Saturday, August 3, 2013

The China Dream: What does it really mean?

A Chinese reporter asked me the other day for my views on Chinese President Xi Jinping’s “China Dream.” It was a rude awakening. I was lost for words.

I asked the reporter what he thought was his president’s definition of the “China Dream” which has become a highly popular slogan spread in the form of a propaganda blitz. “Dream walls” have sprung up in schools and universities. Students have been told to write their own “dreams” on the wall.

The Chinese reporter told me he was also trying to understand what Xi Jinping’s “China Dream” was about. He did say though that he thought whatever the phrase means, “it is a very popular concept at the moment.”

So, I went in search of the meaning of the dream. In the process, I might be able to stumble into something I could call “Thai Dream.” That would be a great challenge for I know that anything that is described as “Thai Dream” would be even more nebulous than the Chinese version.

In his own words, Xi Jingping explained his China Dream this way in his first address to the nation as head of state on March 17, this year:

“We must make persistent efforts, press ahead with indomitable will, continue to push forward the great cause of socialism with Chinese characteristics, and strive to achieve the Chinese Dream of great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.”

What it all means is far from clear. Neither has he come up with specifics on how to put the “dream” into practice.

I tried to find some clues in his following remarks in the same statement:

“To realize the Chinese road, we must spread the Chinese spirit, which combines the spirit of the nation with patriotism as the core and the spirit of the time with reform and innovation as the core.”

That doesn’t offer me more clues.

So, I went in search of explanations from Chinese experts quoted by news agencies and western scholars.

A BBC report quoted Liu Mingfu, a retired Chinese colonel, as proclaiming that he was very clear about the real meaning of the China dream. He published a best-selling book entitled: “The China Dream: Great Power Thinking and Strategic Posture in the Post-America Era” in 2010. He believes that the Chinese leader shares his dream and that is to make China the world’s dominant power.

Liu was quoted as saying: “Since the 19th Century, China has been lagging on the world stage. President Xi’s dream is of a stronger nation with a strong military.”

A well-known Chinese scholar, Yu Jiangrong, writing in micro-blog Weibo compared the China Dream with the American Dream this way:

“The American Dream refers to the dream of the American people, of which the protection of individual rights is the basis. The Chinese Dream is the dream of the country, of which the strengthening of the country’s rights is the premise.”

More enlightening was the effort to search Weibo for the Chinese people’s reactions to this phenomenon by Chris Marquis and Zoe Yang, associate professor and research assosicate of the Harvard Business School.

They quoted a popular post reblogged over 9,000 times as saying:

“The precise meaning of the Chinese Dream: 1. The UN relocates to Beijing. 2. Premier Li Keqiang inspects Taipei with the assistance of Provincial governor Ma Ying-jeou. 3. The Chinese National Footabll Team wins the FIFA World Cup and gains possession of the World Cup trophy for the first time ever. 4. Beijing accidentally bombs the Pentagon and expresses regret. 5. Aircraft carrier Liaoning returns to Hawaii to replenish supplies. 6. The stock index surpasses the million-point mark this week. 7. RMB becomes the sole international currency. 8. Increasing cases of Americans illegally immigrating to China in recent days!”

The authors said the most significant finding is that the most prevalent posts by far are those that express an interpretation of the China Dream based firmly in bettering Chinese society as a whole: correcting inequality, ensuring free education for all, improving the quality of food, air, and water.

“In this sense,” the writers concluded the Chinese Dream is truly both individual and collectivist.

To me, the most enlightening interpretation came in this microblog quoted by the authors who used the Crimson Hexagon’s ForSight social media listening tool to analyze Weibo posts:

“The commoner’s China Dream: 1. Education without tuiton; 2. Employment without guanxi; 3. Doctors that don’t sell medicine; 4. Food without poison; 5: News without lies; 6. Professors with wisdom; 7. Government officials without bribery; 8. Police that do not abuse citizens; 9. Those who strip naked do not gain celebrity; 10. Those who brag do not become famous; 11. Homes that don’t get demolished; 12. The people don’t fear authority; 13. Environment without pollution; 14. Leadership without special treatment.”

Have I discovered the Thai Dream along the way?