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China Meets the World (7) -- Again Shanghai__Kong Shiu Loon

China Meets the World (7) ----Again Shanghai

by Kong Shiu Loon 江紹倫



My wife and I stood there in awe, under the Shanghai World Financial Center Observatory, 474 meters tall. We had just been on top, among so many others. Now, looking up from the ground, the upper part of the building becomes skewed in perspective, appearing like a gigantic sword blazing the sky, mute as it speaks.

People around us were different. They chatted and strolled naturally in the big plaza, without any sign of emotional stir. Parents tended their child, old folks sat in respite, young people dashed about to take pictures. All of them were from other parts of China, visiting Shanghai for the first time. This gave ticket-paddlers a ready advertisement gimmick, as they shouted, “Do not waste hours to line up for tickets to see the Observatory. You can have them from me for $180 RMB each, only $30 extra. Your time in Shanghai is precious because you only visit once, and for a day or two. You must see this tallest building in the world. It would be like not having been in Shanghai if you did not go up there to see all around. With each ticket, you will get a Proof Certificate from the World Ginny’s Record. Buy fast, for few tickets are left. Buy now and run to join the queue before others get ahead of you.”

It was about three in the afternoon. The place was cool under an overcast sky. There were about a hundred people scattering around, all in relaxed, holiday mood. Yonder in a distance, about 100 meters from us, two long queues were in action, with people waiting to get into the Observatory. “This is beyond my imagination,” I said softly to my wife, breaking the silence imposed by the awe feeling that had struck us.

“Yes, I have the same feeling too,” she responded quietly. “To think that all these have sprung up so recently, and without fanfare,” she added.

We shared our amazement by looking at all four sides, to see the forest of some fifty skyscrapers of all shapes, sizes and altitude. We noticed something familiar, two HSBC Buildings, a Bank of East Asia Building, and a Chattered Bank Building in the lot. Each of them was larger in size than its headquarter building in Hong Kong. Whatever these facts mean for China and the world, they had emerged without us knowing about them. This is why we felt a sense of awe as we stood there. It is also because we knew that, beyond this forest of massive cements and steels, some one hundred other skyscrapers had sprung up in other parts of Shanghai in the last 10-15 years. The dynamics of money and human energy was simply amazing.


My wife and I both have roots with Shanghai, in diverse variations. She was born here. She was studying medicine at the First Medical School (now of Fudan University Medical School) when the Cultural Revolution broke out. She was at second year when the authorities decided to graduate her and send her to work as a bare-foot doctor, deep in the mountains of Guizhou Province. There she treated patients for seven years, before she had a chance to leave China to qualify herself as a full-fletch physician in Hong Kong. At the crossing of the Lo Wu Bridge joining China and the then British Colony, she turned back to take a last look at the Five-star Flag flying on the other side, and vowed that she would henceforth expand her world, instead of being bound by orders of her motherland.

I did not have the same traumatic experience, because I left China just before the People’s Republic was founded. As a child, I had read a small book in my father’s library entitled Shanghai, Paradise for Explorers上海,冒險家的樂園. It narrates the deeds of the compradors 買辦 and the success of a Jewish family in that city. It was a classic story for Shanghai. Then, there was the fleeting image of a newsreel, showing The Eight Hundred Brave Warriors八百壯士 defending the wharf front of Shanghai against the serial attacks of the Japes. Madam Chiang Kai-shek, in her smart Girl Guide Uniform, was supervising the flow of supporting materials for the soldiers. These were images that called Shanghai to a child’s attention during the naïve days before the Japanese occupation of Hong Kong, where I was born. In time, it turned out that my experience with Shanghai would be personal, involving professional roles.

Personal Encounter

As China went through a stormy change in the years of 1947-50, tens of thousands of refugees from China rushed into Hong Kong. We called those among them who had lots of money, Shanghainese. They had brains too, as we, students of Wah Yan College Kowloon, encountered them joining our classes in large numbers. The Shanghai boys spoke better English, were Catholics, and appeared generally confident. Most of them did not mix with us locals well. But the solid ones did, like Charles Li Yip Kwong 李業廣, who hanged around with our play-group in many after-school activities. He and I became good friends. For some forty years after we had left school, we kept watch of one another in the news, as we separately did our best to enhance the wellbeing of Hong Kong and China.

