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When my family came to Xiamen for the first time in 1988, I quickly fell in love with China and became a foreign teacher at Xiamen University. At that time, the living conditions were harsh. Every day, the running water was out once or more, power outages were frequent, and transportation wasn't convenient. But even though the situation was not very good for us, the people were so warm, friendly, and hospitable.
Before coming to China, I discovered China Reconstructs, the magazine whose name later changed to China Today in 1990, at a bookstore in Los Angeles’ China Town. Through the magazine I learned a lot about China. In order to get acquainted with the real China, I decided to travel around China in my own way. So in 1994, I drove with my wife and sons all around China. We drove up the coast to Hangzhou, Suzhou, Nanjing and Qingdao, over to Beijing, down to Xi'an, across to Qinghai and Tibet, and back to Xiamen through Yunnan and South China, so pretty much most of the country. It took us three months and we traveled 40,000 kilometers in total.
Teaching to Fish
I drove around China to see if reforms truly benefited all parts of the country. To my surprise, China had already begun building new roads, schools, and medical centers even in remote villages.
From a humanitarian standpoint, it was impressive, but as a business professor, I wondered how the government would ever recoup such massive investments in remote, sparsely populated areas. I finally realized that China’s leadership had a very farsighted perspective on poverty alleviation. The ancients said, “Give a hungry person a fish and they eat one day; teach them to fish and they eat for a lifetime.” Simply doling money to such a large population would not address the root of poverty, and might make it even worse if people became dependent upon aid. Improved infrastructure and living conditions, however, gave people hope of lifting themselves out of poverty.
China’s great changes over three decades have given me great faith in China’s leadership. In 1994, for example, it took me three months to drive 40,000 kilometers, but today China has the world’s most extensive highway system and high-speed train network. Three decades ago, power and water were out weekly, sometimes daily, even in coastal cities like Xiamen. Today, farmers in remote mountain villages laughed when I asked if they ever had power outages. In 1991, I spent US $450 and waited three years to get a home telephone. Today, even farmers in remote Tibetan and Inner Mongolian villages have cell phones and access to the Internet, and they buy and sell goods online. The changes are nothing short of miraculous.
But even with China’s track record, Chinese President Xi Jinping’s vow to eradicate poverty by 2020 was so surprising that in 2019 I decided to drive around China again to see just how much progress had been made over the past 25 years. Although everyone knows China’s miraculous economic statistics, I wanted to put real faces to the numbers -- to interview people in every corner of the country to see if their lives had changed. What I discovered astonished not only me but the Chinese who made the trip with me.
I planned to drive around China alone but leaders of Xiamen University’s School of Management (SMXMU) were concerned about my safety and health and provided a car and driver. “You’re not 38 this time, you’re 63!” they reminded me. We ended up with several cars and a dozen people, including SMXMU leaders, Teacher Jie, Doctor Liu, student assistants, New Channel’s Miss Wang, whom CEO Hu Min provided to help with interviews, and a Fujian Television video production crew. Our team also included Zhu Qingfu, an award-winning Fujian photographer, and the tunnel expert CEO Lin Zhengjia, both of whom I interviewed when I discovered they are the kinds of people who have made China’s success possible. But as I quickly learned, China has exceptional people in every corner of the country.
Every member of our team was astonished at the sheer scope of changes in every province and county. From the boat people of Fu’an, whom President Xi helped to get homes on land, to herders in Inner Mongolia, farmers in Ningxia and Gansu, and villagers in remote Tibet, Yunnan and Guangxi, lives had changed because of concrete and consistent plans implemented by local leaders who took their task of fulfilling the “China Dream” seriously. But eradicating poverty is easier said than done, especially when one must juggle economic, cultural, and environment issues.
In Inner Mongolia, for example, the government struggles to improve local people’s lives while letting them retain traditional practices, yet over-grazing by sheep has led to desertification. Both the government and people have proven to be creative. One mother I interviewed cut back on her livestock’s grazing but earned enough from selling traditional Inner Mongolian snacks that she could send her daughter to Xiamen University!
Greening While Growing
In addition to making economic achievements, China has also made great progress in environmental protection.
