The rise of China will affect us all in the coming years. Not necessarily the next few years but definitely the next couple of decades. I wanted to talk about a few things in this post. Primarily, my experiences travelling to China, how much it has changed (even in the short time between my last two visits, early 2015 and late 2017), and how I was fascinated, intrigued and inspired by what I saw during the trip.
I have been to China three times so far in my life. Once as a 17-year-old on a Kung Fu holiday to Guangzhou, a second time just over a couple of years ago to meet my then girlfriend’s parents in Shenyang and most recently at the end of last year to see that same girlfriend’s family again once she had become my wife. I expected a lot to have changed between the first trip and the second. It was true that it had, but the speed of change really struck me during last year’s visit.
Fascinated by Progress
The pace of China’s technological development can only be described as breakneck and rapid, at-least within the cities. I visited Beijing, Shenyang, Chengdu and Chongqing. I was impressed by the level of technology, the efficiency and apparent safety of the public transport and the ubiquitous QR codes. Everything seemed so modern, convenient and easy. Travelling between the cities was fast and comfortable, and travelling within reliable and reasonably clean. It felt very different to my first trip to China as a young man where we struggled to get anywhere during the day, mostly due to road traffic problems.
Intrigued by Cuisine
I ate so many different things, spiced eel and lambs intestine stand out, but I drew the line at pigs brain. I was particularly spoilt by the flavours of Chongqing where my wife and I essentially ran around the old city centre for 48 hours sampling different restaurants. There were so many different fragrances and nuances to the spices used in the cooking. This was complemented overall by the variety of food on offer. It made me think how simplistic English traditional culinary pursuits are, saved only perhaps by the fact that our gastronomy has become so multi-cultural in the UK.
Inspired by Events
My recent visit happened to put me in China during the 19th National Communist Party Congress. The security was intense around the stations and airports, but more noticeable than the security was the presence of Xi Jinping on the public televisions. He seemed to me to be a man who was capable of doing great things, every time I saw him on a television he was addressing the military in fatigues or strolling through a small town telling them how to improve their harvest. By the end of the trip, I had become convinced he was the man to sort the world out.
Brought round by Clean Air
On arrival back to the UK I looked out of the taxi window on the journey back from the airport and everything looked pixellated and crisp in my field of vision; sunny, new and bright. I realised that most of what I had been looking at for the past two and a half weeks, had been through a slight filter of grey, ever so fine but now noticeable in its absence. That’s the level of pollution that I perceived. It was the contrast that brought it home to me.
If China is going to continue to develop, to bring prosperity and wealth to the enormous population, it will need to be serious about cleaning up the environment. Functioning public services and tasty food are all very well, but these are no good if the air people are breathing is toxic.