China realizes unprecedented development by prioritizing its people

BEIJING, June 12, 2024 /PRNewswire/ — In Beijing, the essay topic for the English test of this year’s gaokao focuses on the 75th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China. Chinese middle school student Li Hua is asked to offer some suggestions to his foreign friend Jim, who wants to write a piece on this subject. To help enlighten Jim as well as those who are interested in China’s development, Global Times invited several foreign experts and observers to share their insights on China’s great achievements in various spheres over the past seven and half decades.

Discussing China’s achievements over the 75 years since the founding of the People’s Republic could be the subject of a very long book and is understood in different ways by different generations of people. I’ve always believed the best way to know how people in China think, is to ask them.

So, through asking a range of different people from different generations we can expect to find a range of different answers.

Those students who have been preparing all their school lives to take the recent gaokao, the “national college entrance examinations”, had slightly different responses to those who took the exam in my early years of teaching here, around 2004 and 2005. For interest, I thought it might be good to get the opinions of some older Chinese people too, and so I asked a retired couple.

Teenagers love connectivity, being able to communicate with family and friends and shop online with their phone. Interestingly, pensioners have similar views about mobile phones, the community they live in provides them with free classes that help them learn how to use WeChat so they aren’t so disconnected from their grandchildren, especially during the school term. They learn about online shopping and banking; they know how to upload and download and they have courses on how to avoid internet and mobile scams. The youngsters don’t need that, they seem to have an inherent understanding of how to be safe online.

The retirees also think education is important. To them, this was the most important development in China, and the country is now strong because of it. China leads the world in science and technology and has more students enrolled in university courses than any other country in the world and the future is being built on a foundation of education. The youngsters agree, but for a different reason. School is better; they have modern classrooms, modern facilities, computerization and sports.

Older people remember the rivers and how they used to play in them when they were kids. China’s development, they say, came at an environmental cost which they paid the price for but that has changed in recent years. Strong anti-pollution rules and the introduction of electric cars and buses have all helped; the rivers are cleaner and the air is fresher.

Transportation was most important to the middle group, these are young professionals with families of their own. To be able to get on a train in Guangdong and just a few hours later get off the train on the other side of the country means they can get to see their families, take holidays and have more time for themselves. One lady in her fifties described getting to university in the 1990s as a 16-hour bus trip with several ferry crossings. The journey now takes 27 minutes on the high-speed train and driving a car, something she would never have imagined in her younger days, takes her less than 90 minutes. She laughed when she said it takes her son less time to get to college in Australia than she took to travel 100 kilometers inside Guangdong. China’s bridges have made this possible but it doesn’t stop there. An interconnected system of freeways and bridges connects everywhere in China to everywhere else.

And in talking about this, she realized there was another great achievement for China, the very fact that she now owns a car and is able to send her child to school overseas was unthinkable when she was her son’s age. Everyone in China is better off than they were, and everyone I speak to is optimistic that they will continue along this trajectory.

If you ask anyone of any age, any generation and from any background, what are China’s two or three greatest achievements, some will say the internet connectivity, some will say transportation or infrastructure and some describe the health system which has consistently delivered better outcomes over the last 75 years and increased the life-expectancy to higher than that of most developed countries. Others talk of the education system that produces more STEM graduates than the US, Russia, the European Union and the UK combined, while some will say the de-desertification and the environmental improvements, bringing clean air and blue skies back to the cities. But they will all agree that the no.1 achievement is lifting the people out of poverty.

The greatest achievement of any country is to do the right thing for its people. And in these 75 years, China has done exactly that. 

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