Making a Chinese dream come true

Updated: 2011-08-25 07:39

By Zhu Yuan (China Daily)

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Making a Chinese dream come true

Although Chinese People's American Dream by Shui Guang was only published recently, it was written more than a decade ago when an increasing number of Chinese people who had left China to study abroad began to consider pursuing their career back home.

It made me wonder whether there is a Chinese dream. And if so, what is it?

Without a native religion in the sense of Christianity or Islam, Chinese people's ethos is characterized by pragmatism.

There is a Peking Opera piece called Happiness from Heaven, its lyrics describe a world in which good weather guarantees a bumper harvest, clean and honest government does not impose heavy taxes, well-disciplined residents do not make unreasonable demands, and everyone lives in happiness and peace.

This would be the dream that the majority of Chinese people pursued in ancient times, when they knew little about science, democracy and social institutions.

This dream was shattered when Western powers forced open China's door and Western ideas of science and democracy entered the country.

Despite the fact that many ordinary residents still cherished the dream of leading a peaceful and comfortable life, characterized by having land to plough and enough food to feed their family, the ideal of creating a society of equality and fairness appealed to some Chinese intellectuals. Hence, the years of civil wars and the struggle for state power between two major political parties dominated the first half of last century. If Chinese people had a dream during that period, it was for nothing more than to live in peace.

The founding of New China was the start of a period in which collective consciousness left little room for people to pursue an individual dream. They were told that everyone would be able to get what he or she needs in a Communist society, but people must first make sacrifices for its realization and the common good.

It was not until the late 1970s when the reform and opening-up policy was implemented that Chinese residents as individuals started to pursue their own dreams again. Market competition in a great variety of fields made it possible for individuals to be audacious enough to cherish a dream of prosperity and success that might be achieved through their own efforts.

After more than half a century of State employment, Chinese people could quit their job to start a business on their own, they could go abroad to study, they could even idle away their time if they had the means to support themselves. They could do anything as long as they did not break the law.

Yet, the dream of a better life is not as simple as it used to be. People used to be content with having enough to eat and wear and a place to live. With much higher living standards and more materialistic temptations, they now have much higher demands of life.

To be a true Chinese Dream the opportunity should be there for all. However, the increasingly serious corruption among government officials and the widening gap between the haves and have-nots tilt the distribution of social resources and wealth in favor of those in power and those who can manipulate power with money and/or connections. This dampens ordinary residents' enthusiasm to struggle for their dreams and encourages people to make their dream come true through irregular means.

Common prosperity once identified by Deng Xiaoping as the ultimate goal of economic reform and opening-up necessitates a political will to ensure that the distribution of social wealth is fair.

A Chinese dream, if there is one, should not be that different from its American counterpart - that life can be better, richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability and achievement regardless of social class or circumstances of birth.

But to achieve this, great efforts are needed on the part of the government and all residents to create an environment in which, as Confucius said, people can go confidently in the direction of their dreams and live the life they have imagined.

The author is a senior writer with China Daily.

(China Daily 08/25/2011 page8)