Charles invited me for lunch one day in June, 1997. We had not seen one another since we left Wah Yan College in 1953. He informed me that he had been appointed to the Executive Council in the new government. He also told me that he was concerned that the tertiary education budget was too excessive relative to enrolment and the quality of graduates. “Is it possible to do something concrete to improve matters?” he asked.

“Yes” I responded
“Would you help?”
“Here is from one Wahyanite to another. We need leadership and commitment to promote good educational change. It means having vision and courage to do what is not ordinary. I do not believe the new government has any of these.”

We met at a public function about two years later, when I asked him why he had quit EXCO. His answer was crisp and simple, “you were correct about the government.”

Another Shanghainese friend was Hu Ji-chang 胡紀常 whom I met when I arrived at Toronto in 1958. He was a contemporary of Zhou En-lai, studying Economics at the Sorbonne, early in the 20 century. He was a kind old man living alone at the time, and we became friends. We did not foresee that our friendship would continue through generations of his descendants, and resulted in positive developments in personal and public affairs, reflecting changes in China.

In my first visit to Shanghai in the spring of 1973, I brought clothing and canned food to see Mr. Hu, who had returned to live with his family for some years. It was a time when trust between people was tainted by fear, friends and family members included. But he managed to gather all members of his family in Shanghai to meet me, thus sowed the seed of friendship between me and his children and grandchildren. He died in 1974. In time, it was his elder son, Dr. Hu Xu Chu 旭初 who organised a special seminar at the Biological Section of the Chinese Academy of Science for me to speak on the latest development in Psychology. That was in the fall of 1981. It marked the beginning of the revival of Western Psychology in China, after it had been banned for three decades.

There are a number of family clans in the Jiangsu/Zhejiang area famed for having extraordinary talents, like the Hu胡, the Mei梅 and the Qian錢 etc. Mr Hu has two sons and three daughters who are very accomplished in medicine, computer technology and music. I am covering here only his three grandsons from his eldest son. Two of them are now medical researchers in the United States: one at Harvard and the other at Johns Hopkins. The third son, Wen Zho文宙, is a violinist. He taught himself the hard way during the Cultural Revolution when Western music was outlawed. For ten long years, when he was only a boy, he practised the violin with the use of cotton strings, which gave out only weak sounds. To be heard practising the violin in those days would be considered “imperial bourgeois”, a crime. He later became first violinist at the National Orchestra. I secured a scholarship for him to study at McGill in 1986. He later became an assistant of Menuhin. He is now a professor of violin in a British university.

Through encounters with people over time, I had been fortunate to feel the pulse of Shanghai as it went through a trajectory path of development. In education I had worked with two successive presidents of East China Normal University華東師範大學 and three consecutive presidents of Fudan University復旦大學. In addition, there was the Shanghai Workers’ University上海工人大學, created to replace all universities during the 1960s. Later, I helped to put it on a normal educative path by introducing the help of the International Institute for Education Planning of UNESCO. In the process I made friends with many scholars, some of whom I had covered in other parts of this series of articles.

Initial images

My first physical encounter with Shanghai gave me mixed feelings about this China’s most important industrial and educational city. I arrived in May 1973, leading a group of overseas professors and their families, flying from Beijing. A bus took us from the airport to stay at the International Hotel 國際飯店. It was early afternoon. The streets were filled with thousands of running bicycles. It seemed that all riders were ringing their bells, filling the air with this indescribable sound. It was a clear silvery tone that pleased the ears. But, it became an annoying sound when it went on without pause.

