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2023 China Insights
In November 2023, I went on an enlightening journey to China, visiting the bustling metropolis of Shanghai and the Zhejiang Province. This trip offered me an interesting perspective on the evolving landscape of China, marked by its less international ambience and the impact of various socio-economic factors.
A shift away from internationalism
One of the most noticeable changes was the diminishing presence of international businesses and expatriates. Factors contributing to this shift included rising labour costs, perceived political risks, and less favourable visa policies. Additionally, disparities in Fin-tech and IT infrastructure compared to international standards have affected foreign investments.
The export sector, a crucial part of China’s economy, faces challenges due to overreactions to Covid-19, migration of international businesses, and reduced global demand influenced by geopolitical risks. These shifts have also favoured state-owned businesses, signalling a significant policy redirection.
Aging population and pension discrepancies
2023 marked a demographic milestone where India’s population surpassed China’s. An ageing population coupled with a problematic pension system poses challenges. Government retirees receive significantly higher pensions compared to their counterparts from the private sector, leading to dissatisfaction among both retired and working populations. This imbalance has created an overwhelming demand for government jobs, with reports of a single position attracting thousands of applicants.
Education and health: undergoing transformation
The declining population has led to the merging or closure of several schools. China’s education system, still anchored in the “Tian Ya” model, focuses more on collective achievement than nurturing individual creativity. The cultural norm of “juan”, which emphasises excelling in competitive environments, places immense pressure on students and their families.
The health sector has been under strain, with a growing lack of confidence among the populace. An increase in sudden deaths has added to the unease, highlighting the need for systemic improvements.
IT and Fin-tech
The Fin-tech and IT infrastructure, not fully compatible with international standards, has created unique challenges, especially for the elderly, making them susceptible to scams. The intensive use of ID cards linked to mobile numbers in transportation systems, though efficient, poses issues for foreigners who must use passports as substitutes.
Next Gen dilemma and the “lie flat” movement
Often supported by their parents, wealthy young couples can start families with considerable assets, including property and luxury cars. However, the immense resources required to raise children, emulating their upbringing, have led to a reluctance to start families. This has given rise to the “lie flat” lifestyle, where young people choose to opt out of the traditional race for success and material wealth, seeking a more laid-back approach to life.
The quest for family trees
A growing interest in ancestral heritage has led many, including myself, to explore our family trees. The Cultural Revolution’s impact on historical records, such as the destruction of “ZuPu” (family registers), has made this a challenging endeavour. I discovered that my family’s “ZuPu” was last updated in 1918, tracing back to a prime minister from the Song dynasty. This revelation has sparked a family project to update our lineage, bridging a century-long gap.
Each trip to China reinforces my connection to my heritage and shapes my understanding of myself and my culture. Despite the challenges and transformations, the essence of China’s rich history and its evolving identity continue to fascinate and inspire me.