Tag Archive: Chinese economy

China 119 Shanghai candids 2015-03-31

It’s common to see children carried on motorbikes.

Some of the best insights into other cultures come from watching what’s happening on their streets and from talking with those who live there.


Fortunately, English-subtitled street and store signs are common in Shanghai’s business and shopping districts, and  around the most popular tourist attractions.


These streets are well-policed, and navigating the nearby neighborhoods requires no knowledge of Chinese for anyone with an English-labeled map and a modest sense of adventure.


English has been increasingly spoken here since the British occupied the treaty ports in the 1840’s.  These days the American dialect is heard at least as commonly.


Seniors are particularly revered in China.

Seniors are particularly revered in China.


China promotes English literacy in its schools, but during my visit I met several Chinese whose English was impressively self-taught from books, audio, and movies.


Walking the streets of Shanghai makes it hard to doubt that there are far more English-speaking Chinese than vice-versa, or  that more of China’s English-speaking foreigners live in Shanghai than anywhere but, perhaps, Hong Kong.


China 120 Shanghai candids 2015-03-31

Smartphones and selfie sticks are everywhere.


Like most places I’ve visited, China has laws and customs which suggest themselves as practices worthy of adoption by others.


This is not to suggest that criticisms of China’s record on issues including human rights and carbon emissions should be ignored, but that there’s more to the Chinese story than the headlines of business and geo-politics can convey.


What I share here is drawn solely from personal observations and anecdotes told to me by locals.

China 112 Shanghai candids 2015-03-31

Street vendor with whistles and friend await the next tourist bus.


China 127 Shanghai candids 2015-03-31

Red shoes are wildly popular this year.


One apparent legacy of the Communist “bottom-up” ideology is the priority given to promoting quality of life for the Chinese masses.

China 122 Shanghai candids 2015-03-31

Just hanging out.



In Shanghai, Beijing, and Zi’an I saw modern subway systems and robust bus networks.  Some large cities are also linked by  high speed rail and all three modes of transit are connected by shared stations.


Burgeoning motor traffic moves along modern expressways, but major surface streets in larger cities have dedicated cycle lanes which are often fenced off from car and truck lanes.


The many public parks were well-landscaped – often to a pleasingly Chinese aesthetic – and widely used.  New high-rise apartments face generous green spaces.

China 133 Shanghai candids 2015-03-31

Only families with twins, minorities, and only-child couples can have more than one child




China’s forests were depleted during the Mao era and the nation is a net importer of timber.  Logging is restricted, and tree-planting is widespread.


I saw far fewer panhandlers both downtown and around tourist attractions than on the streets than in similarly-sized American or European cities.  I can’t say the same for pickpockets; the same constant vigilance as elsewhere is a must while in China.


I was told that the government pays unemployment benefits, but only after exhausting all options to find work for applicants.  Applications are first posted in the applicant’s local neighborhood to afford whistleblowers the opportunity to flag fraudulent claims.



Well under 10% of citizens are Communist Party members, and Chinese with whom I spoke seemed generally indifferent to domestic politics – other than the current campaign to root out corruption – as long as prosperity continues.


Chinese of all ages appeared fit and lean.  Many working class Chinese still walk or ride bicycles or perform physical labor.  Most apartment buildings built decades ago lack elevators, and it’s not uncommon for their residents to climb a half dozen flights of stairs.


China 125 Shanghai candids 2015-03-31

Tourists from all over Asia also come to China.



The people also appeared to be well-fed.  China’s often-maligned one-child policy averted a humanitarian disaster by reducing the number of mouths to be fed by more than three hundred million.


For Chinese aged thirty  years or younger, the days of food shortages are at most a childhood memory.




Asians were among the  earliest adopters of camera phones and smartphones.  In China this technology brought phone and internet connectivity to a large segment of the population for the first time.  Smartphones are pervasive both in China’s cities and countryside.

China 132 Shanghai candids 2015-03-31

Waiting for the morning bus.



Camera phones feed a seeming addiction of the Chinese to picture-taking.  There were plenty of selfie sticks in use at every tourist attraction.


Older Chinese frequently wave off  photographers or shield their faces, but I was invited by younger people on dozens of occasions to co-star in their selfies.




It’s common in the U.S. to see people isolated from each other by texting or earbuds.  In China, smartphone cameras seemed far more often to bring people together.  Some cultural trivia:  The Chinese attach great significance to lucky numbers, and cellphone numbers which contain them can sell for a premium price.

China 130 Shanghai candids 2015-03-31

Born after Mao.




If Mao’s corpse was not embalmed for public viewing in Beijing, he would be turning over in his grave at the look of the new China.


China’s income gap seems to be widening less because workers’ wages are falling than because the new prosperity has created a middle and upper class.  The rising tide seems to be lifting many boats.


On the streets of downtown Shanghai, well-to-do residents drive foreign or domestic luxury cars.  The same fashions appear here as in designer boutiques of Milan and Paris, and along Fifth Avenue and Rodeo drive.


China 120 Shanghai candids 2015-03-31

Smartphone always handy.






A few of China’s newly-rich have even undergone cosmetic surgery to ‘Westernize’ their features.


(Just as Westerners see Asian eyes as an icon of racial identity, Asians see Westerners’ noses… hence the Chinese slang, “Big Noses.”)


I heard also heard the word ”banana’ used  as a slang label  for Chinese (“yellow on the outside….”) who exchange their Asian identity for a Western one.   Interesting how the language used by too such different cultures to talk about race is so similar.



China 111 Shanghai candids 2015-03-31

Hanging out.



China 114 Shanghai candids 2015-03-31

Another Asian tourist.


Firearms are not the only weapons which Chinese are forbidden to own, and penalties for violators are stiff.


