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This blog wishes it be known that the opinions presented herein are the sole responsibility of the author, and do not represent the feelings, opinions, ideas, or conclusions of any affiliated organization or group. Additionally, the author has chosen to keep the blog confidential during the Olympic Games 2008, as the reaction of the PRC towards foreign opinion remains ungauged. Thanks for reading.
Beijingfuturesdreams, 2008

Saturday, August 2, 2008

August -- The Futures Present Opinion: How's it look right now?

How about the future?

It seems necessary to write an entry on how the concept of the future is viewed here in China. While a comprehensive analysis of the opinions 1.3 billion people can hold about the future seems well beyond the scope of this project, or any project to date, I will be able to provide a couple of examples of opinion I have gathered during my stay here. Along with these examples I will add some opinion as to what these views point towards in regards to a big picture view.

My first discussion here regarding the idea of a long term future came during a meal a friend of mine, named, for anonymity's sake The Grouch. Mr. Grouch is Chinese born, from a well to do family in the health industry. He has a sibling, an impressive Chinese education, and numerous years living abroad in the south pacific as an intern. His spoken English is of a high level and he is able to communicate well on a theoretical level. He loves some parts of his nation, but is by no means a hardened nationalist. He desires to travel more, gain experiences, and understand the world.

During our conversation he had these things to say concerning China, development, future trends, and more.

As we spoke about China, he was initially very proud of how far the nation had come. He spoke of the western ideal of progress, and believed that in many ways China was working in that direction. “We [China] only need time, and we will build our society into one like America. We got a late start, but we know that we want to develop into a country like that.”

As a polite skeptic, I thought that perhaps much of this sentiment was aimed at making our friendship more concrete, as it is said often: “Flattery will get you everywhere.” A part of myself believed that he was drawing a comparison between the U.S. and China’s hopes to make me feel liked. If that was the case, I decided to go with this notion, and we continued to discuss how China’s development looked from his perspective. He went on to explain in this vein, that he believed that the United States had held torch of progress for too long, had worked its people to a state of tiredness, and that out of thankfulness to this movement, China was now ready to bear the load and title of “world leader.”

I have been astonished since arriving in this nation to see a great many things. The amount, variety, and rate of architectural development has been one of the biggest surprises. I asked him some questions in regards to the resources, labor, and cost of expanding so fast. As these things were not a specific specialty for either of us, we could only exchange impressions and opinions, and this turned out to be very valuable. As we continued to discuss the infrastructure of Beijing, and the population of workers that is responsible for the building of it, he mentioned his view of China’s strategy concerning development.

“We are aware of the inequalities. The poor in the west, and in the country. We just know that if we are able to build up the wealth, first in the east, then we will be able to spread that money later to the west. We already have a bullet train to Tibet,” he said. I wondered as he related his opinion of China’s strategy, whether or not he believed it would be effective, and asked him how such wealth would be dispersed. He replied by again saying that time would tell, but that the grand strategy was to first make the east rich, then concentrate on western development. As I have gone on to research this project I have realized that this is, in fact, the strategy being employed by the central government. Mr. Grouch, knowingly or unknowingly, was outlining for me the working model of China’s development plan.

The last memorable thing he mentioned came during a short discussion of environmental factors, impacting this nation’s growth potential. He brought up most of the key discussions that tend to follow environmental concerns in China: Water, Air, Emissions. He even brought up Al Gore’s film An Inconvenient Truth, which has driven much of my thought concerning global environmental factors, but not a film I would have thought had made its way to China. I was surprised to hear him say, that his awareness of the problem led him to only one conclusion: that some cities would be lost to the ocean.

In these comments I heard two aspects of futures conceptual thinking coming through. Firstly, The idea that as long as things continued, then China would be able to provide the western ideal of a “good life” for all of its citizens. That with enough time, China would be able to escape the criticisms for human rights, social inequality, and under-development. A long term conceptual model was certainly in place, and it carried hope, and passion.

However, the second echo of futures thought was that of inevitability. For Mr. Grouch to so easily dismiss the loss of metropolitan areas as a inescapable consequence, I wondered just how resolute is the Chinese mindset toward achieving its goals. If the loss of coastal cities, resulting in the relocation of millions, could be dismissed by a youthful man, then what other “inescapable” consequences had been conceded in the minds of the nations youth—those meant to carry the dream into the middle of the 21st century?

A second interchange regarding Chinese conceptions of the future was brief but poignant. As I walked with an excellent bilingual friend of mine, I asked what she thought brought the workers to Beijing. She pointedly said, “let’s ask!” and with that trotted across the street towards a nearby construction site.

As we passed by the living quarters she asked a man poised by the entrance why he had come to Beijing. Surprisingly he responded that he came for “the future.” He did not mean the future of Beijing, or of China, or the building he had spent the last 6 hours working on. He meant the future of his family, and especially that of his children. It is perhaps the strongest of sentiments in this nation: the children should have more and better than the older generations.

This may be a tell tale thought process that has driven, and will continue to drive China’s development. I am curious to know more from other random encounters to more deftly confirm this opinion, but for now it should be considered that this city is home to millions of migrant workers. Workers who have little in terms of shelter or disposable income, but who still work long hard hours, for the ideal of the world the children of China will come to inherit.

As this blog progress we will uncover more mindsets prevalent in conceptualizing the possibilities of the future, and with them we can further unravel the ideals driving China towards the futures.

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