The young are incapable, the old are exhausted, and box- ticking bureaucrats make life hell. China, a superpower? First it needs to grow up, says acclaimed author Xue Xinran
Is China going to oust the United States as the world’s superpower? Is China really ready to rule the world? For nearly a decade now, on book tours that have taken me all over the globe, this is the one subject I am always guaranteed to be grilled on.
I can understand why people ask me. My name is Xinran and I was born in Beijing in 1958. I am a British-Chinese broadcaster and author, and have lived in London since 1997, where I initially worked as a cleaner. I have a foot in both cultures, and yet, when my readers ask me whether Western fears that power is shifting inexorably to the East are justified, I struggle to answer them.
China is a sleeping lion, Napoleon once warned. “ Let her sleep, for when she wakes she will shake the world.”
Lion up and roaring
Nearly two centuries later, this lion is not only awake, but roaring. Foreign companies in Asia, factories in Africa, and even villages in Italy and streets in France have been snapped up by perspicacious Chinese businessmen. Growth may have slowed in the midst of the world debt crisis, but China remains the world’s low-cost manufacturer and the U. S.’ s biggest creditor, with one Washington think-tank recently making the prediction that the yuan could overtake the dollar as the principal reserve currency within a decade.
On my home turf in London, a string of schools now offer Mandarin lessons to children as young as three. Back in 2008, the Daily Telegraph reported a rush on Mandarin-speaking nannies by “ high-achieving parents” looking to “ invest in their children’s future.” Wherever you look, China’s dominance seems inevitable. But is it?
At least twice a year, I go back to China to update my understanding of my magical, constantly changing home country. As a writer, I try to dig out what’s really going on behind the cities’ monolithic shopping centres, the billboards flashing that day’s FTSE index, as well as visiting the countryside, where life couldn’t be more different.
Much busier than 1997
My most recent trip to China was in September. It began with 10 mad, busy days in Beijing where my husband, as consultant to China Publishing Group, was attending the International Book Fair. I had gone to Nanjing to research my new book on the effects of China’s one-child policy, through the eyes of the first generation.
We then went to Shanghai where we were both giving lectures at Fudan University. Much of our time had been spent on the road, and we were by now desperate for a break from the swarming cars and the crowded streets, all overlooked by the unending skyscrapers lived in by more than 16 million people.
A friend suggested a trip to Suzhou, “ to have a walk and drink tea at some of the ancient tea farms, such as Guhan Village. No cars, no tourists.”
Before I left for Britain in 1997, this pleasant journey used to take me an hour by car. This time it took five hours and after a rushed lunch our driver warned us we would have to leave — “ otherwise you won’t get back to Shanghai for dinner, even by Western standards.”( The Chinese eat dinner a lot earlier.)
As we reached the outskirts of the city and joined a crawling convoy of cars all fighting to get onto the motorway ( the radio that morning had reported that the number of cars in China had recently reached 100 million, second only to the U. S.’ s 285 million), I took the opportunity to talk to our driver. What might he reveal about the state of modern China and where it is headed?
He was a father in his early 30s and had learnt to drive in the army. Many young peasants try very hard to get into the military, seeing it as an opportunity to have a better life than their parents and grandparents, who grew up in rural poverty or moved to the cities to live at the bottom of society as labourers.
And yet, while he was far from being a member of the elite, he was by no means living a simple, pared-down existence: “ Drivers have no chance of making big money like politicians and governors, but we need it as much as everyone does. We all only have one child and we want to give the best to them.
“ My daughter’s kindergarten is not in the top list at all but . . .
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldne ... world.html