© Jan Oberg “Biking Mom in Xian” Collage – 2023
TFF Board member
September 27, 2023
Certainly, China has evolved continually and progressively, step by step.
My expectations were high when I visited this autumn, my first trip post-pandemic. Between 2015 and 2020, I had visited this vast country almost 20 times. Each visit revealed positive changes and swift progress.
Allow me to share some observations from my daily experiences there.
Firstly, what remains unchanged is their absence of cheese (!). This tradition stems from their historical lack of cattle farming, prioritizing crops and vegetables. However, cows are now present, particularly in Hebei province’s highlands. They’ve even adapted to the sound of wind windmills, unlike the reindeer in Norway’s Sami-land.
Another crucial observation is the deep integration of mobile phones into daily life. You can hardly catch a taxi without a mobile app, and ordering coffee from the highly successful chain, Luckin Coffee, also necessitates an app. During my stay, they even introduced a coffee blend with a hint of Maotai, selling five million cups on the first day.
Mobile phones are indispensable for communication with non-English speaking Chinese, who still constitute the majority, especially in stores, hotels, and travel. Conversations in Beijing often become stressful and uncomfortable.
Though I couldn’t get my NFC payment app to work, paying with WeChat is fantastic. You can link your domestic debit or credit card if you lack a Chinese bank account.
Regarding mobile phones, Huawei made a sensational comeback after Trump’s attempts to dismantle the company. The founder, Ren Zhengfei, had laconically said, “Good, then we have to work harder” when the ordeal began.
Huawei has now launched the Mate 60Pro model, a fully 5G phone, coincidentally (?) on the day the US Secretary of Commerce, Gina Raimondo, visited Beijing. It was an unexpected sensation, taking the world by surprise. The contents remained a mystery: Do they now have a homemade 5G chip? How did this happen? Huawei remained silent, providing no comments. My conclusion: hard work pays off, along with brilliant marketing. (One among very many news reports about that new chip here).
I didn’t observe any significant changes.
It appears that the Chinese are focused on recovering from the pandemic and lockdowns. Traffic congestion remained the same, albeit with more brand-new electric vehicles. Parcel delivery boys on electric scooters dominated the streets, glued to their smartphones.
Mothers and grandparents escorted children to school, danced in squares in the evening, practiced tai chi in the morning.
I saw friendly smiles everywhere.
I once stayed at a simple hotel for a day, realizing it had previously been a quarantine facility, now converted to a full-fledged hotel. The black and white test station cars that frequently made headlines were still visible outside, hopefully not waiting for the next pandemic.
Since my last visit four years ago, I’ve learned about the 7D model for measuring culture-to-culture differences. It’s been developed by Fons Trompenars, Peter Peverelli and Charles Hampden-Turner in their book ”Has China Devised a Superior Path to Wealth Creation?”
One layer is Sequential vs. Synchronic. This experience illustrates it: At the Fiumicino airport in Rome, just a week after returning from China, I encountered a 100-meter-long double taxi line. The guard at the front sequentially picked passengers for each taxi. In Beijing’s Central Station West, the taxi line was similarly long, as always. However, the guard released batches of ten travellers from the line to enter the waiting taxis. The result: 50 minutes of queuing in Rome, only 5 minutes in Beijing.
With sadness, we now observe how European cities, particularly in southern Europe, have become increasingly dirty, with litter, cans, trash, and litter strewn everywhere.
When comparing this to the cities I visited this time – Beijing, Nanjing, and Suzhou – the difference became palpable: no litter, clean streets everywhere, neatly trimmed hedges and gardens, flowers, and well-maintained trees.
As Kishore Muhambati aptly put it, “They must be doing something right.”
Another observation was that prices remained largely unchanged from four years ago. Coffee, beer, and taxi fares were quite the same.
In contrast, prices in my home country, Norway, and throughout Europe have risen by 30% -40 % over the past two years – comparative facts woefully underreported in Western media. Europe is in a deep economic crisis – see this article on The Transnational.
Have I ever seen homelessness in China, day or night? Never, not then, and not now.
Do I fear being in danger from pickpockets, random shootings, beggars, or robberies in China? No!
I can’t say the same for European countries and cities. There, you must take numerous precautions regarding where to go, considering the risk of shootings, pickpockets, thieves, robbers, right-wing and left-wing extremists, terrorists, and recently released individuals from psychiatric institutions.
Many of my recent tweets have featured the hashtag “laggingbehind.” Indeed, we in the West are lagging behind. Perhaps that is what prevents the West from recognising and appreciating that the Chinese are doing something right?