Next stage economic reform in China | A Billion Chinese Dreams | Part 3/4

What is the Chinese Dream? For President Xi Jinping, it is about country and nation But what is this dream made of for the ordinary Chinese? In this series, journalist and writer, Zhou Yijun, travels across China to size up the shifting shape of this dream In 2009, journalist Peter Hessler wrote, “Country Driving: A Chinese Road Trip” It became a bestseller for its in-depth observations about ordinary Chinese life Now, host Zhou Yijun will revisit the characters and towns that first appeared in Hessler’s book Following four routes on this trip, she’ll explore four development issues in China today In this episode, Yijun gets on the world’s largest high-speed rail network Travelling north to south, she’ll visit the cities that represent economic stories of the past and the present For the ordinary workers and entrepreneurs powering China’s economy, what fuels their Chinese Dream? The starting point of Yijun’s journey of discovery is Fuxin, a small industrial city located in China’s northeast Once a year, the city turns into a racing town The sound of engines thundering in the air is heard throughout the mountain range This is the Fuxin that most Chinese people know about But the city has a lesser-known side On the outskirts of Fuxin City lies what used to be Asia’s largest open pit mine, Haizhou Mine Since it was depleted and closed years ago, the site has been transformed into a coal mountain park It stands as a record of the city’s golden age of development 83-year-old Zhao Changqing is the former chief engineer at Haizhou He still speaks of the old days with clarity As its coal deposits ran out, what was once Asia’s largest open pit mine closed in 2005 It dragged down Fuxin’s economy The energy and natural resources industries, once the major providers of jobs, fell into decline Many workers faced layoffs With its coal mines exhausted,

the Chinese government listed Fuxin as the country’s first resource-depleted city By the early 2000s, a quarter of Fuxin’s residents were living below the poverty line, subsisting on less than US$23 a month Many former miners left Fuxin, never to return The unexpected closure and decline of the coal mining industry affected many lives in this city In “Country Driving”, Peter Hessler wrote about the environmental impact of China’s all-out development model in the northeast In the Mao era, Fuxin embodied the belief in “man over nature” It’s an example of the demands that the Chinese people made on its land The indiscriminate exploitation of resources has been fatal to Fuxin, leading to the irreversible depletion of resources in the city The resource exhaustion in Fuxin is only a snapshot of the gloomy outlook in Northeast China At the China Industrial Museum, the golden age of Northeast China’s economy is on display, showing the pivotal role of heavy industries for the country The old industrial base here was once the most important engine of China’s economic development But that era has passed For decades, industrial development in the Northeast relied on the region’s natural resources But with their rapid depletion, coupled with outdated and ageing equipment, the old economic development model no longer works Two hundred kilometres east of Fuxin lies the city of Shenyang, once the industrial heart of the Northeast Here we find a beer bar the locals call ‘Poor Man’s Paradise’ It seems like a good place to taste the reality of life for the people here From 1998 to 2003, more than 28 million people lost their jobs at the state-owned enterprises across China In those decades, the shadow of unemployment hung over almost every family in the Northeast Here, Yijun has arranged to meet with a group of people caught in the wave of layoffs They lost their jobs in this city one after the other It costs just five yuan, or less than a dollar,

to get a pitcher of beer here, possibly the cheapest beer you can find anywhere in China That’s why many laid off local workers come here to stretch their dollar The lady boss here is Sister Wang As China’s economic development took off in the 80s, the inland areas in Northeast China languished While the coastal areas began to attract large amounts of foreign investment and moved into technologically advanced industries, the Northeast held on to the extraction of natural resources and an outdated economic model But having fallen behind for so long, change seems to be coming to the Northeast A new technological revolution has reached the region Yijun has come to Shenyang, one of Northeast China’s major industrial cities, to see how ordinary people are adapting to an economy in transition In this city, we have witnessed the rise and fall of Chinese Industrial Revolution and now we will step into the promising future, right behind this wall In 2018, China produced close to 40% of the world’s industrial robots It is also the largest market, accounting for a third of demand In the world’s most populous country, robots are also replacing traditional human labour Founded in 2000, this high-tech company falls under the Chinese Academy of Sciences, and employs more than 4,000 researchers It is China’s largest robot producer Born and raised in the industrial town of Shenyang,