Our bus was the only motor vehicle on most streets. Whenever it stopped, there would be throngs of people who came to watch us, with staring eyes that pierced our nerves. It seemed like we were animals encaged in the bus, being watched by interesting zoo visitors. It was an uncertain time. It was also a time for change. President Nixon had just been in, a signal for the establishment of diplomatic relations between China and the United States, hitherto biter foes. However; it was still a time of intense ideological struggle for China to find its identity, with which to meet the world.

We were given a briefing after settling in. We would be visiting the newly constructed Yangtze River Bridge, a technological triumph of Chinese engineering. Nicknamed “a crevice cut by a knife from heaven”天塹and “The Long River”長江, the Yangtze was a divide between the south and the north of China throughout history. It tenuously kept the country in two broad regions of peoples and cultures. It was only now that this bridge, carrying train tracks and a highway, could provide the necessary link. It was therefore of great political and economic significance. After all, the People’s Republic was a united country where all peoples and life styles were the same.

We had supper at 4 p.m. so the restaurant could close at 5, regulation time. The food was lavish, twelve dishes of sumptuous gourmet with huge servings. We could only finish half of them. We intentionally left two meat dishes untouched so they might be used by the staff. We were told they would be discarded because no one would eat food left by capitalist foreigners, the identity given us. I spotted two fat rats the size of a cat walking slowly by at the time we were eating. I noticed the waiters were aware of their presence. They did not seem surprised or annoyed by that unusual sight.

We visited the Whanpo District Number One Secondary School early the next morning. We were greeted by a student leader who was fourteen years old, sharp and confident. As he led us up the stairs to the welcoming hall I felt embarrassed and sick, having to avoid stepping on the thick layers of spits that covered almost every inch of the floor. We did not meet any teacher. But we were entertained by a shooting act held in the school yard. There, hanging on a line about twenty feet above ground, were a number of large and small balloons. Our host, the student leader, informed us that all students were practising shooting so they could defend the motherland against class enemies and imperial renegades. Then, with a whistle blow, six youngsters appeared to take up position on the ground, lying on their bellies. With another whistle they shot burst all balloons with their airguns.

At the Shanghai Workers’ University, we were warmly met by the President, an expert mold-designer, and the Secretary-General of the Revolutionary Committee, an expert metal-grinder. They appeared confident and affable, giving us a rundown of the make-up of the university and its research focus and achievements. “Workers are intelligent and creative,” they said, “They are the future of our motherland. The goal of our university is to help workers recognise that they are the true masters of society, and they should rule all the other classes in our land.” We were then shown a mirror-like piece of steel, to admire the perfect grinding achieved by a presumably revolutionary technique. We then visited a laboratory where a scientist of worker origin, Mr. Cai Zu Quan蔡祖泉, had invented “a mini sun”, an energy conserving lighting system which would soon light up the streets of Beijing and Shanghai. I thanked the host for such an inspiring reception, knowing that it would be meaningless to enquire about professors and courses in the vast university of eighty thousand enrolments.

Continuing Images

I left the Chinese University of Hong Kong to return to the University of Toronto (where I was on secondment) in the summer of 1975. I busied myself doing research at Stanford and, subsequently, serving at Cambridge as Resident Scholar in 1980. It was not until the following year that I resumed my visits to Shanghai. By then I was involved with the establishment of Shekou, China’s first Special Economic Zone in the experimental Reform and Opening Movement (see the first and fourth articles in this series).

I was asked to give a special address to the faculty and graduate students of East China Normal University (a general university similar to the US state universities) in the winter of 1982. After the death of Chairman Mao, universities all over the country were inching back to perform their normal functions. Nevertheless, professors were still timid, after having been dispatched to farms, factories and reform camps in one way or another. They had also grown old and weak. Graduate schools were opened first, to accommodate those young people who had done high school and some university courses before 1965, and who had pursued self-study even as they were doing labour work. There were no undergraduate students because teenagers who had gone through the revolution did not attend school. They knew nothing except to roam the country to do class struggle. Special make-up programs had to be installed in universities to help potential students learn basic literacy.

