Forty years of “China Opening Up” has produced meaningful progress for the world and, especially, for the people of China.
Without question, the Chinese Communist Party has taken many steps to address poverty since the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949. The Chinese Communist Party has lifted hundreds of millions of its citizens out of abject poverty to the equivalent of a Chinese middle class over the past 40 years – a truly remarkable and universally acknowledged feat.
Poverty has a devastating impact on the growth and development of individuals (especially children), families, and society as a whole. China deserves credit for what it has accomplished.
President Xi, in speaking to the Chinese Congress, emphasized the accomplishments of its past leaders – Mao in making China independent, and Deng who made it prosperous – and how now Xi would make China strong again, propelling the country into its “new era.” This new era is the Chinese equivalent of his policies that will “lift all boats.” The goal of eradicating poverty is certainly a lofty goal.
The President sent a congratulatory letter to the International Forum on Reform and Opening Up and Poverty Reduction in China held last month in Beijing saying, “We will stick to the people-centered philosophy of development, vigorously implement targeted poverty alleviation, give full play to China's institutional advantage, stick to the leading position of the government, deepen cooperation between eastern and western regions, mobilize the whole society, combine poverty reduction with education improvement, coordinate development-oriented poverty relief with government-subsidized poverty reduction to make sure absolute poverty is eradicated by 2020,"
Channel News Asia reports, “The poverty rate among the rural population dropped to 3.1% last year (2017) from 97.5% 40 years ago.” And continues, “China now boasts the most dollar billionaires in the world with 620, according to Shanghai-based magazine publisher Hurun Report.”
As reported by The South China Morning Post at the celebration of China’s 40 years of “Opening Up” President Xi “marked the anniversary with broad statements on the country’s plan for the future, but few specifics about future challenges”.
What Would Confucius Say?
There is a renewed embrace of Confucian thinking in China about a society where everyone fulfills their responsibilities and creates a harmonious situation where the whole country prospers and reaches for the “Chinese Dream.”
To that end, the Chinese government and its people are investing in education, infrastructure, and technology – fully embracing the future. They understand that knowledge, innovation, and creativity are the 21st century currency propels individuals, families and a nation forward, and are investing heavily in education as a poverty alleviation tool.
40 Years of Opening Up
As the 1980’s unfolded, China changed course, beginning with Premier Deng Xiaoping, the pre-eminent leader following Mao. Now China’s President Xi Jinping continues to change the course of the world in the 21st century.
Deng began the process and President Xi has put it on steroids, establishing policies and practices that have lifted more people out of poverty than any other nation in the world. Twice as many people have escaped poverty in China than America has people.
Today, some argue the 20th century belonged to America and the 21st century will ultimately be led by China. I do not know if their arguments will withstand the test of time. However, I do know that America’s and China’s destinies are linked and the two countries must find ways to live, work, and solve problems together or we will surely fall together.
I have traveled throughout China numerous times since 1989, to cities many have heard of – Beijing, Hong Kong, Shanghai, and Lasa, Tibet – plus those much less familiar: Lanzhou, Changsha, Beichuan, Bengbu, Changchun, Mianyang, Nanjing, Huizhou, Jurong, Shenzhen, Turpan, Urumqi, and Wuhan. During my travels I have seen the ultramodern as well as scenes that remind us of centuries past.
China with all its progress remains, in many parts of the country, a developing nation.
China Has Stood Up
There’s no doubt that China has soared. Consider:
• 700 million people have moved from abject poverty to a Chinese middle class.
• China has become the world’s fastest growing large economy.
• Many Chinese students significantly outperform U.S. students on international tests.
• China is the world’s largest auto producer.
• China has become a banker to the U.S., owning more than 20 percent of our total foreign reserves or more than 3 trillion dollars
These three underlying factors make China vital to world affairs historically and – more importantly – going forward:
1) One out every five people on the planet are Chinese;
2) China is the oldest surviving civilization;
3) China was shaken from its historical pedestal as the “middle kingdom”, has spent decades attempting to regain its equilibrium, and has clearly arrived. As Mao once said, “China has stood up.”
I love the Chinese culture and people, having read and traveled throughout China enough to know more than the average westerner. Yet, I am sensitive to assure that my comments are respectful and are not portrayed in any way to be interfering in the internal affairs of China. I see both its strengths and weaknesses and have written about both.
China will continue to build on its plan to lift the remaining Chinese citizens out of poverty while propelling China forward as they continue to re-establish ‘fuqiang’ (富强) – “wealth and power.”
I love America and want its nation’s people and values to prevail as the 21st century unfolds. Yet, I do not believe America was pre-ordained to be number one— it has been historically proven that this is something America must continually earn.
China is investing in improving its infrastructure, education (from the cradle to the grave), technology (especially, Artificial Intelligence/AI) and research and development – even as America is disinvesting or not improving in these areas.
America needs a national strategy to assure it remains number one. Whining about China’s rise will not prevent America’s demise.
Let me assure you, China is not sitting back waiting for the U.S. to get its act together. The individual, family, city, region, state/province, and nation that invests in the future will rule it.
America needs to stop whining and start investing in America’s collective future - before it is too late.