The Chinese dream

22 Sep

The sign says “China’s dream, my dream”

In the last year or so the Communist party has had a campaign about “The Chinese Dream.”  From casual comments with my colleagues it really sounds like the stereotypical American dream.

The Chinese dream seems to include:

  1. Education for children
  2. Purchase of a house
  3. A stable job
  4. A better future

All of these things seem reasonable.  Who wouldn’t want these things?

And then you start to look under the surface.  Why is a campaign needed to promote these seemingly basic ideas?

The education system is one that is based purely on rote.  There is no imagination, no teamwork taught – the best students are those with the ability to memorize.  When I first came I constantly had to push my colleagues who went to the very best schools across the country to think for themselves, to push past my request to the next level.  Without the ability to think – what good is an education?

Everyone is getting one though – even my housekeeper’s son is now at university, something that no one could have even dreamed about 50 years ago.  The hope for a better future exists.

Housing purchase – in big cities if you don’t have family there to help, purchasing a house can be beyond the dreams of most individuals.  Right now where I live in Shanghai a 75 square meter apartment (about 1500 square feet) can sell for 3 to 4 million RMB which is over 500,000 USD.  The average monthly income in Shanghai is less than 1000 USD a month.  Is purchasing a house possible?  Or do you purchase a house so far in the suburbs that it takes over two hours each day to commute, by bus or subway?  Is that realistic?

Stability of jobs – most employees of multinational companies stay less than three years.  Job hopping has become acceptable – it is the new normal.  But – with new graduates the employer of choice is once again the government.  The ratio of applicants for the government exam to places was 100 to 1 in some locations.  Stability is wanted, but is it happening?

Everyone wants better for their children

Everyone wants better for their children

A better future – this I think in China is still possible.  The amount of change leads to opportunities that wouldn’t have even been dreams thirty years ago.  People with tenacity and smarts can accomplish a lot.  China is way beyond Deng Xiao Ping’s wishes of a bicycle for everyone.  The best technology in the world and an eager group of folks willing to work for more means that it will never be boring here.

I thought a lot about the Chinese Dream on my recent trip to Anhui province.  As I went further into rural China I could see the small shops and farmers drying rice and the constant changing occurring outside of the big cities.  It made me think that we are all people and whether you call it the Chinese dream or the American dream – it really is the same.  As you move up the ladder, we all want more.  It is difficult to feel satisfied, to say – “Enough is enough.”

Is the Chinese dream flashy lights?  Sometimes it seems so.

Is the Chinese dream flashy lights? Sometimes it seems so.

What is your dream?


25 Responses to “The Chinese dream”

  1. expatlingo September 22, 2013 at 9:06 am #

    All seem like good national aspirations. Maybe the addition of fresh air to breathe would be a nice 5th goal.

    • gkm2011 September 22, 2013 at 9:56 pm #

      I thought about that myself, but as far as I can tell it isn’t part of the campaign so I left it out. I would also say something about safe food.

  2. Every Day Adventures in Asia September 22, 2013 at 11:57 am #

    If I was still living in Canada would probably own a home, likely have a somewhat stable job and breath clean air (like that addition expatlingo!). Buying a home in Bombay is an impossible dream for us too and standard of life isn’t even close to what is possible in Canada. But I’m delighted with the life I have so am I living my ‘dream’? I suppose I am! 🙂

    • gkm2011 September 22, 2013 at 9:46 pm #

      Yes, I would guess you are living your dream. I am too – funny how dreams change isn’t it?

  3. pollyheath September 22, 2013 at 1:30 pm #

    The Chinese dream seems very reasonable to me and it seems like it’s only possible for a certain section of the Chinese population. So not that different at all from America.

    My dream? I’d love to own a house and have enough money left over to get out of it and travel for several months at a time.

    • gkm2011 September 22, 2013 at 9:48 pm #

      Give yourself some time. Owning a house can be a lot of work but something I would like to do again someday – and live in said house again! I own one now in the US but haven’t lived in it in almost six years.

  4. ladyofthecakes September 22, 2013 at 3:57 pm #

    My dream is to be free and to live where I want, make enough money to live and not to be tied to things (e.g. property) or people (e.g. partner and & children). And I have that 🙂
    Of course, it wouldn’t be in any government’s interest to promote that kind of dream… they need an army of little enslaved worker bees to keep them in power, to pay taxes, and to fight wars with.

    • gkm2011 September 22, 2013 at 9:50 pm #

      Don’t get me started on the US or Chinese government tax policies. I think having the freedom to choose our own professions is one that we often don’t consider and is something not to be taken for granted.

      • ladyofthecakes September 22, 2013 at 9:52 pm #

        Aw, taxes… can’t escape them… I’m also paying plenty. Maybe I should move to The Cayman Islands. Hmmm…. maybe not such a bad idea…

      • gkm2011 September 22, 2013 at 9:57 pm #

        If you’re an American passport they follow you everywhere. Good luck escaping!