I spoke about the difference between having a free belief and following an enforced ideology of mass hysteria. Modern psychology had shown the success of human engineering or behavioural modification, derived from experiments done with animals. As a tool it was being used in mental hospitals to treat patients. Special applications had also been made in factories and the army, to guide behaviour toward certain directions. These had met with much condemnation by the public. Or they were simply used in secret. A case in point was that the US armed forces had been training new recruits to kill targeted enemies automatically, without time to think or to feel.  A Marshall Survey performed during the Second World War had revealed that less than 20% of US soldiers fired at human beings, even when they were attacked. It was because the soldiers then were “afraid to kill”. By the time of the Vietnam War, and after the special training, more than 90% of US soldiers fired at people, even if they were children and civilians.

I also spoke on the importance of education in nation building, especially education designed to free the mind rather than to imprison it. Before I retired that evening, seven graduate students and a young lecturer came to see me. They all wanted to find ways to study abroad, “regardless how hard it might be”. Later, I was able to help three to go to the United States and one to Canada. Regretfully, none of them had chosen to return to China after they had completed their studies.

Preparation for Flight

Shanghai is a large educational city. There are some 50 tertiary institutions, serving not only local students, but also students from all parts of China and the world. It has therefore a solid knowledge base in all areas of economic endeavours. However, because of political and other decisions, while other special economic zones on China’s eastern coast were thriving during the decade following the Reform and Opening Movement, Shanghai remained relatively stagnant.

I had been visiting Shanghai once or twice per year since 1982. Other than educational consultation and training, I had also participated in the planning and implementations of other infrastructure establishments, such as the Shanghai-Nanjing Freeway. But official decisions were often indeterminate, and actions slow. The turning point came in 1994-95. I was in town for the Chinese New Year. Elsewhere, most cities imposed strict bans on firecrackers. But Shanghai was in a blaze, with firecrackers and fireworks keeping the sky in flame throughout the New Year’s Eve and the early hours of the following morning. The streets were like battleground. One could be hit off guard by firecrackers while driving even on small lanes. In all, it was like the people were celebrating the New Year with a vengeance.

It was a most unusual phenomenon. No one knew if the city government had permitted the firing. In other cities, the ban was enforced, not because of possible fire hazards, but for fear of sabotage when a city was allowed to let off these thunderous sounds, accompanied by brazing fire. But Shanghai did show its unpredicted fanfare. I watched a few people in the neighbourhood letting off long strings of firecrackers and rounds of precision firework missiles. A small group brought in half a truckload of ammunitions to do the fun. They chanted the slogan “The more intense the fire, the more prosperous will the new year be” 愈燒愈旺. On estimate, this group burned off nearly half a million RMB’s worth of works to signal the profit they had made, and to anticipate that business profits would multiply in the days ahead. I talked to some children who were joining the fun. I could not find anyone spending less than three or four hundred RMBs in a single game. Money was for fun and expression.

Four days later, I rode with Professor Zheng Shao Lian 鄭紹濂 in his chauffeured car to visit Zhejiang University浙江大學 in Hangzhou杭州. I praised the smooth traffic out of the city. He explained that the city planners had done an excellent job, by building a network of overpass highways to extend Shanghai outwards, like the pictorial structure of its old name, Shen 申, with a main cross surrounded by a square. It eased much of the original inner-city traffic congestions, and connected Shanghai to all the thriving neighbouring cities in the Yangtze River delta region. “We are now poised to make leap-flog developments in economic expansion that no one could dream of before”, he said with a great sense of pride. He knew. He was the Dean of the School of Management of Fudan University.

Dreams and Deeds

The people of Shanghai had been known to dream big and do things big. The style is called Hai Pai 海派, literally “style of the sea”. The small group mentioned above, who burned off about half a million RMB of firecrackers in 30 minutes, is a typical representation. The group was operating only a small company manufacturing stylish garments in a small village in the suburb. You could imagine what a big company      would do. I remember some of my classmates in 1952-53 who came from Shanghai as refugees. They had pocket money of piles of 10-20 one hundred Hong Kong dollar bills, nicknamed “red snappers”, while the rest of us had in our pockets 10-20 cents to buy a bun or a bag of peanuts. The average high school graduate of Wah Yan would be glad to secure a civil service job after school, earning HK$260 a month. Some of the Shanghai boys were aiming to be world-class magnates in business.