China shares borders with Afghanistan, Pakistan Kyrgystan, and Tajikistan,  and metal detectors at public sites clearly reflects a concern with terrorism.


Still, I saw little presence of armed soldiers or militarized police.


China has a mandatory death penalty for homicide, manslaughter, rape, robbery, arson, bombings, planting of toxic substances and trafficking in dangerous drugs.




All of this gave me pause for reflection on the difference between the way Americans and Chinese set their social priorities, and the way that they evaluate trade-off’s for each.


And it makes it easy to conclude that each has something to learn from the other.





Next up:  “Shanghai’s Jade Buddha Temple”



See my earlier posts from “21 Days In China”:



Capitalist China

Shanghai's Oriental Pearl Radio & TV tower.

Shanghai’s Oriental Pearl Radio & TV tower.

One of the most striking features of Shanghai’s spectacular skyline is the Oriental Pearl Radio & TV Tower.

Completed in 1994.  It is still one of the world’s tallest broadcast antennas (468 m./1,535 ft.).


Pudong skyline, as seen from downtown Shanghai.

Pudong skyline, as seen from downtown Shanghai.


The Tower stands on the east bank of the Huangpu River across from the historic city center in the Pudong (“East Bank”)District.

Pudong is home to Shanghai’s tallest skyscrapers including Jin Mao Tower (421 m./1,380 ft.), the Shanghai World Financial Center (492 m./1,614 ft.), and the nearly completed Shanghai Tower (632 m./2,073 ft.)

View from the base of the Pearl Tower.

View from the base of the Pearl Tower.

The Pearl Tower observation deck affords a spectacular bird-eye view of the city, and is a good place to get the lay of the land.

With a population of 1.4 billion, it’s no surprise that the Chinese excel at moving staggering numbers of people around with efficiency, and the crowd at the Pearl Tower is no exception.

Promenade at outside the Pearl Tower.

Promenade at outside the Pearl Tower.


The lines move briskly, and elevator attendants uniformed and coiffed as immaculately as pre-deregulation U.S. flight attendants keep the foot traffic flowing


As I look out over this sprawling city of 25 million, I can’t help but think that anyone looking down upon the Manhattan skyline in the 1920’s must have been similarly awestruck.

Veiw from the Pearl Tower. The tall building is the 128 story Shanghai Tower.

Veiw from the Pearl Tower. The tall building is the 128 story Shanghai Tower.


There’s an impression of incredible energy pulsing through the landscape below, and an inescapable sense of looking through a window into the epicenter of the global future.

Pudong is the site of the city’s Finance & Trade Zone and the Shanghai Stock Exchange, making it China’s financial hub.


Downtown Shanghai from the Pearl Tower.

Downtown Shanghai from the Pearl Tower.


The District also encompasses a high-tech park, the 2010 Shanghai Expo Center, and the Pudong International Airport.


Incredibly, this entire area was farmland until 1993.



Shanghai's west bank from the Pearl Tower.

Shanghai’s west bank from the Pearl Tower.


Such explosive growth is the product of an economy that’s been growing at almost 10% annually – about three times the global average – since Deng Xiaoping introduced economic reforms more than 30 years ago.





China’s shift from a managed economy to a market economy has grown its GDP from $147.3 billion in 1978 to $11.2 trillion in 2015.  The Peoples’ Republic of China is now the world’s largest economy.

It’s hardly surprising that the Chinese people have embraced a free market economy so enthusiastically, or that they excel at it.  The Chinese already were trading their goods via the Silk Road before the birth of Christ.

The success of Chinese joint ventures with foreign manufacturing and technology giants seem to reflect the enterprising nature of a nation of shopkeepers now unbridled following three decades of Mao’s managed economy.


High-rises cover Shanghai for miles.

High-rises cover Shanghai for miles.


The nation not only manufactures more cars – about 22 million – than any other country  (almost 3 times as many as the U.S.) – but is also the biggest market for new cars.  China became the world’s biggest exporter in 2009, and Shanghai recently surpassed Singapore as the world’s largest containerized freight port


The Maglev Train pulls into the station.

The Maglev Train pulls into the station.

Construction of Shanghai’s Pudong International Airport began in 1997.


It is now the world’s third busiest cargo airport, the busiest international hub in mainland China, and one of the world’s 20 busiest passenger airports.


It is connected to the city by Shanghai’s Maglev Train, which uses magnets to lift and propel it.



The reduced friction allows the train to move at very high speeds, and it cuts a highway drive of nearly one hour to 8 minutes, reaching a peak speed of 430 kmp/267 mph).


The Maglev Train reaches its peak speed of 430 kmh/267 mph.

The Maglev Train reaches its peak speed of 430 kmh/267 mph.


A third passenger terminal and two additional runways scheduled to open later this year will raise annual capacity to 80 million passengers and 6 million tons of freight.  DHL’s Pudong cargo hub is the largest in Asia.



I’m struck by the amazing contrast between the way in which nominally Communist China has advanced even as the republics of the former Soviet Union have devolved.


Only ferries crossed the river thirty years ago, and still do.

Only ferries crossed the river thirty years ago, and still do.


The irony is also not lost upon me that Pudong’s modern skyscrapers directly face the city’s historic Bund.  It was from their Bund headquarters that the banking houses and merchant traders of the Western powers imposed their imperialism upon China, and first made Shanghai a financial and trading giant until its fortunes turned with the outbreak of World War II and the 30 years of isolation which followed.


The Bund as seen from the Pearl Tower.

The Bund as seen from the Pearl Tower.

This time around, the China is solidly in control of its own destiny, and is turning its new prosperity into better lives for countless millions of its people.