Chen Weilian studied automation in university The company he ended up working for was founded by one of China’s pioneer robotics researchers, and relies mostly on young science graduates who, like Weilian, were born after 1980 Owing to its history of heavy industries, Northeastern China is home to many science and engineering universities But because many young people prefer to move to the affluent coastal cities after graduation, brain drain has long been an issue here But Chen Weilian believes the trend is reversing The Chinese government recognised the north-south gap when it rolled out the Northeast Revitalisation Programme in 2003, designed to help the Northeast restructure its heavy industries Despite these efforts, the region never experienced the rapid growth of the coastal areas But with young people like Chen Weilian, the region’s hopes may yet be fulfilled Today, the Northeast is taking lessons from the manual of the coastal areas, and investing in high-tech industries to transform its economy The next stop on this trip on the high-speed railway network is Guanyun, a town so small that most Chinese people have not even heard about it

When writer Peter Hessler drove through the villages and towns in China in the early 2000s, he discovered an interesting development When a town becomes very good at making a certain product, it ends up dominating the national output, sometimes up to 50% of the market share in this vast country Hessler was deeply intrigued by this phenomenon Guanyun is a town that has become synonymous with a surprising product In the past, people rarely discussed sex toys and intimate wear in public But in a few short years, Guanyun’s lingerie producers managed to become the market leaders in China The annual industry fair also takes place here The way Hessler saw it, the business model of “Made in China” is straightforward; low investment, low quality, low profit, and generally low education level of entrepreneurs The biggest change since Peter Hessler’s book is the advent of the internet Businesses started by young people today are nothing like the state-run enterprises of old And 28-year-old Lei Congrui is proof of that By going online, young businesspeople like Lei Congrui have turned Guanyun into China’s “Lingerie Capital” The internet has turned out to be the perfect sales platform since people prefer to buy their lingerie in private 90% of the world’s lingerie is produced in China And more than half of that comes from Guanyun To understand how these small villages and towns across the country have been able to dominate world markets, Yijun takes a look inside Lei Congrui’s factory The success story of e-commerce businesses in China

has been a phenomenal one, and it has ignited the unbridled ambitions of entrepreneurs all over China Then only 15 years old, Lei Congrui started by selling health products, condoms, and cosmetics online, before turning to focus on lingerie By the time he was in university, he had already made his first million The company he started at 18, right after his college entrance exams, has become one of Guanyun’s largest lingerie manufacturers In many ways, China’s rise is built on the backs of these entrepreneurs in the small and medium-sized enterprises And what is evident here is also the dedication of these female workers who have chosen to remain home instead of moving to the big cities, so that their children may dream the bigger dreams After more than a decade since Hessler’s visit to China, China is still very much seen as the “factory of the world” But how will the reality of these factory workers differ from the dreams of those who work in the “creative factories” of China? Taking another high-speed train, Yijun continues her journey south In his book, Peter Hessler introduced a town called Lishui in Zhejiang province The town became known for creating a whole industry

based on imitating the French Barbizon School of art Dafen, a village located in Shenzhen, has a similar reputation It is also famous for the mass production of world famous paintings The oil paintings produced here once accounted for more than 70% of the international market share Huang Jiang is something of a pioneer here An art dealer originally from Hong Kong, he came to Dafen in the 90s and helped transform it from an ordinary rural village into a town famous for oil paintings Inside this mall owned by Huang Jiang, many of the tenants used to be his students They come from all over the country, became good enough to take painting orders, before setting up shop here As one of Dafen’s first art dealers, Huang Jiang’s business grew to become China’s largest exporter of oil paintings for a time He counted America’s Walmart among his customers With so many orders to fulfil, he had no choice but to invent a new method of painting Zhao Xiaoyong is one of Huang Jiang’s most prolific students He is well known for imitating the works of Van Gogh Like him, Zhao Xiaoyong’s brother

also makes a living by copying the works of Van Gogh In a way, painting like this isn’t too different from assembly line production Even people without artistic backgrounds can learn to create copies that are good enough for export And while some may question the ethics, or see this as un-creative, repetitive work, it does produce reasonably priced artworks that can be appreciated by ordinary people the world over Arguably, China’s assembly line painters have made the world of art more accessible The final stop is the Dafen Art Museum Huang Jiang believes that the artists in Dafen are not just good at imitation, they have a strong creative side as well The increase in China’s participation in the world economy

has been nothing short of dramatic But today, we see a change from the challenges of economic transition to the challenges of economic development The Chinese talk about the “losers” of reform, as the benefits of opening up becomes more and more uneven But in this journey through China’s industrial heartland, we’ve also seen the resilience of the people, and the simple dreams that fuel their daily lives