The people who remained in China had no dreams, at least not dreams for wealth. In the socialist state since 1949, successive generations of people were taught “to serve the people”為人民服務, with no regard for self, like Lei Feng 雷鋒, the national hero. However, that was a deception. When the time came for the expression of personal desires during the Cultural Revolution, the children and youths of Shanghai went wild, as they competed to do the biggest damage to rid the renegade class, and everything considered to be old and traditional. The old hai pai surfaced among the people, just as they thought that traditional habits had no value.

It is not difficult to obtain statistics of the economic growth of Shanghai in the last fifteen years. But that did not tell how money is made and spent. It is perhaps more telling if we observe changes in people, and the way they now live, compared to how it was 15 years ago:

  1. Name brand fashion was never heard of before. Today, ad-signs of Gucci and LV etc. are seen in city-block sizes, covering major buildings. Walking along streets like Nanjing Road West, I see women and children dressed in vogue. The value of dress, jewels, make-up and shoes on a single adult could easily be $5000 RMB, and for a child one third that amount. What is more important is that people are at ease with such attires. Forty years ago, men and women were wearing the same clothes, usually made tight and short, to save cotton.
  2. No private ownership of motor cars was allowed 20 years ago. People could not travel outside their fixed home areas, except those urged to rampage the country for destroying class enemies and traditional legacies. Beginning from 15 years ago, many small business owners and professionals own private cars. Divided freeways and toll roads are everywhere. People in both urban and rural areas have become mobile. There is a new-found freedom in travels, a concept that no one dreamed about before.
  3. Private ownership of real estates was not heard of 20 years ago. Now it is the hottest trading activity among people. Average prices had jumped 4-6 folds in two decades, from $800 RMB per square meter to $5000. The plush apartments in choice areas are now selling at prices matching those in Hong Kong.
  4. Teachers and professors were branded “rats dashing across streets” 過街老鼠during the Cultural Revolution, to be beaten by everyone, especially pupils and cadres. Their salaries existed on paper only. Twenty years ago a full professor received $270 per month. Beginning about ten years ago, there had been no fixed salary for professors, even in the same university. They varied, depending on the discipline, and consultation opportunities. A student of mine, who is a professor of human resources, now gives special lectures for a fee of $10,000 RMB per day. Knowledge is respected when it is found to have application value.
  5. Young children are visible on streets and shops during the day. They command and lead whoever is taking care of them, usually grandparents. They appear smart, healthy and opinionated. Many private kindergartens now charge monthly fees of $2,000 and more. Private swimming or piano lessons are $200 per hour. But the “4-2-1 engineering scheme” is funding these and other expenses. It means the financial support of paternal and maternal grandparents and parents. Will this generation of kids grow up successful and happy? Time will tell. Under the one-child policy, these children have been deprived of the opportunity to grow up experiencing the close interactions with siblings and cousins. When they reached adulthood, they will have no people of blood-line relationship to anchor any emotional needs, except their aging parents. Modern marriages are testing in the post-modern world, when emotions are temporal and fragmentary. There are already a rising number of single-parent families. Divorce rate is now above 20%.

The Delta

History witnesses that all civilizations and great cities emerge in big river deltas. In modern China, both the Pearl River Delta and the Yangtze River Delta thrived, making miracles. Shanghai is more distinctive and has a longer history. It began in the 10th century as a market town to emerge as one of the world’s largest cities by the 1930s. Since then, it has been the center of every major event in the development of modern China, beginning with the First Opium War. Later, its many foreign concessions 租界 served as shelters for history makers, left and right. The small house that Sun Yat Sen and Song Qing Lin lived is still here. So are the many places for literary events and authors that had stirred up social movements to influence China’s fate.

