Shanghai 5 Years Later: More Money, More Subways
LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:
After five years in London, NPR's Rob Gifford has returned to China as our Shanghai correspondent, and he's surprised by what he's seeing.
ROB GIFFORD: You hear a lot of talk about how China will take over the world, or how it already has. And certainly, on returning to urban China after five years away, it can seem shockingly impressive.
There were two subway lines in Shanghai in 2005. Now, there are 13. I've been getting on some of those subway lines and rubbing shoulders with the new Chinese middle class, the new consumers whose purchasing power - some say -will save the U.S. economy.
They jab away at their iPads, read their Chinese versions of Cosmopolitan and Men's Health magazine about how to improve their sex lives and their muscle tone, and they shop at IKEA at the weekend. In many ways, it feels like New Jersey or Illinois, just with better Chinese restaurants.
Of course, there is plenty beneath the surface that's not quite so modern. People here tell me that controls on what you can publish or post on the Internet have actually tightened. YouTube and Facebook and Twitter are blocked. But guess what? Middle class people I speak to don't seem to care, because they have their own Chinese versions. The Communist Party has bought them off by greatly increasing their living space, and now - completely without irony the Party presents itself as the champion of the bourgeoisie.
But it's clear the city is not where the problems now lie. As urban China has sprinted closer to urban America, it's opened up a huge gulf with rural China, and it's this gap that matters the most now: how to bring those hundreds of millions of farmers out of poverty before they get too angry, and environmentally, how China can continue its breakneck growth without actually breaking its own neck.
A lot of the talk abroad - that China has created an enduring new paradigm of a one-party state with a market economy - seems very far wide of the mark when you see the problems of the countryside. For all the change, the dust has not settled on what modern China is going to be. To borrow what Winston Churchill said in 1942: It's not the end. It's not even the beginning of the end. But it may just be the end of the beginning. And it's good to be back to witness it.
Rob Gifford, NPR News, Shanghai.
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