We arrived in Beijing on a cool October morning. A sprawling establishment of a rising super-power, the Beijing International Airport did not sport any other foreigners at that early hour. Before we could recollect ourselves amidst the Chinese galore, we were whisked away into a van by a cheerful representative of the CPAPD, who spoke broken English. On our way to the hotel, we witnessed Beijing rise, and the work ethic of the Chinese was manifest from their work day starting as early as 7.30 am.
Beijing, Wuhan and Guangzhou, the three cities that we visited, were in stark contrast to each other. However, the trickling down of prosperity was conspicuous, even in Wuhan, considered to be a lesser developed province. The emphasis on welfare and economic development in the rural areas was executed by local units of the provincial government. The de-centralized approach seemed to work well, as reasonably content farmers and small business owners were seen getting assistance at these local government offices. Pregnant women, sick children and octogenarians were being attended to in the welfare units that seemed newly established from grants by the federal government in Beijing.
Upon our arrival in Wuhan on a bright and sunny morning, while passing the East Lake, the biggest inner city lake of China, I proposed that we inaugurate our trip to Wuhan by taking a boat ride on the East Lake. The rest of the delegation was easily persuaded. As my boat ventured into the calm horizon of the East Lake, I noticed the old lady with the weathered face who was punting my boat. Using Ms. Pu of the CPAPD as the interpreter, I struck a conversation with our boat’s host. Residing on the banks of the East Lake, her family had been in this business for over a decade. The East Lake was their sanctuary. However, the local government had given a fishing license to a large international company that had motorboats and, generally, a bigger resource pool. Since boat rides was not a consistent source of income, fishing provided the major chunk of revenue to these families. However, it seemed that their source of livelihood was going to be usurped in the near future. As she ended her story, I was told that this is just one family amongst thousands of families that are facing such challenges. As the country treads into the realm of free market economy, large corporations are seeping into the economic giant, making such families like that of the old lady the casualties of the new economy.
The Peasant Revolutionary Training Institutes established by Chairman Mao were a key instrument of the revolution. Present almost everywhere we went, these institutes imparted military training and Mao’s revolutionary ideology, the key ingredients which brought success. When Mao was at the helm of affairs, he would tour the country lecturing in these institutes, inspiring the new recruits and fueling their fervor.
In Wuhan, we visited the Dongfeng Motor Corporation, which is amongst the top Chinese automotive manufacturers. Currently, Dongfeng is exporting to Africa and the Middle East, and is in the process of gaining market access to South Asia. The motor giant’s production ranges from military jeeps to regular sedans, combining cutting edge technology with affordable prices. They have had joint-ventures with Honda and other major international automotive manufacturers, catering to the growing market of China and beyond.
The fine balance that China has struck, between steady modernization and preservation of tradition, has helped its rise in the international arena.
Amongst the numerous academic institutions that we were shown, the South China Agricultural University was the most remarkable. Hosting 40,000 students from all over China, the university had international students from 22 different countries, including Pakistan. The institution was designed to educate farmers for engaging in modern farming by applying various rice breeding techniques and optimum use of pesticide control, amongst other things. Considering that 674 million Chinese reside in rural areas, such institutions play a key role in transforming the new generations of farmers into modern entrepreneurs with the upgraded farming techniques and education.
It was difficult to miss the sense of purpose that was written all over the wall in China. From our local hosts to the provincial governments to the academics we were introduced to, there was a desire to reach out to the world and benefit from collaboration and show their guests that they had arrived. After all, they had managed to take 500 million people out of the shackles of poverty in one generation.
The message that the government and community leaders echoed was that China was interested in engaging the region and expanding partnerships with the nations that neighbored it, aspired to a peaceful rise, and wished to see the rest also riding the wave of success that it had steered. Soft power was the name of the game, and it was working indeed.
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