For Americans the American Dream is a house in suburbia with white picket fences and 2 cars garage, which used to be easily reachable for the middle class family in the 50’s and 60’s. Now it’s arguably much more difficult for young people burdened with student loans probably staying with their parents well into their 30s.
When Xi Jinping used the phrase “China Dream”, the western media as usual reacted either indifferently or negatively as they assume anything from Chinese leaders as propaganda. Despite millions spent by CIA to monitor China, analysts dissecting utterances from Chinese leaders, and China experts compiling statistics and data, they seem to be blind in understanding China. I just finished reading Evan Osnos’s book “Age of Ambition”, in which he tried to understand China by interviewing various people in different situations. One of the people he labeled as true believers is Lin Yifu (Lin Zhengyi). He was a captain in the Nationalist Army assigned to Quemoy. He swam for more than 3 hours from Quemoy to mainland and defected to China in 1979, leaving his pregnant wife and 3 years old son and parents. Lin convinced PLA that his defection was genuine, and not publicize the defection. Nationalist were not sure of his status and classified him as dead and paid $70,000 as death benefits to his family. He went to Sichuan to visit the ancient dam built more than 2,000 years ago by his hero Li Bing. He enrolled in Peking University and got an economic degree. He got a scholarship to University of Chicago and PhD there with his reunified family. Eventually he got hired by the World Bank as top economist there and presently back in China as a top economist in Beijing University. There is still an outstanding warrant for his arrest in Taiwan and he wasn’t allowed to go back for his parents’ funerals. The author was in awe of Lin and somewhat baffled.
The reason I cited the example of Lin Yifu is his state of mind maybe incomprehensible to West, yet is totally understandable to Chinese intellectuals. Knowing the history of China and her recent humiliations, the West that thinks China’s reaction to Yasukuni Shrine visit as victim mentality can never understand China. To West Xi is a princeling anointed by some mysterious process to be the leader. His China Dream is just some mumbo jumbo for projecting soft power. His fight against corruption just some factional struggle for power.
To me China Dream generates resonance in many directions. For it includes Chinese Dream but much more than that. It goes beyond economic well being, certainly the inequality question has to be tackled, between urban and rural, thus the household registration system’s disappearance and accelerated urbanization, between rich and poor, thus the taxation policy, health insurance and social security. The relationship among people and between officials and people, thus the fight against corruption and new morality, return of some traditional values. The Taoist view between nature and society, thus the question of pollution and climate change.
The last 35 years China has surprised everyone on her growth. I think West is still underestimating China. I remember almost 50 years ago I watched a time capsule was buried in my school in Cambridge to be open in 50 and 100 years with some items and predictions. I suspect that China will pass U.S. in GDP was not one of the predictions. I also remember at the beginning of the Great Leap Forward when my middle school, Shanghai South City Middle School with walls all painted with Socialism Realism and exhortations of passing France in 25 years, England in 50 years and America in 75 years would come to pass.