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China: witnessing the birth of a superpower -
June 19, 2012
Sepi ⌘ سپی
"When I moved to Beijing in August 2003, I believed I had the best job in the world: working for my favourite newspaper in the biggest nation at arguably the most dramatic phase of transformation in its history. In the past decade, it has given me a front-row seat to watch 200-odd years of industrial development playing at fast forward on a continent-wide screen with a cast of more than a billion. That said, I am glad my daughters were young and easy to please back then or we might well have taken the first plane out of the country. As we drove from the airport to our apartment, I tried to maintain an upbeat chatter. "Look at all the kites," I said as we passed Chaoyang park, even though my heart sank at the tatty buildings, endless construction sites and stultifying haze. In my head, I asked myself: "Have I done the right thing for them?" We had come from Japan – a democratic, comfortable, polite, hygiene-obsessed, orderly, first-world nation – to the grim-looking capital of a developing, nominally communist country that looked and sounded like a giant building site. For all enthusiasm, my family must have felt we were taking a step backwards in lifestyle. It required an adjustment of preconceptions. Like many newcomers, I delighted at discoveries of Chinese literature and Daoist philosophy, Beijing parks, the edgy eccentricity of Dashanzi and the glorious mix of classicism and obscenity in the Chinese language, though I never managed to master it. The mix of communist politics and capitalist economics appeared to have created a system designed to exploit people and the environment like never before. It was so unequal that Japan appeared far more socialist by comparison. And it was changing fast. As swaths of the capital were being demolished and rebuilt for the Olympics, there was an exhilarating (and sometimes disorientating) sense of mutability. Everything seemed possible. Looking back over the stories that followed, it is hard to believe so much could be...
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