A Green Eagle in Red Dragon’s Den

A Green Eagle in Red Dragon’s Den

February 1, 2018

“Our greatest glory doesn’t lie in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.” 

These are the immortal words of Confucius (551 BC – 479 BC), the most revered pedagogue, philosopher, editor, and political theorist, whose timeless wisdom continues to touch the intricate Chinese culture to this day. This quote more or less encompasses the quintessence of the resolute spirit of the country, having a history spanning over five millennia.

 The army of Terracotta Warriors. 

China is an intriguing country. Though, it is changing faster than the media would have us believe, the ancient traditions are nevertheless dying hard despite all the hoopla of modernization, which is said to be in a runaway hyper-drive.

Travelling to China can be an enlightening as well as awe-inspiring but also a bit unnerving experience in ways.

It offers a journey into the past, present, and the future of a country that crept its way out of the dense clouds of benumbing opium smoke, crushing 'imperialocracy’, debilitating wars, and a raging political chaos to become the fire-breathing ‘Red Dragon’ that now fuels world’s fastest growing economy. It is large enough to trump the US in under a decade or even earlier. So, whenever China calls, one should answer with a long march towards it, but a direct flight might as well do the job rather swiftly. And that’s exactly what I did by leaping at the opportunity to become a state guest in China.

“Wherever you go, go with all your heart.”-- Confucius

The Booming Beijing

One freezing Friday morning we landed at Beijing Capital International Airport, which is Asia’s largest and world’s second busiest aerodrome, handling more than 89 million passengers annually.

Among all the other urban centers in China, the sublime city of Beijing reigns supreme when it comes to eminence, ambience, scenery, history, and diversity. The political, social, and cultural axis as well as the nation’s power nexus, packs proverbial marvels like the ancient Great Wall of China, the succulent Peking duck, and the ever adamant Tiananmen Square. Believe it or not, this empyreal city can take any uninitiated by a surprise that is hard to give tongue to.

Beijing central business district. - file photo

By the way, I was on a delegation visiting China to witness how effectively the peoples’ republic has achieved the grand development goals the Chinese leadership never stops talking about. We were accorded a warm welcome on a cold day by the representatives of International Department of Communist Party of China.

Tan Wei, a young diplomat received us on the tarmac. Even before we had hit the road for our hotel, it was already 11:30 am. Things move really fast in China. We left the hotel for Great Wall of China at 02:00 pm.

A Footfall on The Great Wall

One of the seven wonders of the ancient world, The Great Wall of China is one of the largest construction projects ever. Once you set foot on it, the massive structure stretching over thousands of kilometers across the mountainous terrain in northern part of the country speaks volume about the excellence of Chinese civil engineering of old times. It is actually a complex of many substructures including ramparts, parapets, and defensive fortifications. In the third century BC, Emperor Qin Shi Huang (c. 259-210 B.C.) commissioned the project with an aim to keep the ‘barbarian nomads’ at bay, but it hardly served its purpose, so to speak, and became more of an upside down manmade psychological curtain standing between Chinese civilization and the rest of the world. Nevertheless, it stands out as a mighty symbol of the Asian giant’s enduring resilience and integrated national strength.

No doubt, unless taken care of nothing could be preserved. Same stands true for this wonder. The wall is persistently falling apart owing to natural forces and environmental pollution and is lying in disrepair at some sites. The Chinese authorities have, however, conserved and even restored sections of the wall located in the north of Beijing because of their proximity to the tourist clusters. The tobacco-burners in our delegation were disappointed to know the entire structure is a no-smoking zone and a violation can cost anyone dearly.

Humpty Dumpty Survived a Fall

Despite my average build, I was feeling like Humpty Dumpty on the wall, but the last thing on my mind was a great fall. The view was overwhelming, breathtaking, and astounding, all clubbed in one. Catching the fresh air scented by the lush green vegetation that surrounds the wall, I tried to wrap my mind around the immensity of this almost impossible to replicate monument, built of basic materials like rammed earth, stones, and wood and later in the Ming dynasty bricks, tiles, and lime. It numbed my skull. I needed to strike a balance between ‘yin and yang’ to think clearer. I paid my respects to those 400,000 workers, who died building this lasting megalith, without knowing it will become their mass grave, and moved on to our next stop.

Hunger was striking so we headed to an Indian restaurant downtown, where only statuettes of the Hindu gods and Bollywood songs were Indian.

I was continuously reminded by relatives and friends about certain cultural shocks and that finding the right meal for Muslims is a big issue in China.

The Meeting of Minds

Meeting with Deputy Director General of IDCPC’s South Asia Bureau, Ma Xuesong. 

