Thursday, October 01, 2009

Ryan Pyle Blog: China's 60th Birthday


I don't often say it much, but I'm very proud and excited about what China's managed to accomplish in the last 60 years; given that the first 30 years (1949-1979) were a complete regression.

I've lived here in the Middle Kingdom for almost a decade, and I hope to live here for several more; and during that time I've seen a lot of change. Much of it for the better. But let's not forget that while the country has developed rapidly in the last thirty years it is still a far cry away from what the Communist Party said it might be in the late 1940s when they were trying to build a power base. Back in the days General Mao and his team like to throw around terms like a multi-party system, and an independent judiciary; and today in 2009 we are still far from those ideals.

But yes, economic growth has lifted many people out of poverty to the point where some don't care much about politics; much to the pleasure of Party leaders. But there are huge gaps in the system and they are becoming more difficult to close as each day passes. The Party's control over the judiciary and the economy has led to so much rampant corruption that much of China's business and political environment operates like a mafia of sorts.

The birthday celebrations today in Beijing, and throughout the country, will offer a lot of military pomp and party propaganda, but that is not what I think about when I envision China and its future. I think about China's young entrepreneurial class; who have migrated to the big cities and started up their own businesses, and in stark contrast to that I fear for the the 700 million agricultural class that the dynamic growth as passed over; what will their futures hold? As an aside, it has always been the small entrepreneurs in this country that have made the business and working environment the stuff of miracles. And it should be the governments responsibility to maintain that fair business environment for years to come. Let's hope the party leaders understand their role.

Focusing back on economic growth, clearly there are mis-steps and not all if fair and transparent; but we're only one generation removed from Chairman Mao and his Cultural Revolution. I know that is no longer an excuse, but many of those in power at the moment have been strongly influenced by that period of history, and it still affects governance and accountability throughout the ranks. Developing from a third world country to a first world country takes a significant amount time, especially when leaders in power have had a largely patriotic educational foundation. Once the next few rounds of county level and provincial level government officials are bettered educated and a bit more "worldly", meaning simply thinking beyond their individual county fiefdoms, issues regarding personal freedoms and rule of law may indeed make headway; but I won't hold my breath.

If the government doesn't take steps to ease in more choice and personal freedoms, it is my opinion, that the Party will have missed a glorious opportunity to progress and develop in a way in which the global community can better respect and look up to. Much work needs to be done. No time can be wasted.

When I decided to move to China in 2001 I thought I was moving to a virtual backwater. A remote part of the world where I could learn photography on my own and document a country that I found fascinating and challenging. Just eight years later I'm amazed at how rewarding my personal and professional journey has been and how comfortable my home town of Shanghai has become. Progress for "most" is happening; but development and growth is a messy business and not for the faint of heart.

Even with all it's problems and headaches of running a country with 1.3 billion people; perhaps now is a good time to give a bit of praise to the government for actually keeping this country together from 1949 to 2009; as the country's journey to reach this point has been far from easy. Ruling with an iron fist or not, I can drive on a four-lane expressway from Shanghai to Kashgar and jump on a plane to just about any remote corner of the country I choose. Sure there are people, minority groups and counties that have been left behind, but with such brutal breakneck growth people are bound to be left out and be plenty pissed off about it.

Can China develop in a more sustainable manner? Include more people in the spoils and focus on cleaning up the environment? What about bringing about proper regulation and an independent rule of law? How about making a whole hearted effort to stop corruption, even throughout the inner party circles in Beijing?

So it is now that I raise my glass in a very guarded and unsure manner, here is looking at the next 60 years. Will we always have just "one party"? Will State Owned Enterprises still dictate policy and protectionism? Will the little person ever get a voice? Will the fist be removed from the puckered cheeks of the country's media? In 2069, will I still be blogging and living in Shanghai at the tender age of 91?

There are many challenges ahead. But there have been many successes behind us. I'm proud to live in China, and honored to have a chance to be documenting this country's rise. Peaceful or not, I'm here. Sustainable or not, I'll be trying to understand the who, the how and the why.

Onwards and upwards; and hopefully in a more equal and transparent way.

PS. Ai Weiwei, a Chinese painter, artist, architect and photographer recently wrote and essay for TIME magazine about China at 60yrs. Ai Weiwei's father was a famous poet who was exiled to Xinjiang and spent most of his life being harassed. Ai Weiwei's essay offers a much more personal perspective to China's development and growth. His essay is a very interesting read. You can find his essay HERE.

Ryan Pyle

No comments:

Post a Comment


This is Ryan Pyle. I appreciate you adding a comment to my blog and I hope that this space has offered you something useful and interesting. I look forward to staying in touch and I'm glad you took the time to comment.

Ryan Pyle