Thirty years ago, before the onset of reforms under Deng Xiaoping, which would eventually transform China into the world's fourth-largest economy, Beijing was a city occupied by poor and isolated people with little hope for advancement. Now, on the 30th anniversary of the launch of these important and revolutionary reforms, it is a garish, congested city of glass, steel and an endless stream of bicycles.
The majority of China's people, referred to collectively by the rest of the world as the “broad masses,” seemed to have lives adorned by adequate, but uninspiring and often rationed necessities. The government even boasted about its “iron rice bowl”, a metaphor, which translates into a guarantee that the state will supply the basic needs for life, including education, healthcare and housing, at token cost. Even though to those who see glasses as half full this seemed like an equal distribution of goods among the needy, the bigger reality was the fact that the economy had little to fill the bowl with.
The outside world was kept at arm’s length molding the world of the average Chinese citizen as one with severely limited horizons. In terms of China’s foreign population, however, things were moving and growing fast. High-rise blocks were sprouting up everywhere to accommodate the fast-rising population of diplomats and foreign business people. Western nations, envisioning a new expanding frontier, rushed to China’s borders. Innovation blossomed almost in spite of itself; for example, a new wing of the Beijing Hotel opened, complete with a bar and automatic doors!
Deng Xiaoping began a move towards reform and innovation thirty years ago and is undoubtedly one of China’s most spectacular agents of change in the modern world.
Who knows what the future holds for China as global leader?
Perhaps the Chinese tealeaves do, but last I heard, they weren’t talking.