International ties

A Journey of Wonder in China

By Ashok K. Roy (
Updated: 2010-06-18 17:15
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My family association with China spans three generations. My father, Dr. K.B. Roy, used to visit China before the Second World War when he worked for Jardine Henderson as a medical doctor. Then last year, my daughter, Priya, spent a study abroad semester at East China Normal University in Shanghai where she picked up conversational Chinese.

Then, last month, I had the privilege of visiting this ancient land with a 5,000 year old civilization. Although I knew much about China from my father and daughter, and also from my wide studies, nothing prepared me for the remarkable economic progress that I saw first-hand in Shanghai, Beijing, Yangzhou, and Xi'an. I saw a middle class that is meritocratic, and the lure of a consumer culture everywhere.

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There can be no doubt that the center of gravity in financial and industrial power is shifting to China, in particular, and Asia in general. Witnessing this fascinating shift in economic power reinforced for me Paul Kennedy's argument about the cyclical nature of history and how military power rests on economic power.

We know that China already has the world's largest foreign exchange reserves (over $2 trillion) and the third largest GDP. University of Chicago Nobel Laureate Robert Fogel projects that by 2040 China's share of global GDP will be 40%. Also, we are aware of the projections for China's growth by Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley. It is fascinating to see, first-hand, how China has compressed economic growth, growing at an average rate of 10% per year for the last 30 years, and literally lifted hundreds of millions of its citizens from poverty in one life time—a remarkable feat without parallel in human history. Economic development is a multivariate quantitative and qualitative change and may not be immediately measurable cardinally.

In this article, however, coming from the United States, I wish to share some of the more remarkable observations that I saw during my recent visit, from a more human perspective.

1. Every area along the expressways is manicured, is landscaped with flowers, and is very well maintained. The physical infrastructure that I saw is without parallel anywhere in the world.

2. The extent of westernization in terms of dress and other mores is obvious. The old notion of a nation in drab clothes was wrong.

3. Public transit is huge. The subways are most modern, extremely well maintained, and highly organized.

4. There is construction everywhere I looked. The scale and scope of construction across everywhere is simply astounding.

5. There are literally thousands of high rise apartments—most of them 40 stories and higher. Detached homes, common in the West, are few.

6. The number of personal cars has exploded. GM's Buick and Volkswagen models seem to be the most popular cars on the roads.

7. The quality of the roads and the standard of city infrastructure planning, are excellent and, I can say confidently, without parallel in the world.

8. There are lots of toll-booths along the roads.

9. Advertising via huge bill-boards can be seen everywhere.

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