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30 years on - after China's 'hard day's night' nation no longer a forbidden place for foreigners (12/19/08)

BEIJING, Dec. 18 (Xinhua) -- At the foot of the 700-year-old Drum Tower in central Beijing, a rock music bar named Mao Live house is packed with some 100 young people swinging and singing in a loud chorus, in English:

"Hey Jude, don't make it bad, take a sad song and make it better..."

Despite the December chill outside, the bar has a great buzz as local bands play The Beatles songs non stop.

"We are here tonight to pay tribute to The Beatles and John Lennon," says 22-year-old Ma Xiaomeng, a Beatles fan for eight years. "I can sing almost every song of theirs. You name it."

Few would be surprised at such a scene of celebrating western pop music on December 6, 2008, in Beijing. The 15-million-people metropolis has just proudly hosted the Summer Olympics, and is ranked the 12th out of 60 most globalized cities in this year's Global Cities Index from the U.S. "Foreign Policy" magazine.

But this is so very different from what a visitor would have seen in Beijing 30 years ago.

Once regarded as a self-locked "Middle Kingdom," in those years China banned all aspects of "rotten capitalist lifestyle" such as The Beatles. On December 9, 1980, the day after the shocking murder of John Lennon in New York, China's leading national newspaper "People's Daily" mentioned not one word of the news.

The concert in Mao Livehouse was the brainchild of bbs.beatles.cn, a Chinese-language online forum dedicated to The Beatles. On www.douban.com, the Chinese version of Facebook, about 4,000 people register as Beatles fans to discuss songs, exchange CDs, or set up bands.

"Listening to The Beatles opens the door of music for me. I like it, so I do it," Ma Xiaomeng says, as if he takes all these things for granted.

What he may not have realized is that the door actually began to open when China made an historic decision 30 years ago to open a door even bigger - the one to the world.

China on Thursday commemorated the 30th anniversary of a landmark meeting of the Communist Party of China, which decided to open up the country and reform its nearly collapsed economy, struggling in the wake of the disastrous Cultural Revolution (1966-1976).

The decision, masterminded by then Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping, eventually turned the once poverty-stricken country into one of the world's largest economies. The lives of about 20 percent of humanity have been forever changed.

THE LONG AND WINDING ROAD

Retired engineer Fu Tian still remembers how he felt when he visited Canada for the first time in 1981.

"Everything I saw (in Canada) was completely different from home. The outside world was so alien to me because we had locked ourselves in for such a long time," says Fu.

Although by then China had already resumed its membership in the United Nations and had forged diplomatic relations with world powers including the United States and Britain, "to ordinary Chinese like me, we and the foreigners were living in two worlds on parallel lines -- we had never met each other," he says.

A blogger on China's popular portal Sina.com also describes vividly how Beijingers demonstrated their "hospitality" to two foreigners in 1980.

"I saw tens of thousands of people converging at the streetside and peering into someone in the middle. I pushed into the crowd and found they were actually two foreigners with blue eyes and golden hair.

"'How can a man be like this?' I heard someone commenting on the man with a ponytail hairdo," says the blogger using pseudonym "Star Badminton Team".

The blogger also says he/she was puzzled for many years by his/her mother's comment: "Foreigners are all evil."

"I always wonder why they are evil and how evil they can be. Many years later, only after I had some real contact with foreigners did I realize most of the people in the world are just as kind as us," the blogger says.

Nowadays Beijing is home to more than 150,000 foreigners, or one in every 100 Beijingers, according to Wo Ai Wo Jia, a house-letting agent company that conducted a survey on demands of house renting among foreign residents in Beijing.

Fu Tian, 65, now lives in an apartment high-rise in downtown Beijing, only 300 hundred meters away from France-invested Carrefour mall and the U.S. fast food store KFC, while the street is crowded with cars of Japanese and German brands.

"Many big events with global profiles now take place just on our doorstep - the Olympics, the Asia-Europe meeting," he says. "We come to each other as one world. We shall never go back to the old days."

COME TOGETHER

Fu's feeling is echoed by Prof. Huang Ping, director of the Institute of American Studies under the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, the country's top think-tank.

"China is increasingly incorporated into the world after 30 years of economic reform and opening up, because no one would want to ignore the significance of China, and it will be harder to do so in future.

"Also for the Chinese, we can no longer just close our eyes and shut the door, because we've been so much connected with the rest of the world," he says.

Numerous Chinese now suddenly feel the pinch of the global economic downturn late this year after the United States, China's second largest trade partner, was hit by the worst financial crisis since the 1920s.

Liang Fengyi's factory of auto parts in Foshan, south China's Guangdong Province, received a notice from General Motors to cut orders by 20 percent just one day after the U.S. government rejected the auto giant's plea for up to 10 billion U.S. dollars to help finance its possible merger with Chrysler in early November.

A similar thing happened to Zhou Xiaoguang, who runs a shop selling home decoration accessories in east China's Yiwu City, a famous wholesaling market.

"Some of my regular clients abroad came eight times a year. But this year they came just four times," Zhou says. "I'm afraid I will lose 20 percent of profits this year."

Their experiences provide unhappy evidence as to how close the ties and interactions between China and the rest of the world have become.

"Over the last 30 years China has changed from pursuing economic autarky to adopting a policy of integration and comparative advantage, from lack of participation in the global economy to interdependence with that economy," says David M. Lampton, director of China Studies at the U.S.'s Johns Hopkins University.

"This is the most fundamental and far-reaching change in the relationship between China and the West," he says in an interview with Xinhua via email.

Such a change means that "international actors are increasingly looking to China to play an active role in addressing the problems and fallout of the global economic crisis," says Chris Alden, head of the China in Africa Programme of the South African Institute of International Affairs.

Martyn Davies, executive director of the Center for Chinese Studies at Stellenbosch University of South Africa, says China's development also is evidence that countries are able to reverse their situations and determine their own development trajectories, particularly for many African countries.

"China's increased engagement in Africa offers a new model for foreign power engagement with that continent - one that is not purely donor or only commodity driven, but rather, multifaceted, combining investment, trade and donor models," he says.

This has resulted in a reorientation in Africa's relations - away from traditional Western power in favor of renewed relations with the East, which centers on China, he suggests.

All the changes are deeply rooted in the meeting held exactly 30 years ago in Beijing.

"If there had not been a Deng Xiaoping, China would not have developed as rapidly as it has and in the manner that it has, and more generally the world would be a more dangerous place," Alden says.

But despite what China has achieved, Prof. Huang suggests that a lot of challenges need to be addressed in China's interaction with the outside world.

"Economically we are well interconnected with the world, but lack of mutual understanding on cultural levels is a concern for future relations," he says.

"China must continue to learn how to maintain a dialogue and correctly express itself in order to win the understanding and respect it deserves," he says.

 


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