletHarmony is seen as the principle of the cosmic order and, therefore, also as the principle of human social organization. It presupposes the subordination of the individual to the community: the will to give up freedom, the highest value of western culture, in favour of the security which the community has to offer when harmony is established.
BulletThe family is the cell of the society and at the head of the family stands the eldest male adult as a sort of patriarch.
BulletChinese individuals are consequently taught from infancy that they can survive and prosper only through belonging to groups, and that individuals who fail to serve and thus derive support from their groups will suffer pitifully. Consequently, when something has to be done, the Chinese are inclined to think of doing it in and through groups, not as individuals.
BulletThe Chinese bind themselves together in networks of groups, to such a degree that everyone has innumerable "contacts", and relies on such "contacts" as the normal way to get along safely and successfully in the world.

When the Communists came to power in 1949, they set about producing a major change in the Chinese society. Their goal was not simply a political revolution but a complete social revolution as well. But the past could not simply be swept aside overnight. And in order to mobilize the population in support of the goals of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), it was necessary to selectively build upon and reinforce some elements of traditional social life in order to try to change other elements.

The result of this complex change process was a fundamental transformation of the society. Socialist property relations have replaced private enterprise; bureaucratic controls over society have been enormously expanded, and no corner of the Chinese society has escaped the influence of CCP's policies. But at the same time, the contemporary social system is in many clearly identifiable ways still very Chinese, and the present social institutions are a complex mixture of old and new. The Chinese family survives, and even thrives, and much the same can be said for Chinese styles of bureaucratic behavior, the stress being placed on personal ties, and many traditional social values.

The CCP thus had to build upon some traditional values while seeking to transform others. At times they waged campaigns specially designed to try to get the people to change their attitudes, as during the "anti-Lin Bio, anti-Confucius" campaign of 1973-75, when Confucian philosophy was denounced for its emphasis on harmony, the superiority of mental labour, sexual inequality, etc.

The current ideals involve both new concepts (equality, struggle, class conflict) as well as traditional precepts (the malleability of man, individual subordination to society, and the need for uniform set of values in society). Obviously proclaiming a set of values is not the same as getting people to accept those values and act in accordance with them, and thus gaps between official ideals and social reality are in many instances apparent in China. In 1989, China had to face many problems from the economic point of view, similar to those of the other developing countries. Inflation was over 30%, which the government tried to control without success. Housing was one of the country's biggest problems and it was most serious in Shanghai with 13 million inhabitants. According to the China Daily, in 1989, on average there was 2 m² to 3 m² of housing space available per capita in Shanghai.

In those days, if you were lucky and made a Chinese friend, you could be invited to share a lunch or dinner at their homes. The Chinese would serve a guest an enormous quantity and variety of foods, ranging from 12 to 14 dishes, with different tastes and mostly very delicious. But for their own everyday life, food would be very simple; basically rice and vegetables. According to the China Daily (September 1989), the average per capita consumption of meat of any kind in China was 22 kg per year. And the average salary income of an engineer in 1989 was around 80 to 120 Yuan (1 US $ equal to 11 Y).

Some touristic views Deng Xiaoping was the first Chinese leader to understand that China needed profound changes for the development of its economy. He declared that "the problems of the day are very complicated, and it won't do for us to act by relying merely on several statutes, decrees or rules; we should act according to local conditions". Economic practices require enthusiasm, he said, and if local enthusiasm lacks, it would be impossible to practice economic activities, and waste will occur. Deng embarked China on a road completely different from the previous one.In 2004, the current resources of the country were much better than what they were before Deng's initiation of the reform project and the opening up of the country. However, they appeared not to be so abundant after all when divided among the 1.3 billion people. Energy resources, raw and semi-processed materials, water, land and other natural resources are the foundation on which humanity depends for subsistence and development, and are important material guarantees for the sustainable development of any economy and society. According to the People's Daily, in August 2004, the per-capita share of China's cultivated land, freshwater, forests, and energy (petroleum and natural gas) respectively accounted for, one-fourth, one-fifth, one-tenth and one-twenty-second of the world average.

Again according to the People's Daily, at present resources are in short supply; some regions even suffer from shortages of coal, electric power, oil and therefore transportation services, which has become a major restrictive factor hindering China's economic and social development and the realization of the goal of building a moderately prosperous society in an all-round manner. The Chinese believe that the strict practice of economic activities requires the mobilization of enthusiasm of the whole society and the cultivation of a sense of urgency for the practice of economy and the awareness of the deficiency of resources. However, despite all the shortages and deficiencies China faces, it is rapidly developing and the standard of living of its people is fast rising.

For the Chinese economy to continue with the same speed as it has developed in the last few years, it requires adequate transportation facilities for import and export of its goods. Therefore, China has launched some huge projects to improve its infrastructure, ports and shipping. According to the Trade Winds (February 2005), the shipping industry is flourishing to such a degree that China should be the world's leader in 10 years from now. Ports are being expanded with a frenetic pace. Last year China launched a plan to double its current port capacity by 2010. Already container terminals for box ships of 9000 and over are available. Some Chinese shipping companies are actively trying to acquire and take market shares in liquefied natural gas (LNG) and very large crude carrier (VLCC) sectors. Motivating ordinary people through decreased bureaucracy and allowing them to acquire wealth, has created a driving force in all sectors of the Chinese society and industry. The result has not only made China today one of the economic engines of the world, but it has also improved the living conditions of the many millions of the Chinese.

Chinese people During my last visit in October 2004 to Shanghai, Jianyin and Nagging, I had the opportunity to travel by car and train and compare the actual modern highways with four lanes on each side with unbelievably narrow and badly maintained roads of 1989. While today the Chinese are driving on highways at 140 km/h most Chinese have forgotten the difficult roads of yesterday. Train services and their cleanliness are most pleasant. The Shanghai Metro, which is only operating since a few years ago, is used by the Chinese so naturally that it gives one the feeling that the people have been used to this services for over 20 years.

The Chinese of today have the motivation to work harder than before for better standards of living and the prosperity and pride of their nation as a whole. But besides motivation they also have a sense of teamwork and solidarity that has always been a part of their culture, communists or capitalists. Let other developing nation learn!

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