Hangzhou, the capital of the Song Dynasty, was in Marco Polo’s fond Memoirs, introducing China to Europe and the Western World. Nanjing, with her historical glories, will stay in our memory, in witness of the cruelty of Japan. Suzhou, the garden city of retired ministers, will remain a garden and a unique mark of Chinese aesthetics and easy life style. Ningpo, the seaport and fishing center, is Shanghai’s associate city. There are a dozen other famous cities around to make up the richness of the delta.

I went for a special visit to Ningpo after seeing Expo 2010, to get a balance sense of how China meets the world in recent history. It takes 3 hours and 40 minutes to drive there from Shanghai, along the new freeway. The journey is now cut short by the world’s longest marine bridge, which swings like a huge serpent across the sea. My chauffeur was a 40-year-old young man who, equipped with a most informative GPS device to warn him where the police cameras were, drove a constant 130 km/h speed on a 110 km/h limit freeway. He showed the Hai Pai character of a Ningbo native. His daring but sure behaviour reminded me how two of Hong Kong’s riches men were Ningbo refugees in 1950. The town was relative quiet. On the sea front a strong fishy smell filled the air. I searched for the old Sea Goddess Temple 媽祖廟, the most revered temple for traditional seafarers, but could find it no more. As I strolled along the illuminated Bund by evening, I saw bars and fast food beer hubs filled with people. And there, up the hill, stood the Catholic Church, its spire shining in orange grow.

The Yangtze River Delta spans an area of 99,600 km square, with 80 million inhabitants by a 2007 censor. It has a GDP of US$2 trillion, equals the GDP of France. Shanghai is said to have a 19 million population with an additional 2 million short term visitors. Its 7,300 square km area includes 17 districts, some of which distinguished by mansions and buildings of grand and exquisite European architecture. Tradition is still here, despite the rampage of the Cultural Revolution. My wife’s Alma Mata, The McTyeire School for Girls, is in full operation under a new name. Founded by Irish nuns, and famed for its academic excellence, it has become a choice visiting site requested by foreign dignitaries, including President Bill Clinton on his state visit to China.

New Vitality

How fast do thoughts roll and swivel across the mind? No one knows. But all the above thoughts and images sped through my mind, as we stood below the new Observatory, our eyes surveying the wide horizon of sky-high buildings facing us.

More thoughts ran through our minds just as we spoke. “No wonder our youngsters are so attracted by Shanghai; something that we did not expect,” my wife muttered. She was referring to what we had learned recently, involving our young son, our niece, and two of their friends, who all grew up in Canada, who are in their late thirties.

Norman had a wide international experience working from Japan, organizing and managing business and conference events in Tokyo, New York, Hong Kong and London. He had seen the world, so to speak. He visited Shanghai on holiday 18 months ago, and wrote me that he was impressed, wishing to work there one day. He accepted a new job with Aramco in Saudi Arabia 8 months ago, unknowing that he would be put in charge of new events for the Saudi Pavilion. Now, after having been in Shanghai, and having visited the various cities in the Yangtze Delta area, he is actively learning to speak Mandarin. He believes, for the first time, that he will have his future there.

My niece Elaine is a Senior Librarian for the University of Toronto. Her husband is a lawyer working for the Royal Bank. They have a girl and a boy of primary school age, a very steady, happy family living in Don Mills, Toronto. They had never thought of moving anywhere. Then, Gary received news of an assignment five months ago, to work in Hong Kong as Senior Counsel for the Asia Pacific Region, covering Australia and Hong Kong. The family made the move and, after a month in Hong Kong, went to see the Shanghai Expo for a week, on my advice. They were totally impressed. No one knows what is in the future for them. But, Royal Bank of Canada definitely plans to expand its business in China, destination Shanghai.

The Eitels are childhood friends of Elaine. Sally is an interior designer. Her husband, Ron, is a chemical engineer. They came to visit Elaine and family, and went with them to see Expo. They were shocked to see the business establishments and vitality of Hong Kong, having never set foot on Asia before. They found Shanghai just an unbelievable dream. They were so impressed that they began to actively explore career opportunities there.