      • ladyofthecakes September 22, 2013 at 10:13 pm #

        We only have to pay were we happen to be living. I paid tax in the UK before, now I pay in Spain. And if a country doesn’t have income tax, or a very low tax rate, then all the better! IF we’re allowed to work there, that is. Tax in EU countries, unfortunately, isn’t exactly on the low side.

  5. ladyofthecakes September 22, 2013 at 4:06 pm #

    As for the rote learning thing – accumulated knowledge, especially in the field of technology, is sufficient to enable a population to make things and boost economical growth. Once you actively foster the ability to think critically, you’re opening a can of worms. And the Chinese government is very afraid of that particular can of worms. Changing the way Chinese children are educated is a threat to the kind of stability it needs to survive.

    • gkm2011 September 22, 2013 at 9:51 pm #

      Perhaps, but that will also stop it from moving up the value chain in goods production to thought leadership and then fail in the government’s goals for the future. Catch-22

      • ladyofthecakes September 22, 2013 at 10:03 pm #

        True, but if you’ve still got 40% of your MASSIVE population living on the poverty line, then you’ve got so much pent-up growth potential that you won’t even have to worry about the far end of the value chain for several decades.

  6. sarahinguangzhou September 23, 2013 at 1:34 pm #

    The Chinese education system works if you want a workforce educated yet not educated enough to actually question anything, and that’s what it’s designed for. Actually it’s not too different from the one I grew up with in suburban England in the 1960s.
    As for the whole property ownership thing, it’s true of most big cities I think that the vast majority of people can’t afford to buy unless they move way out into the depths of suburbia. Certainly true of London.
    I never really bought into this whole property ownership thing; I think it’s all a giant con.

    • gkm2011 September 23, 2013 at 9:41 pm #

      I think property ownership makes sense if you want to stay in one place for a long time – which many people do. However, it can be limiting or even punishing when you don’t want it. I do like the idea though that the four walls are mine to do with as I please. After having rented the last five years there is a difference!

  7. Sherri September 23, 2013 at 7:53 pm #

    Very interesting article about the Chinese Dream. I wonder if it is out of reach for so many though from what you describe. I wonder too if any of my three children will ever be able to own their own home here in the UK. I am unable to help them, having lost my own ‘dream home’ due to divorce some 10 year’s ago. Maybe home ownership isn’t all it’s cracked up to be after all. I am 53 and have a big mortgage now, having bought again later in life. Hubbie and I joke that we will end up living in a motorhome…well, at least we will be able to take that long dreamed of road trip across America. Guess it’s all about trade-offs 😉

    • gkm2011 September 23, 2013 at 9:42 pm #

      Yes – it is all about trade-offs. Every person puts a slightly different thing at the top of the list. I believe that “home” is where people are, not things. Perhaps that is the dream?
      Hope you do take your road trip – the longer I live away from the US the more I realize there is to see there.

      • Sherri September 24, 2013 at 12:19 am #

        Home is definitely where the heart is, with the people you love, that’s for sure 🙂 Thanks, I hold the dream for the road trip alive in my heart every day! I hope you are enjoying the festival!

  8. Eileen黃愛玲 September 30, 2013 at 9:38 pm #

    The difference is one of a locals in Shanghai told me when you a buy a house in Shanghai (at least), you have to give it back to the government in 70 years.After all, everything belongs to the government. You’re merely buying for temporary use. The local was working for a woman who bought so many apartments near the Bund and she is trying to sell them all.

    • gkm2011 October 2, 2013 at 3:21 am #

      Yes, similar to a land lease with a term at the government’s discretion. There are also rules about the number of houses one person can own and ever changing rules.

  9. Naomi Baltuck October 2, 2013 at 10:22 pm #

    What a fascinating post! Everything is so relative, depending upon where you live, what family you were born into, etc. Some people can dream only of the day they will not live hand to mouth.
    I feel fortunate to have a home that is paid for in a place that I love–having left Detroit for the Pacific Northwest. We are comfortable, and live fairly modestly–we drive our cars into the ground, pass on the high fashion designer clothes or moving up to an ocean view, but we have a garden and guest room. We could probably afford a more luxurious home and lifestyle, but it would mean having to make a choice between that and our highest priority, which is family travel and education. So instead of the ocean view, we travel every summer and springtime, and sent our kids to good schools and universities. I guess you could say we are living our dream.

    • gkm2011 October 2, 2013 at 11:23 pm #

      Yes, each dream is different, but at the core they are all the same. I too value travel more than “things” and at this point am perfectly happy collecting memories. Good to know it is possible to succeed in such a manner!

      • Naomi Baltuck October 2, 2013 at 11:31 pm #

        My mom used to say we should live our lives as if every day were the last, but plan on living forever. That way, we have the joy of the moment, but plan to make a secure future. You are collecting your adventures and living your dream. Best wishes!


  1. The 9th quarter review | 中国 Jumble - October 17, 2013

    […] The Chinese dream – looking at the propaganda campaign that the Chinese government has been pressing lately and talking about what your dreams are.  Make sure you check out the comments on this post if you haven’t before, lots of good commentary that made me think even more. […]

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