Breathtaking Change–Meeting with another China
Author:Gerhard Faisst Date:2013-10-29

Gerhard Faisst and his wife Helga Faisst are long-term donors and true friends of G&S Foundation. Mr. Faisst has a memorable impression with China and travelled to China several times in the past. Meanwhile, through G&S Foundation, Mr. Faisst and his wife have dedicated and supported rural education in China, and often visit China's rural schools to share their experiences.


Essay written by Gerhard Faisst, October 29, 2013, Ludwigsburg-Germany

China is a country with a continuous culture stretching back nearly 5,000 years and varied history. Starting from 1979, when Deng Xiaoping introduced capitalist market principles,  China's economy began to show massive growth, averaging 10 percent GDP growth over the last 35 years. 

The first encounter with China and Beijing.You may feel strange, very strange. The standard look in grey and blue of the people, millions of people, mopeds, push cards, rickshas, the grey in grey of countless Hutongs. 

A picture, which should be kept in mind for many years.

Difficult to express in words what has happened since. The living standards of most Chinese people has improved considerably. Hundreds of millions of people were liberated from abject poverty. A great achievement! At the other end of the spectrum lives hundreds of thousands of dollar millionaires. Everybody who comes to Beijing and or to China first time nowadays, would be surprised and rub one’s eyes.

People dress in Western Style, the traffic seems to break all imaginary boundaries. Over five million cars! One of the largest and longest Subway Systems, most likely the best in the world.The TV ownership seems inferior to none. Smartphones are an indispensable part of the daily life in China.

Not only Beijing seems to be turned upside down just in a few years by countless billions of Euros, most of other cities have been also reinvent themselves.

Three Manhattans in Beijing

Knowing New York City, knowing Manhattan, but the offices and living spaces in Beijing are sizable that you might fit into three Manhattans.

It is visible to everyone, unbelievable what happend because it is breathtaking.

One may meet Chinese. What are they doing? Continuously learning, taking risk, starting something new.

Where ever you visit, you might see hard working people, to earn a living standard or to finance their growing demands of daily life.

Giant brand new shopping malls, glassy office buildings, expensive blocks of flats, uncountable but also soulless high-rise blocks. Residental areas are replacing the traditional Hutongs. Stately buildings for the rich. Well-off people showing with pride and swank what they have achieved. Status symbols of all kinds to be seen, particularly expressed by western luxuary cars dominating parts of the street scene. Many provincial airports are larger and more modern than in Europe’s capital cities.

Compare to the past, new highways cross over the entire country to the edge of the most remote provinces. High-speed-trains connect the mega cities within a few hours. Each giant ultramodern railway stations could cope 500.000 passangers on a daily basis.

To compare with all listed above, you may conclude that nothing has changed in Europe over decades, the old bakery on the corner is still there and all these seem lighter years away from Beijing.

End of the 1980s, mule cards still clogged the countryside type of roads to the Airport. Today, 5 million cars may clog the six-lane Airport Express Ways to the hypermodern Beijing International Airport, which is designed for 60 million passengers on annual. Another new Airport is under the planning stage.

The pressure is enormous.

Many Chinese people are justifiably proud about the overall achievements in China. They are pleasant about the increased opportunities and freedoms granted to them. But you may also feel a certain tension and nervousness. The consistent pressure is enormous.

Those who are not nimble, hard working or healthy enough to do so, can be shaked off easily.

You can expect to pity the others in a more and more individualistic society.

In a country with 1.3 billion people, the individual might perish, or will soon be forgot. 

Therefore many Chinese rush loud and with buff up front.

Impatience is felt not at least on the streets.

Rules and regulations seem not to count at all, every driver pushes himself forward to fill the gap, no matter how small it might be. If one stops at the crosswalk, it only takes seconds, before the driver gets angry honking, because they see no need to stop because of pedestrians.

As the result, traffic jams are wherever you are and clog ups at crossroads. 

The tension leaves many people appear aggressive and antisocial.

Sometimes, you experience a society under stress. Stress very often to be talked about in western societies , innocent and not aware about the real stress people are facing in China. After the socialist time of management the society has been burdened on a lot within a very short time.

Suddenly, you have to fear to loose your job, pay for expensive doctor bills and to take care for the pension by yourself.

In addition with little or no social insurance.

Not all endure the hardships, family ties break. Those who capable, left their village and looking for a job in the city or in the industrial zone of the country. Sometimes, they have to leave the old and young behind.

