My Short 2009 (and beyond!) China Wishlist

Instead of looking back on 2008, or making predictions for 2009, I thought — why not share a list of my hopes and wishes for China in the next year…and beyond?

So…here’s a short list of what I’d like to see in the Middle Kingdom in 2009, and after. It is NOT a prediction; I am not honestly sure if or when any of these will happen. This is also in no particular order:

Stop following the US

For years, China has looked up to foreign countries as a model, the way younger children look up to their older siblings. But most of all, they’ve looked up to the US. We’ve been one of their “model siblings” for years. So it isn’t surprising that, after goading and coaxing from above, China has embraced capitalism (with Chinese characteristics, of course) and moved towards privatizing EVERYTHING. Privatization was supposed to mean better transparency and better pricing (because of competition) for all, so big brother US told China.

Well, that was until we all found out this year that big brother US was peddling some rather dangerous stuff, and hanging out with the wrong crowd.

I know some might call me unpatriotic for saying this, but I’m going to say it anyway: Big brother US is no longer a model for China, and quite frankly needs to go into rehab. (I should have seen this coming, even when I was at Global Sources — somewhere in 2005 I started noticing that, for China exporters, they had to meet higher standards for the EU, but not the USA. Hmmmmm….)

If China is looking for a new model, I’d say, why not instead aim to emulate countries that embrace socialism (ie taking care of your own), yet also achieve a good balance of transparency and keep the economy running. I’m not 100 percent sure who would be best, but Canada, the UK, and France all come to mind

Residency Reform

Ask anyone in China, and they’ll tell you that one of the biggest problems in society is residency — or hukou. That ID that decides which city you officially are a resident of, and what benefits you get. Currently, if you live in a big city such as Beijing or Shanghai, you get better benefits. If you live out in the countryside, you get less. So, naturally, everyone in the countryside hopes to go to the city, just to live a better life, and they have to jump through extraordinary hoops just to get there. My friend Peter, for example, spent years studying for the postgraduate exam just to get into university in Beijing, all for the purpose of getting a Beijing hukou, so he could have the right to settle there

Instead of making people twist and turn just to live where they want to live, I’d love to see the hukou system reformed, so that people can decide for themselves.

Share Colleges with more Small Towns

If you’ve ever spent any amount of time in China, you’ve probably noticed that all colleges and universities (we’re talking higher education, here, not vocational/training) tend to be in the larger cities. In fact, arguably the larger cities hoard all of these great institutions. It’s a shame on many levels. Smaller cities miss out on the benefits of having a college or university within the town, which can be a much needed source of talent, culture, and even innovation that spurs economic development.

Cities such as Hangzhou have been moving colleges out to “College Cities” in their suburbs (which are still within the city limits). What I want to know is, why can’t they share their colleges with smaller towns in the region? For example, neither Fuyang nor Tonglu (two towns in Hangzhou’s jurisdiction) have colleges or universities. Wouldn’t it have been nice to move these schools out there instead, and share the benefits that they bring to the areas?

This model is very common in the US and other countries. Jun and I currently live in Pocatello, Idaho, a town that thrives because of the presence of Idaho State University.

I hope that the next time China considers moving around colleges, it will think of cities in the countryside as possible recipients.

Conquer Noise Pollution in the Countryside

This is a personal, but sobering, one — and a side of the environmental debate we don’t hear enough about. My in-laws live out in the countryside, but ironically suffer damaging noise pollution almost 24 hours a day from factories that were haphazardly built near residential homes.

I’d like to see China pay more attention to planning in the countryside, so that these honest, hardworking people do not need to suffer from the side effects of noise pollution. As it is, my mother-in-law has battled high blood pressure that is likely the result of the noise.

Love Little Girls More

This is social wish. We all know how much the 宝孙子 (treasured grandson) is favored above all in China — so much so that residents of the countryside can have a second child if their firstborn is a girl.

Abortion or abandonment are all too common for girl babies. The result is that the sex ratio will be so skewed by 2020 that many young men will be unable, as my Chinese friends say, to solve their “personal problem” (getting married). Think serious social unrest.

Traditions don’t change easy, and it’s not just peasants. I once heard my boss — a modern young woman from Taiwan — say that she wanted to sell desks in one of the rows in our office, just because every girl (or boy) who sat there ended up with a baby boy.

Let’s hope that women will no longer be seen as “water thrown away” from the family, but instead as treasured members of the family who do more than just give birth. If not, soon there won’t even be enough of them for the men who will grow up in a few decades. (Maybe I should consider starting up a business to connect more foreign women with Chinese men?….just kidding!)

Happy New Year, everyone! 新年快乐!

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