• Puja Shah

China: We See In Order To Move. We Move In Order To See.

Updated: Oct 21, 2020

Photo by Saunak Shah from Pexels

I got an opportunity to visit China in 2011 while pursuing my post-graduation. The institute from where I pursued my MBA ran an encouraging Foreign Tour Scholarship program that rewarded the top 15 top scorers of first-year MBA course with a 50% scholarship to visit a foreign country during our semester break. Of the 15 that qualified, nine of us opted-in and brainstormed for several weeks to decide upon a country. We did what MBA teaches us best to do – market research, voting, survey, and cost v/s benefit analysis – and unanimously chose China, Hong Kong and Macau as our destinations. For almost all of us this was our maiden foreign tour and we were thrilled at receiving (rather earning) this opportunity! It is one big country with one big population that most Westerners, and even neighborhood Asians perceive to be a big problem. Not really though!

One visit to China with an open mind can change your perspective about this place. It is a country full of new frontiers, ideas and opportunities to offer to the ‘’rest’’ of the world. China is a place of contradictions and nuances. I believe there are three lessons that the ignorant ‘’rest’’ can learn from China:

Be yourself

I get it: It is hard to understand this country’s complexity. To be honest, I expected China to look a lot like India. My perception of the country was based wholly on doses of documentaries on National Geographic, images of Chinatown I’d seen in Hollywood movies and reading of newspaper headlines that often placed India and China in the same sentence with a connector phrase ‘competition’. However, it is this complexity of the place that has attracted some of the world’s best storytellers as they are drawn here for all kinds of reasons. China’s 5,000-year history, unique culture, and crazy characters provide dream-material to most writers. An average citizen of modern China faces: overnight success, optimism, insecurity, fear, and hope. Nevertheless, China believes in being China. Rest of the world doesn’t have to like it and it doesn’t seem to care. There is a generation growing up in China without Google, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. They own who they are. It is easy to follow the herd, give into peer pressure and demand for conformity. Being yourself means living life how you want to live it, regardless of other people's opinions. And, it means you respect yourself.

Take pride in your achievements

China has come a long way. Just 50 years ago, the land witnessed millions of its people die of hunger—and today China is widely recognized as an inevitable superpower. I’m trying hard to shy away from the grand pronouncements being made about China’s future. Walking down the alleys of Beijing and Shanghai your mind is convinced this country is about to regain its place atop world powers because of sheer scale - 1.4 billion people - and glitzy skylines that compare directly with New York’s skyscrapers and Times Square’s neon lights. On the other side, there are tens of millions of farmers desperately moving to cities and special economic zones to earn a decent living. This uneven and unsustainable development points towards the nation’s inequality, choking pollution and diplomatic insecurity and this might doom its rise. In any case, what we witnessed it that an average Chinese takes immense pride in the nation’s growth story from a poor agricultural-based economy to an industrial powerhouse in less than 20 years. A road trip in China provides one an on-the-ground account of the rapid industrialization in China that foreigners often read about but rarely see.

Move forward with your own agenda

China’s increasing influence on the global stage is met with a combination of fascination, awe, concern and sometimes-outright fear, and rare are those who make a serious effort to understand China and try to see the world through its cultural prism. For example, China was the only country among the 15-member UNSC to have opposed the ban on Jaish-e-Mohammad chief Masood Azhar at the UN Security Council’s 1267 Committee meeting. It saved the man at the cost of its own international reputation in order to keep its own nation safe from radicalization of its own Muslim citizens. Other reasons include the CPC, China-US trade war, and Masood Azhar’s allies who keep both, Afghanistan and India in check while China continues to climb the superpower ladder. In simple terms, China’s agenda is pure business and it has no intention of failing. Most of the players on international political playground hope to lose small but China plays only, to win big!

Everything said and done, China’s driven, focused, inspired and united people continue to transform it with consequences both positive (new-found fame first, then power) and negative (a carelessness about pollution, population and inequality). In my opinion, China will be a country that builds things for a long time.

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