human mind finds it difficult to comprehend and visualize the
reality represented by large numbers, vast spaces, and
systematic change. This
is why, when thinking of China, perceptions and attitudes tend
to focus on symbols and abstract labels.
The symbols include the Great Wall and the portrait of
Mao Tse-tung in Beijing¡¯s Tiananmen square.
The labels include communism and ¡°market socialism.¡±
a longtime resident in China, I can assert categorically that
the simple labels of communism and market socialism are no guide
to the dynamically changing reality of China.
Indeed, they are gross misrepresentations.
But how can today¡¯s China¡ªan ancient country that is
home to one fifth of mankind--be represented and explained
without overloading the imagination?
would offer that the key to understanding China is think about
individual Chinese people¡ªtheir recent history, their daily
lives, and their dreams for tomorrow.
the last 20 years China¡¯s economy has been growing, and the
standard of living of its people has been rising, at a pace and
on a scale for which there are no parallels in human history.
How has this happened?
It has happened through the release of the energy and
imagination of individual Chinese as the system of central
planning and collective ownership has been dismantled, and
progressively replaced by markets and private ownership.
every day, Chinese individuals in virtually every city in the
country start their own businesses, often with the active
encouragement of local authorities.
They buy and sell at market prices with few or no
restrictions their personal property, including, increasingly,
cars and houses financed by bank loans.
Young Chinese find jobs, often with foreign companies,
according to their skills and abilities. High school graduates compete in a merit based examinations
for increasingly plentiful college and university positions.
In Shanghai some 70 percent of high school graduates
continue in a local college or university, where they are free
to choose from a vast variety of practical majors. Universities offer numerous M.A., MBA, and PhD
programs, often in cooperation with leading foreign universities
like Rutgers, MIT, and Cornell.
material and spiritual damage done to Chinese society by Mao
Tse-tung¡¯s utopian socialism was on a catastrophic scale.
The bleakness and despair that shrouded the country only
twenty-five years ago is now hard to imagine.
Indeed, for the generation that has grown up since the
late 1970¡¯s that past is unfathomable. Moreover, they feel that this past is irrelevant to
their lives. They
are not entirely correct in this belief, as it the society is
still seeking to rediscover, reinvent, or rebuild a moral and
ethical order. But
the fact that they harbor this belief is itself testimony to the
choices they see for themselves in the future and their
untrammeled sense of their own potential.
is, then, in the minds of individual Chinese, that the reality
of today¡¯s China is to be seen, and tomorrow¡¯s China to be
shaped. This is a
reality that defies labels, but that is easily understandable at
a human level. China
is a land of 1.2 million human beings, filled with hope.