In the rural and poorer areas of China, people still suffer from hardship.

To live in China for many people means:Eternal crush,crash and hard competition

Much happens on a lighting speed, and sometimes ruthlessly.

Despite all this, from a European perspective you may go into raptures, not without to sigh, how slow and tough things going ahead at home. 

In contrast in China: "Politicians and managers act quickly and decisively, how reform oriented they are,the Europeans call!" 

We, Germans might plan for years, spend endless time on approval procedures, go to court, then plan again before a new railwaystation might be started to be realized. But in China? Within two years the new high-speed-train between Shanghai and Hangzhou is in operation.

For a new Highway, a new factory, a new residential neighborhood, a new school? It sometimes only takes few days until the authorities confer "the Green Light".

Even fields are leveled, laid connections, disturbing houses demolished.

Which is the better way? 

Americanization and taste of Western culture

The Globalization and economic boom have changed the traditional society of China, particulary in the urban areas.

The younger generation seems to disregarding the more tradional approach from their parents and grandparents. 

The children from the Cultural Revolution Generation, as they are dubbed: the "Millennials", have different point of views apart from their parents.

It seems like more and more of the "Cultural Revolution" parents are somewhat supportive to the individualism.

The most drastic viewpoint is that of individualism versus collectivism. More westernized "cool" thinking is prefered, rather than thinking of the collective as in the past.

Still many of the older people stick to the tradition, there is still resentment against America and the western. But as intellectuals might sneer at the Western’s pop culture and decadent capitalism.

The turning trend of all the things related to "American or Western" in China are expressed particularly in the larger cities. Though some Chinese are contemptuous of the so-called "American Dream", and many young and old want to participate. 

Learning is a valuable asset.

Education in China: No topic can be discussed as exited as school and university.

As in the most of countries in the world, parents in China under the one-child-policy restriction, they seem to have only one goal, children should have a better life and future as oneself.

They should never ever suffer, no more hunger and political chaos.

But in order to survive in the unfettered capitalism of China, they believe a highschool diploma is necessary.

Those with wealth, can send their children to educate in England, Australia or S.America.

More than half million of youngsters have studied at the universities in the S.America, Europe, Australia or other oversea countries.

But there is a big gap between expectations and reality.

Almost all primary school students, whether in the city or countryside, if you ask for their preferences of the future career, they will choose a career with a university background as required. 

Even so only five percent of the Chinese have a university degree, compare to 21 percent in European Union.

However within only ten years (1995 – 2005), the number of students have increased by more than fivefold. In 2005, 15 million of youngsters has been educated and this number has increased to 24.8 million in 2008.

Who fails, is most likely lost forever

If you are willing to be successful in China or if you would like to ender a career path, the pressure begins from elementary school. This is the foundation if someone wants to "survive" the rock-hard examination to reach to the secondary school. 

Only the best can hope for a place in one of the elite type schools in Beijing, whose testimony guarantees a good job in China. 

Anyone who stumbles on this thorny journey, will be lost forever. For the entrance examination to middle school the chance is only ones. The examination for the university one may repeat.  

The "Black July" is the period in early July of every year, the whole nation gets in a state of emergency. All applicants have to proof their knowledge to join the university.

The pressure on young people also has an financial background: Parents are asked to pay for good schools and high schools. 

They charge a annual tuition fee around RMB 30.000 yuan (3.600 euros). Thus investment is worth it, many adults rob their children a carefree youth.

In many cases, teachers are demanding too much of their students.

A mix of iron pressure and traditional chalk and talk type of lessons do not promote or only barely lead to creativity, flexibility or social intelligence. 

Desired are rather the old virtues of obedience, diligence and memorization of texts and figures..

This is not only to demand from students but also for the teachers.

The teachers' knowledge, training and education are very often not updated to the level of basic requirement and spirit of the time. 

In recent years, the country has succeed to provide the school with technical equipments, state of the art, even in comparison to some good European schools. But the impression might come up, that in contrast to the "hardware" and "software", the teachers especially in the countryside have lacks of teaching  and learning materials to both students and themselves .

Better or/and more qualified teachers are urgently needed to overcome these significant deficiencies or shortcomings.

Assistance on the business society, economy and institutions, as well as private support is urgently needed.

The author has been delighted to be partner and donor in the past, prepared to also contribute in the future. Without any doubt, the young students and their parents,  particularly in the poor and rural areas deserved that their dreams come true.

Being part of and benefit of another China.