I was especially impressed that China has become greener even as it had grown. In 1994, rural China seemed to have only one color: mud. By day two my white van was mud colored; by day three, I too was dusty and the color of mud. But today, every province has modern highways with gleaming bridges and endless tunnels cutting across valleys and mountains that in 1994 were barren but today are green and fertile. In Inner Mongolia, we looked in vain for the sand dunes that had trapped my van in 1994. Today, that area is covered in grass and trees.
Every city I went to was so clean, and the countryside too. Districts and cities like Nanjing, Qingdao, Beijing’s Dongcheng District, Xiamen, Quanzhou, and Shanghai ‘s Songjiang District, which I had helped to win the international livable city competition, had not only modernized, but at the same time they had made the environment even better. But today, China not only has garden cities but also garden countrysides.
In a Ningxia village that in 1994 was extremely impoverished, concrete roads lead to the doorsteps of farmers’ new brick homes, which have reliable electricity, water, and internet. I interviewed a local leader who had grown up in a traditional mud home that had collapsed in a heavy rain and almost crushed him. He was delighted by the government’s campaign to help all villagers in China build safer homes. He visited an elderly lady whose home had been rebuilt to ask if she needed further help. “I have a new home,” she replied. “That’s enough!”
My 20,000-kilometer trip in 2019 showed me that China is indeed on track to eradicate poverty -- but what is China’s secret to achieving a dream that has eluded all other nations?
In 1731, English politician Eustace Budgell said that China was famous for great inventions but it most excelled, above all nations, in “the art of government.” History shows that China has survived the ages because it has always had farsighted leadership, but that’s only one part of China’s secret. Great leaders also need capable followers. There’s little point in teaching how to fish if the pupil can’t or won’t fish. As one farmer told me, “The government understands our needs and has good policies, but good policies can’t help if we don’t do our own part!”
After dozens of interviews around China, I’m convinced that China is great because it has both farsighted top-down leadership and bottom-up innovation by the people. For example, Mr. Lin Zhengjia, the Pingtan boy who had no shoes until he was a teen and studied martial arts to give himself self-confidence, worked as a fisherman, and as a common laborer he saw ways to improve tunnel construction, pulled together a team, and is today a billionaire and global leader in tunneling. He participated in building China’s first undersea tunnel, and the world’s highest tunnel in Tibet. And though he has often told me he is uncultured because he studied only four years, he is a philanthropist, providing education to disadvantaged youth in many provinces.
New China also owes its success to people like the teacher from Northeast China who for over 30 years has taught in remote Gansu, and gives much of her small salary to needy students, many of whom have gone on to college and helped to build their country. And I was moved by the story of XMU’s first Tibetan alumni, Yeshe Tenzin, who has studied in Beijing, Singapore, and the U.S. but turned down many opportunities abroad, determined to return to his homeland to teach at Tibet University. I was also very moved by the story of Hu Min, CEO of New Channel International Education Group -- a teacher who in 14 years has opened over 300 schools in over 40 cities, with over 100,000 students each year.
Hu Min’s personal motto is, “I will persist until I succeed,” but this must be China’s motto as well. There is no other explanation for why China is the only ancient great nation that has not only survived but thrives to this day.
In 1919, exactly a century ago, a western missionary, Mary Gamewell, wrote in her book New Life Currents in China, “China is not like ancient Egypt, whose greatness has departed though she still lives on. China is a vital force whose largest possibilities of development lie before and not behind her. A new fresh life is beginning to course through the nation’s veins....”
Today, China’s possibilities are greater than ever, and her success at eradicating poverty offers the hope of a fresh new life, not only for Chinese but for other peoples. All people, after all, are dreamers -- dreaming of a better, safer world for our descendants.
My name is Gilbert Van Kerckhove. It's a complicated name for our Chinese friends, so I'm normally called Lao Fan. I am Belgian from the Flemish region.
I came to China a very long time ago, I was in China for the first time in 1980. I was recruited by a Belgian company, called the Ateliers de Construction électrique de Charleroi, in simple ACEC. They had obtained a very important contract with China for the construction of a power plant in Henan province, the city of Pingdingshan. It was the power plant called Yaomeng.
