I only started going to China in 2002 and at that time the world was just starting to realize that China (and India as well) is destined to become a strong economic threat to the west. Of course I was shocked to see how modern China was when I first went there. With those observations, I am always curious of what China may have looked like prior to the 1980s. I have met a number of former Red Army Soldiers and Government Party Officials who have told me that even today they are still very much proud to wear the traditional Mao suit and Mao Cap; and prior to the early 1980s there were hardly any advertising billboards, very few people had a television (and those that did were communist party members and the TV was only Black & White), there was no such thing as fashion because everyone wore the same dark blue suits, plus there were hardly any cars on the streets.
Of course, for those of us who have not experienced this lifestyle, it is very hard to believe all of this when you see all the technology in China these days. One thing I do fondly remember from the late 1990s, and this may be a sign of how things are changing, is that there was a surge of rich Chinese students from the mainland coming to study to the UK. Even when I graduated from Dulwich College in 1998, all of the Chinese borders were from Hong Kong; and compare that to, say, the present moment, where the vast majority of the Chinese borders studying at English Public Schools are from the mainland, not from Hong Kong. Even at British Universities, the number of Chinese (and Indian) students is rising as shown here. So, it’s now a well known fact that China and India are becoming rich (or Chinese and Indian people rather!), nevertheless, it’s always fascinating to known the real insight and viewpoint from someone who has seen the growth at first hand, right from the early 1920s to the present moment.
Recently I had the honour of having lunch with the much respected Dr. Chan Cheng, who is the Hon. Director of Board of Trustees of Nanjing University, and the President of the China Re-unification Society, to celebrate the 60th Anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China. It was an inspiration to listen to his experience of what life in Shanghai was like in the 1930s and 1940s. And when you compare what he told me to what one may see on a 20 minute walk down in, say, Pudong, you immediately appreciate that we should not just take everything in modern China for granted, but to understand that there were those who fought hard for this success. Here is an e-mail which I received from Dr. Cheng, and with his kind permission I would like to share it. It perfectly sums up everything that we observe in 21st Century China.
Many thanks for your email and kind invitation.
Here is my viewpoint:
Shanghai was among several British and French concessions in China during the 1920s. As these were governed and occupied by foreign powers, the law served to protect foreign interests. The Chinese were second class citizens, seen as beneath the colonials. This was mainly due to an incompetent government.
Today, Shanghai can be compared to a lion that has just woken up. It is a global financial centre brimming with sky scrapers. It is also the world's largest holder of foreign currencies. The Chinese government has been remarkably successful in guiding the country to global leadership status. This was most recently highlighted during the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
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