The very next day we had a session with Deputy Director General of IDCPC’s South Asia Bureau, Ma Xuesong. It was the most important engagement during our 8-day visit. Pakistani politicians on the delegation expressed their concerns on the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor to the hosts, who listened to these reservations with an open heart. Assuring them of addressing all their concerns, the Chinese officials advised the visitors to not to make the multi-billion dollar CPEC controversial.

Taking a Dekko at Terracotta Army

China is among the oldest civilizations of the world and there are numerous historical places across the country. We also visited the Temple of Heaven in Beijing where the emperors used to pray for the prosperity. The army of Terracotta Warriors was a sight that left us brimming with awe. We went to a few other spots too. They were well preserved and proper arrangements are made to apprise the tourists of the importance of the place. Considering the huge potential, the Chinese have invested heavily in the tourism sector, which now accounts nearly 10 percent of Chinese economy.

Temple of Heaven

The Party of People

During a briefing on the steps taken by the Chinese government for the economic empowerment of the people, Professor Fan Jida of National Academy of Governance said by 2020, the government has planned to bring out the remaining 40 million people out of poverty and bridge the development gap between the eastern and western regions.

In Pakistan, a debate is raging on whether investment in social sectors is more important for achieving sustainable growth or in infrastructure development. “It is difficult to prioritize between the two,” Jida agreed, but emphasized that connectivity is critical.

Communist Party’s role in the peoples’ lives is a matter of great interest for the outer world for obvious reasons. A natural question, for a lot of foreigners, is: How does this 89-million-member strong party manage to stay united and continue to thrive?

According to Liu Fei, Deputy Director of Party Building of Shaanxi CPC School, solidarity depends on four factors, namely faith, discipline, organizational management, and organizational system.

“And these members are bound to pay a certain amount of fee according to their social status and monthly income,” Fei said.

He said the funds generated through fees are used for various party activities. “The funds are spent on training members, purchasing newspapers, materials, audio/video products, equipment for member’s education, commending the grassroots party organizations, outstanding communist party members and outstanding party workers,” Fei said. He added that the funds were also to subsidize members, who have suffered serious natural disasters, and repair the education facilities of those members, who have met the same fate.

During interactions with several officials it became clear that the party has a key role in every aspect of public life, not by force but as a matter of national policy and the general public has adapted to it.

Accountability at its best

The anti-graft wing of the CPC, considered to be the party’s most powerful organ, is feared to the bones by the officials. More than 4000 high-ranking officials have been penalized for corruption including senior military generals and party members close to President Xi Jinping. There are stricter rules for party members if they are found guilty of misconduct. The violator is first punished under CPC rules and then under state laws. Compare this with Pakistan where the whole government machinery was trying to save Majid Achakzai, provincial lawmaker from Pashtunkhwa Milli Awami Party (PkMap), after he ran over a traffic warden in Quetta. Released on bail, a remorseless Achakcai now roams free, that too with impunity.

The Great Firewall Not a Problem at All

China has mostly been a closed society and I always wondered how one could live a life under continuous surveillance and monitoring, where you have no liberty to speak out. I was under the impression that these restrictions must have a grave impact on national narrative but the level of prosperity I saw during those seven days negates the fact that such limitations have any impact. Surveillance or no surveillance, the system has delivered to the masses.

Also, a foreigner without access to Facebook, Twitter, Gmail, would be like fish without water but the Chinese have an alternate of it, WeChat. This is there everything from social media to booking a movie ticket to paying at stores it is their only currency. And now it is going to become their official ID which will allow the authorities greater control over their citizens. The party is always watching you, no matter who you are and what you do.

 “Better a diamond with a flaw than a pebble without.” -- Confucius

Khan Baba restaurant in central Bejing is famous among the Chinese and you have to wait a little longer to actually get a table.

An Economy on Fire

According to World Bank estimates, China, with $11 trillion, or 14.8 percent of the world economy, is the second largest economy behind the US, which leads with $18 trillion, representing a quarter or 24.3 percent share of the global GDP. “The US domination is unlikely to last for much longer,” an analyst said adding that whilst China lags back by $7 trillion, it’s catching up fast. International Monetary Fund said China’s economy grew by 6.7 percent in 2016, compared with US’s 1.6 percent. The difference is glaring.

In the race of economy, China plans to outdo the US in the next 10 years. Though they admit disparity between eastern and western regions but the policies are in place to overcome this. Most of the people in other parts of the world including Pakistan believe everything made in China is of inferior quality and cheap. They are mistaken. The country has become a huge consumer market for global brands as the affordability of Chinese has skyrocketed with the economic boom.

"When it is obvious that the goals cannot be reached, don't adjust the goals; adjust the action steps."-- Confucius

The Zing of Xi’an

The city of Xi’an not only holds significance in Chinese history as it remained the capital of several ruling dynasties and as a market and trade centre but also for Pakistan. The city was declared as sister city with Lahore in the early 90s. It was the eastern terminus of the Silk Road, the ancient trade route that connected China with the Mediterranean, which is reinvented by President Xi as Belt & Road Initiative of which China-Pakistan Economic Corridor is the foremost project.