I never made the plan that I would stay 40 years in China. A year has been added, another year has been added. Eventually, even if I wanted to leave China, everyone told me: No, Mr. Kerckhove, you are the China specialist, we don't want to use you in another country. So it was a little bit marked here, "Mr. China". The Olympic past, because of that, I was decorated by everyone. Then I received the green card.
"Old China Hands" club started in a very funny way. One day I thought to myself: there is no one in China who does that, why don't I start? So I had the idea of assembling foreigners, otherwise the term does not apply to "Old China Hands". And this is for foreigners who are living in China since 10 years at least, because we want people to feel comfortable with each other.
People assist each other, and chat with each other. And very often people meet again. "We met 30 years ago, and now we're here. “ It's quite funny. I love doing that.
The payment I get is the friendship and camaraderie we built in that group. You have probably seen a lot of changes in China in the past almost 40 years. So, the changes I have seen in China in these 40 years, is quite incredible, I think it is also unique in the world. No other countries in the world has experienced such a radical transformation in such a short period of time.
It's a radical change, we're discovering another China. This is particularly true of infrastructure investments, which are extremely important. When you look at all the highways, high-speed railways, and others that have been built in China, it's impressive. China is no longer the country of T-shirts, today, China is 5G and electric cars is something else.
The change we see in China is not only visible in big cities like Beijing, Shanghai, etc. I am very happy that I have had the opportunity to visit regions other than the big cities. It's very exciting, because you find a China that foreigners don't know about. We think that these regions like Gansu, Sichuan, Chongqing are poor. So, when you get there, you don't get there at all. It's extremely modern.
My personal relationship with China is practically a lifelong link. I was born in 1958, back then, as a child, I used to go to my father's bookstore, when I was growing up, and I was already entertaining myself by reading Chinese children's stories, such as The Old Man Who Moved the Mountain or Pilgrimage to the West.
And in 1975, when I was 17, I came with my family to China and there begins my direct relationship with China. And from 1977 until now I still have a Chinese relationship, and all my professional life has been related to China.
The best memory I have of my years in China were my years at Tsinghua University. I was there for five years，and I can say that those were for my “most Chinese years”, if I’m allowed to say it like that. The books were in Chinese, the exams were in Chinese, we played football all afternoon, we had a football team, and those were the happiest years I spent in China
For me the change is the most important part of these 70 years of which I have a direct relationship of 44 years, but in these 44 years the most relevant thing for me has been the change in people's lives in all aspects. Transportation is getting better in any city, Metro transportation is getting better, and bus transport is getting better, more and more people do tourism within China, the change, the improvement of people's lives in all aspects especially compared to the years in which I was here.
The richest person in China in those years had a bicycle, a wrist watch, a sewing machine and a radio, those were the four most luxurious things a citizen of this country could have. But the most important thing without any doubt is the improvement in all conditions.
I could talk about this for a long time, I am no economist, and I am not a politics expert either。But in the end I think that if we had to sum all this up in one word. It is a consequence of the policy of reforms and openness abroad, if we had to summarize it.
Well my son was here from a very young age, until he was five years old he lived in China, then when he was 18 or 19 he made a trip to China, my niece was in December last year in China, she was born in China. I think she is the only Uruguayan with an identity card that says “place of birth: China” And now she is studying Chinese. So I think, and I wish that this special relationship with China would continue to be passed on from generation to generation.
Je m’appelle Rennat Morel. Je suis Belge. En Chine, je commence ma 31e année et je suis arrivé par hasard en Chine pour quelques mois et après j’ai rencontré cette gentille dame.
My name is Rennat Morel, and I am Belgian. I have lived in China for 31 years. At first I had only planned on staying a couple of months, but then I met this lovely lady.
Je suis le fils d’un patissier qui était très connu. Donc ?a m’a toujours donné un avantage dans mon métier de cuisinier. Elle m’a trouvé un petit restaurant. C’est ma femme qui vient en renfort et organise les choses pour qu’on reste ici. J’ai beaucoup de chance qu’une femme accepte de vivre avec moi parce que je suis toujours occupé. Voilà, c’est ma femme Suzanne, qui ne voulait pas se marier, donc j’ai fait un très grand effort.
