One Life is Not Enough to Understand China


Irfan Shahzad Takalvi

Some three years ago, with COVID-19 at the peak of its unprecedented devastation, a Chinese friend asked my opinion about the prospects for China achieving the goal of a moderately prosperous society – set for that very year, 2020.

Despite the havoc that deadly virus was creating, and China being hit the most at that time, I expressed exactly as I felt. My answer was: “In my view, as a China-watcher and following the developments related to China’s economy and society, the People’s Republic has already achieved the goal of Xiao Kang Shehui – moderately prosperous society – in more ways than one.”That was before China officially announced achieving the goal.

Why was I so convinced? Because in my view as a student of development, numbers and data tell us only half of the picture: what is more important is the level of confidence of the people, the ease the people notice and witness in living their day to day lives, and smooth access to basic necessities and civic services makes the real difference.  

In all these respects, travelling in various parts of China since early years of this century, I have personally found that people are highly confident, happy about what their country has achieved on economic, developmental as well as political and strategic fronts over past four decades; and every single Chinese citizen feels pride in his country’s miraculous turnaround.

After a Covid-caused frustrating gap of over three years, I was luckily able to visit China once again this April. The Study Tour organized by China NGOs Network for International Exchanges (CNIE), was an extensive undertaking involving visits to and interactions in Beijing,  HangZhou, YiWu, and ChongQing.

Thanks to Chinese Embassy in Islamabad, this was a wonderful learning and educative experience for a student of Sinology such as me, along with several others from Pakistan and half a dozen other nations. Yet another opportunity it was to witness China’s continuous strides towards unparalleled successes.

What China has been able to achieve is there, open, for everyone to notice. Be it basic livelihoods, food security, health and sanitation, education – and more importantly a sense of living in a peaceful nation – China’s people can rightly boast of an unprecedented record, finding no parallels in the contemporary history of the world.

Even when we talk in terms of numbers and data – be it per capita income, rural and urban wages, access to healthcare and educational institutions, farm to market roads and other communication services, access to finance and financial services, China is well on its way to achieve the goal of a moderately prosperous society, the goal set for 2020.

As a follower of China affairs, I may actually say that when Chinese leadership says “moderately prosperous society”, they are actually being very ‘modest’ about it. They, over past years in particular and since 1978 in general, have actually registered a turnaround and uplift for the people which in all respects is way beyond ‘moderate prosperity.’

The outbreak of and resultant losses from COVID-19, although of very high scale, were simply not able to make any big dent on China’s drive towards Xiao Kang Shehui – because the foundations of such a society are already too strong to be shaken, and the work alreadyregistered is too visible to be eclipsed. In fact, the way China overcame the pandemic and also gave the world time to prepare for it was a clear indication that China as a society is strong enough to emerge victorious out of such situations, and keep its people’s live safe, as well as their livelihoods keep moving, in times of such trouble.

The very concept of Xiao Kang Shehuiis based on millennia old values and strength of Chinese society; so the present government led by President Xi Jinping is doing all the right things to build upon this ancient foundation of their country.

The concept and efforts to achieve it are a clear indication that Chinese model – contrary to the capitalistic model – is not simply concerned about caring for the rich and powerful, but focus on Xiao Kang Shehuimakes it necessary that every single soul living within the boundaries of the nation shares the fruits of development and growth, equitably and correspondingly. One can notice the proof, all around the country.

Even if Chinese GDP grows somewhat slowly than past years – say the year of double-digit growth – it will not mean that continuous journey towards making China the greatest nation on earth faces any serious challenges. The journey towards realizing the ‘Chinese Dream’ is progressing ahead, right on target, in fact in a better way than an ordinary observer can fathom.

I have for long been saying to my Chinese friends as well as China-watchers like me elsewhere that ‘just one life is certainly not enough to understand China’, China of today, what it has achieved in such a short time of about a generation.

It needs no stress that Chinese leadership under visionary and able guidance of Xi Jinping, and cadres of Communist Party of China from top to bottom – at national, provincial, prefecture, county and even village level – have all worked exemplarily to take their country towards this proud moment. Much more, glorious and proud in all its essence,awaits the Chinese nation in years ahead.

The author is founding president of the Eurasian Century Institute (ECI), Islamabad-Pakistan. He may be accessed at [email protected]