Was This China’s Decade?
Over the last few weeks, some people have been saying that 2000-2009 was China’s decade, including Fareed Zakaria. China’s acendency was also named the most read news story of the decade. Having spent the majority of this decade in China, all of this got me thinking – was this China’s decade?
From a personal standpoint, this was certainly China’s decade for me. I lived, got married and found a career in China this decade. I traveled to over 20 provinces, SARs and autonomous regions. I celebrated the new millennium with a few million other people in Shanghai, worked from home in Beijing during SARS, spent a week going to the Olympics, and even had a major role in a never-made-it-to-TV-because-the-plot-was-too-controversial-prime-time-soap-opera. Above all though, this was China’s decade for me because of the amazing friends that I made – all of which were helping to make China even more spectacular for me and others.
But that’s me. Other people (Chinese and expats) that have spent most or all of the last decade in China may or may not have the same feelings, or not. But I know that’s not what everyone wants to know – people want to know on a worldwide scale if this was China’s decade.
So how do we go about deciding this? I think that first of all, the real question should be when we say “China” what are we talking about? Its influence on world affairs? Its government? Its people? Its economy? Its environment? Its military? Its culture? I think we can pretty much rule out that China’s environment got better over the last 10 years (and that China is certainly not alone in this claim). As far as its military goes, they were not involved in any major conflicts, so I think that question is moot. So that leaves its influence on world affairs, government, people, economy and culture.
China certainly has become a more influential player in world politics over the last decade. From having the clout to get the Olympics in 2001 to the Six-Party Talks, to Africa’s best buddy, to a stabilizing voice in the economic crisis to the recent climate summit, China’s voice is increasingly heard above the din of most other nations. I wouldn’t say that its unprecedented, but certainly this was a major positive for a nation that spent so long on the world politics sidelines.
As far as China’s government goes over the last decade, what I will say is that they tried – tried to hold onto old ways while trying to cope and adjust to a new world order and population that they had nourished to change (and of course that pesky Internet didn’t help). Progress here has not been as swift as other parts of “China”, but there has been progress.
China’s people and culture. Wow, how do I even begin to access that? People have more money and property, more freedom, more access to information and more opportunity. They mainly went out and got this themselves. Not everything or everyone in China is pure and honest – big surprise there. Make no mistake, however, the Chinese people are making their country into their image, and if the answer I come to below is “yes”, half of it will be because of the Chinese people’s drive to make it happen. Which brings us to the final consideration: the economy.
There has never been anything like China’s economy over the last decade. It fired on all cylinders, didn’t miss a beat, hit all the marks – whatever superlative you can come up with for consistent spectacular performance, that’ll probably fit when trying to explain China’s economy over the last ten years. It reached into nearly all parts of Chinese life (for good and bad) and, yes, the Chinese people are better off because of the economy than they were in 1999.
So this was China’s decade, right? Well, if we are talking about economies and a people as a whole striving towards something, then I would say China wins the gold medal, in a sense. I say in a sense because I think that this decade was just the tip of the iceberg of what China will become, somewhat along the lines of what the United States did at the turn of the last century. Of course, I’m not the first person to point this out. But I think that China’s world reach hasn’t made itself felt everywhere yet (other than “Made in China”), unlike what I would consider to be the true namesake of this decade – the Internet. More than even China, the now ubiquitous Internet has changed our world (including China) in ways that cannot be undone. After all, my grandmother is on Facebook.