My father is a very famous pastry chef in Belgium which is why I chose to be a cook myself. My wife helped me to find this small restaurant and arranged everything for us to stay in Beijing. I was lucky to meet Suzanne, and then lucky she decided to live with me, even though I am always busy. At first, she didn’t want to get married, but after I made a lot of effort, she changed her mind.
Nous avons coutume de dire ? l’homme s’occupe des affaires extérieures, la femme s’occupe des affaires familiales ?, mais dans notre restaurant, mon mari s’occupe des affaires intérieures et c’est moi qui m’occupe des affaires extérieures. Il reste à la cuisine, et moi, je suis à l’extérieur, je m’occupe du restaurant. Mon mari est passionné par son métier. Je trouve que les hommes qui font leur métier avec passion ont beaucoup de charme. Ils incarnent la réussite car ils sont fiers de leur carrière. Moi, je suis fière de mon mari.
People often say, "Women take care of the family, while men deal with the outside world.” But here, my husband is in the kitchen and I am outside, dealing with guests. He is very dedicated. I think dedication to career gives men a lot of charm, and they are also proud of their career, which bring them success. I feel very proud I married my husband.
En Chine, quand un homme a du succès, il y a toujours une femme très forte derrière. Sans une femme qui parle chinois, qui a un cerveau qui fonctionne bien, ce n’est pas possible.
Chinese people often say that behind a successful man, there is always a woman who silently supports him. Without this smart Chinese woman at my side, I wouldn’t have been able to succeed.
Maintenant, 20 ans avec le même menu, ?a c’est moi. Mais je fais très attention sur la qualité de la nourriture. On a la meilleure viande, les meilleurs légumes. Et bien c’est l’intelligence, On est très ensemble et l’amour c’est s’entendre ensemble.
Now 20 years have passed, and the menu in our restaurants is still the same. We focus on quality first, using the best meat and the best vegetables. To make a good marriage, effort must be made to pursue quality as well. We love each other and get along well.
Les Chinois ont un niveau de vie plus élevé donc ils remplacent les Euopéens. Avant il y avait plus d’étrangers, à 90 % des étrangers et 10 % des gens d’Asie. Maintenant c’est plut?t 90 % de Chinois et 10 % d’étrangers. Donc ils commencent à vouloir conna?tre toutes les nourritures des différents pays et quand ils reviennent en Chine, ils invitent souent la famille.
donc il peut faire sentir à sa famille, à travers la nourriture, ce qu’est la vie en Europe.
As the living standards of Chinese people have increased, the number of Chinese clients has gradually surpassed that of European clients. In the past, the majority of our guests were foreigners: 90% of the guests came from foreign countries, and 10% of those were Asians. Presently, basically 90% of our guests are Chinese and 10% are foreigners. Chinese people have begun to show interest in cuisines of different countries and bring their families to experience the exotic food.
La Chine a beaucoup changé. Quand tu viens de l’arrière-pays et que tu vois tous les grands batiments, toutes les voitures, tout le monde veut donc venir à Pékin. Et après, je pense que Pékin est l’un des villes les plus s?res dans le monde.
China has changed a lot. When people from the countryside see these high-rise buildings and all these cars, they all want to come to Beijing to do business and make money. I think Beijing is one of the safest cities in the world.
Le fait qu’il apprécie la Chine me remplit de fierté parce que je suis chinoise et pékinoise.
Knowing how much he loves China is important to me because I am proud to be Chinese and even more proud to be a Beijinger.
Vivre l’expérience en Chine. Meilleures v?ux pour la Chine
Live the Chinese life and my best wishes to China.
The streets of the megacity of Beijing are bustling with activities. Today, not only traditional petrol-engined cars but also electric vehicles of all kinds ply the roads here. In the endless traffic stream you can spot Hartmut Lüning. The 66-year-old German has personally witnessed China‘s changes in traffic that have taken place in the everyday life of the Chinese.
Like many people in the capital, Hartmut Lüning commutes to work by an electric car. For the short distance to the office his agile electric car makes the ride quite convenient.
Even in 1995, when Lüning first came to Beijing the metropolis fascinated him right away. As an experienced radio editor he worked for the German department of China Radio International for a long time. Today, he works as a language consultant for Compilation and Translation Bureau of the CPC Central Committee. For him, the great changes that have taken place in Beijing over the years are particularly visible on the streets.