The city is the perfect blend of history and modernism. The city planners have gone extra mile in maintaining that the urbanization is in line with the city’s past. New buildings around the archaeological sites are designed in semblance.

“It does not matter how slowly you go so long as you do not stop.”-- Confucius

Tang Paradise is a large theme part reconstructed at or near the site of an earlier garden Furong Garden complex in the city of Chang'an, capital of Tang Dynasty. It is major tourist spot in the city.

Ankang, a Small City with a Big Bang

We also traveled to Ankang city which is nearly 200km from Xi’an and the highway was better than Islamabad airport runway. The rural economy is flourishing in this part. We saw concrete roads leading to the remotest parts of the villages.

Hancheng International shopping mall in Ankang city.

Jing Zhao, First Deputy Mayor and member of the Standing Committee of CPC, said the secret to their progress was focus on skill development, provision of health, migration of rural population to urban areas, and agriculture tourism. Availability of high-speed railway network, improved infrastructure, technology zone gave impetus to the local economy.

According to recent estimates, the local government has attracted investment of around $13.18 billion from foreign technology companies in 2016. Around 367,000 people were pulled out of poverty under the 12th five-year plan (2011-2015).

“In a country well governed, poverty is something to be ashamed of. In a country badly governed, wealth is something to be ashamed of.”-- Confucius

A Brotherhood Cast in Iron

Chinese people are very friendly towards Pakistanis and respond warmly when you tell that you are from Pakistan. “Iron Brothers” is the phrase one can hear from everyone.

I was at a Xiaomi outlet in Xi’an, when a man asked me about my nationality and upon knowing that I am a Pakistani, he said: “India common enemy, we are brothers”. So India must belt its trousers as ‘Iron Brothers” are on the road to glory hand-in-hand.

Wangxin, our coordinator from Pingli County, told me she would love to visit Pakistan and study arts and culture there.

Pakistan officially shook hands with China in 1950, when the former severed ties with Taiwan (Republic of China) and recognized the People’s Republic of China. The rest is history. From the onset of this companionship, both nations have maintained tightly close, supportive, and friend-in-need-is-a-friend-indeed relationship. The republic has never shied away from extending economic, military, and technical assistance to its close strategic ally in the region.

Following the establishment of diplomatic relations, the republic first settled the border issues with Pakistan in 1963. China started its military assistance in 1966. Later in 1972, both brotherly nations struck a strategic alliance, whereas economic cooperation kicked off in 1979.

China has emerged as the biggest exporter of military hardware and the third-largest trading partner of Pakistan. The cooperation hit yet another acme with huge Chinese investment in the CPEC and the future of this partnership looks bright from all angles.

The People of the Republic

Chinese are smart, healthy, and friendly people. Vegetables constitute major part of their diet. ‘Early to bed and early to rise’ is their motto. Our dinner timings were 6:30pm onwards, which is very early compared to Pakistan’s eating habits. According to Zhang Lihua, Resident Scholar Carnegie-Tsinghua Center for Global Policy, the cultural values of a country influence its national psychology and identity. “The traditional cultural values that influence the psyche of the Chinese people are harmony, benevolence, righteousness, courtesy, wisdom, honesty, loyalty, and filial piety,” Lihua writes. She adds modern Chinese society tries to maintain harmony between humankind and nature; between people and society; between members of different communities; and between mind and body. “Benevolence, the core value of Confucianism, extends from the importance of familial ties and blood connections and is held in high esteem by the Chinese,” the scholar said. She explains that righteousness refers to justice and correctness, courtesy stresses modesty and prudence, while wisdom requires that one distinguish right from wrong, place capable people in suitable positions, know oneself, and be resourceful. “Whereas honesty refers to trustworthiness, integrity, and credibility and Loyalty stresses service to the motherland,” she added.

“Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated.” -- Confucius

Yinghu Lake, formed by the construction of Hydropower Station on the Han River, is the largest artificial lake in Northwest China and a famous tourist attraction.

From China with Change

I regret that our tight schedule forbade us from going to The Forbidden City, Tiananmen Square and some other must-see places, but we made the most of what we were offered. I also could not get to taste the famous Peking duck, the food choice of the Chinese Emperors. We also could not travel in the bullet rain. Even then, whatever I learned during those seven days about China cleared a lot of things. The visit transformed my way of looking at this unbelievably fascinating and at the same time staggeringly challenging to understand country. I went to China thinking I would not find it different from what I have so far believed it to be like, but, I returned home a changed man, to be honest.

“Real knowledge is to know the extent of one's ignorance.”-- Confucius