by Hari Patel on Friday, May 17th, 2013
A few months back, Xi Jinping, China’s then vice president, took the reins of the world’s most populous nation, as Hu Jintao stepped down after his decade-long tenure as president.
Every Chinese leader since Mao Zedong has had his own fairly bland slogan which embodies his vision of the nation’s direction, from Jiang Zemin’s “Three Represents” to Hu Jintao’s “scientific development outlook.” However, last week, The Economist reported a bold new development in these slogans: The politburo under Xi will highlight “the Chinese dream.” Through songs, “dream walls” at schools, and even “Chinese dream” research grants, the party will encourage the spread of this new dream. However, beyond the implication of “the great revival of the Chinese nation,” this dream has not been defined.
This catchphrase does not harmonize with the “American dream” of hard work and ingenuity but signals China’s re-emergence as an economic powerhouse on the world’s chessboard. Xi’s “Chinese dream” promotes a potent collective effort towards the success of the country, as opposed to the American idealization of self-sufficiency and individual prosperity.
With an enormous amount of centralized resources, China has already spearheaded innovation in education and sustainability in order to invest in the future. American public schools slash their budgets yearly, but China’s spending on education increased nearly tenfold in the past decade, exceeding $250 billion in 2011. Their 15-year-olds scored the highest in the world in reading, math, and science; the number of their college graduates came just above eight million a year.
Additionally, the nation’s five-year plan for 2011 to 2015 includes ambitious goals for sustainable development. The government is determined to cut energy and water usage, rather than “pollute first and clean up later”. Although pollution is still at ominous levels in some urban areas, China has realized that it cannot sustainably grow by following the path of 20th-century Britain. According to The Guardian, China will spend over $1.6 trillion on its strategic sectors in the next five years with a focus on clean energy investments.
The Chinese propose a compelling model of collective growth over individual advancement. By centralizing resources and public funds, the government can launch long-term projects that might not yield immediate results. The country’s focus on education and sustainability reveal China’s ambitions for its future.
But for Chinese citizens themselves, the new dream must embody a higher calling. Thirty years of market reform have resulted in crass consumerism, with Lamborghinis and Mediterranean vacations on top of people’s wishlists. The rise of China’s middle class, while stunning in its scale, lacks the spiritual drive that propelled the Chinese for thousands of years in ancient times. The younger generations must redefine the Chinese culture in this collision of traditions and open markets.
Without a collective identity, collective growth is not justified. The Chinese must feel unity before they work towards the common goal of lifting the nation. In the meantime, the government must translate the advancement of the nation into that of the individual, or else only those of wealth and power will reap the benefits of China’s ascendance.
China’s dream should not and will not resemble the American dream. Rather, the dream must be rooted in the Chinese culture and speak to the needs of the ordinary Chinese. With anything less, China’s continued rise is not ensured — but with anything more, the American dream will face a new, competitive ideology.
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