Green means of transport such as sharing bikes, e-scooters, and electric cars have also helped to further improve the air quality in Beijing, says Lüning. Compared to the 1990s, much has changed in the metropolis in terms of environmental protection, he says.
Personally as well, the 66-year-old German has found happiness in China. Together with his Chinese wife Yu Yuemei, Hartmut Lüning has made himself at home in his Beijing apartment. He has sold his property in Germany. For him, the inter-cultural relationship based on love is an example of the integration of life.
Like most locals, the Chinese-German couple also enjoys the advantages of the Internet age in everyday life. This is made possible by smartphones and a well-developed digital infrastructure. Even fresh organic vegetables Hartmut Lüning gets right on his doorstep in Beijing.
With his temperament, the cosmopolitan Rhinelander opens doors and hearts in his new adopted hometown Beijing. He wants to continue to accompany China and the Chinese on their path of reform and opening-up. The great changes and innovations in the everyday life of the Chinese as the German knows are the result of the ongoing reform and opening-up process which China has courageously pushed forward in the past decades.
Rudy Kiryl, the Belarus’ Ambassador to China, has been living in China for eight years. It was back in 1992 that he first lived with a Chinese family while studying in an American high school as an exchange student.
That was my first experience to get to know the United States through the eyes of a Chinese family. So that was very interesting.
From 2007 to 2012, Rudy Kiryl became the counsellor of the Belarus embassy in Beijing. During that period he had more time to get acquainted with this country.
We saw a lot of Chinese companies have a lot of projects all over the world. And now the language is increasing its influence all over the world.
After a four-year leave, Rudy Kiryl came back again and was appointed as the Belarus’ ambassador to China in 2016. Rudy Kiryl, is not only a foreign diplomat in China, but was once the economic adviser of Belarus’ President. Having witnessed the proactive and pragmatic cooperation between the two nations, he believes that there are bright prospects for future collaborations.
But we participated twice. So that proves that we are long-term friends and long-term supporters of Belt & Road and other initiatives that China provides.
The China-Belarus Great Stone Industrial Park, is a landmark project of the Belt & Road Initiative, and has become a vital hub on the Silk Road Economic Belt linking Europe and Asia. According to Rudy Kiryl, “Everything is possible” in China.
We see that China represents its people. Chinese Communist Party represents its people. And the income is growing in China, people became more, you know, happier, richer; and China, more diversified, more open.
China is an impressive country, and her culture is totally different. Confucianism with its principles regarding loving our families and respecting our elders is a strong chord that binds society closely together. Friends, colleagues, and even children, he calls his teachers. His name is Rodrigo, an artist from Colombia.
China is a country that changes you as an individual. For us Latin-Americans, coming to China isn’t a way of seeking better opportunities as is the case of going to the United States or Europe. Thanks to the Chinese Government Scholarship, I came to study filmmaking in the Beijing Film Academy. From the day I arrived in China, everything changed. China is a striking country with a different culture. I’ve told all my Chinese friends, colleagues, and even a child that they are my teachers. I feel it’s a way of learning everyone should adopt.
Every person teaches me something. My life began to be deeply affected by China from the time before I was born. Before cultural relations had even been established between China and Columbia, my mom came to China when she was 20 years old. From then on, she had continued working for the promotion of Columbian-China cultural relations. It was my mom that I got to learn about what represent its soft power, as it is called, like comic strips, movies, books, and the magazine China Reconstructs, which later changed to China Constructs, and now, China Today.
What I liked most was The Monkey King, which was also called Sun Wukong. For me, that story was very important, not only in my development as an artist, but also in my personality, China is the most important country in the world, because it represents the future.
There are a lot of opportunities that can be enjoyed in China due to its age-old civilization, and we should learn from it. I believe there are a lot of projects going on in China. I have seen undertakings in renewable energy, which is reassuring in terms of the future. [Colombia] has not joined the Belt and Road Initiative, an initiative, I believe, would be beneficial for both countries. But all of this has to go hand in hand with a cultural process of mutual understanding. Confucianism with its principles regarding loving our families and respecting our elders I believe is a strong chord that binds society closely together.