New China, Old China

Talking at the beginning of 2009 to several of my colleagues on the teaching staff of the Guanghua business school at Peking University, I was struck by their disdainful attitude towards the West, and particularly the United States. “America has brought us a lot of trouble,” they said. “We don’t want to import America’s problems into China. We shouldn’t imitate their system. We should look for our future here, not there.” Has the credit crisis punctured the bubble of Western superiority in China which gained ground from the early 1990s, as China struggled to adopt capitalist ideas and methods?

Since the death of Mao in 1976, and the end of the Cultural Revolution a few months later which signaled the beginning of China’s return to normality, one can describe three general stages through which Chinese society has passed. The first stage is called in China “healing the wounds.” On my arrival in China in the late 1980s it was not the poverty and mass of blue tunics that got my attention, it was the dull vacant gaze and the look of hopelessness in the faces of many late middle-aged and elderly Chinese that I met or passed in the street. Years of uncertainty and arbitrary brutality in the 1960s and 1970s left their mark on the lives of many middle-aged and older Chinese, who lacked the energy to forget, recover, and start again. After the promising green shoots of growth that appeared in the 1980s, the clamp-down which followed the brutal student suppression ...

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