These are all important decisions which young people are free to make. Their eyes and minds are focused on the future. What is amazing is that these young people are seeing beyond geography and cultures. They also have the courage to transcend personal habits, ready to take up unfamiliar challenges. Perhaps these are the spirits of explorers. And, once again, Shanghai is a new paradise for new generations of explorers, who care not to exploit, but to share in the creation of a fair and commonly aspired future.

Expo 2010 had attracted more than 70 million people to visit Shanghai, most of whom for the first time. If a mere 20% of them are young and aspiring explorers, this would be a very large number of people for Shanghai to expect in the next while.

New Approach

Still standing there in awe, I tried to imagine how all these tens of thousand square meters of office space are occupied in active use. The total area is perhaps larger than what Hong Kong has, accumulated in more than a century of systematic establishment as a modern business center. In my memory, a mere decade ago, much of the office space in Shenzhen and other thriving cities were in vacant or semi-vacant conditions. China has no system of office procedures. Companies do not function in committees. Decisions are, more often than not, based on trust or personal judgement. There are no elaborate contracts or legal documents for processing and filing. In fact, you might say there is no law. Hence, there is no need for teams and teams of staff, or a lot of office space to house them.

Have things changed? Who are occupying all these office spaces? I called Norman who arranged for our visit to the Shanghai World Financial Centre, on which plaza I was standing. He gave a series of definite answers. This, the highest tower, was built by Sun Hung Kai of Hong Kong. It is managed by a Japanese company. All the office spaces are used by Japanese companies, national, provincial, prefecture, and private entrepreneurs.

“What about the other towers?” I asked, unconvinced that they are all being occupied. “We rent a floor in the HSBC Building, for example, and we do not have a very big operation here.” Norman answered, adding: “Others, like the China Life Building etc., are used by their own operations.”

Chinese schools do not train secretaries like schools in the West, or in Hong Kong. There is no system of business practice generally adopted in the diverse regions and cultures in the country. It is difficult to imagine how, all of a sudden, that we have all these people working in offices, performing duties and making documents which must interface with those of others, transcending differences. Yet, the fact speaks loudly. A new approach is working effectively. It may mean that China is meeting the world on its own terms. It will be up to foreigners to learn how ‘offices’ operate in China.

It takes time and learning for people to shift from a rural life to an urban life. It also takes learning and adaptation to do business work 辦事 or official work 辦公. Education and training will provide the knowledge, skills and social-psychological support for people making the shift and adaptation. The present mobility rate, with people moving into urban centers en mass, demands the creation and implementation of a new approach to education and counselling.

Guarded Future

We made a visit to the Bund 外灘 before concluding our ten-day visit to Shanghai. The whole area was very crowded, including all the streets leading to it. There was a festive mood. People who managed to gain a spot at the waterfront made sure that they put on the best post to take pictures, with the magnificent panoramic view of the Pudong skyscrapers. Prominent in most people’s faces was a sense of pride.


We approached the statue of Chen Yi 陳毅 to pay respect to him, a revolutionary, soldier, foreign affairs genius, poet and first Major of Shanghai in the New Republic. It took much courage and determination for the people of Shanghai to erect his statue at a time when only the statues of Chairman Mao were allowed on Chinese soil. It took a man of optimism and vision in 1949 to clear the old Shanghai of the Green Gang 青帮, the international espionage elements, the tens of thousands of prostitutes, and to lead a frightened population to normal life.

On the national level, while Chairman Mao had kept China tightly shut from the rest of the world except for a faulty friendship with the USSR, Chen Yi braved to keep China’s doors ajar, with international activities based on a ‘people to people diplomacy’. It was his vision and actions that made the Ping Pong diplomacy possible years later, followed by the Opening and Reform Movement when, once again, China reached out to meet the world on friendly terms.

In his youth, studying in France, Chen Yi was nurtured by French literature, especially the works of Victor Hugo. The latter had a famous observation that “history is a message of the past to the future. In turn, the future is a reflection of the past.” Today, the statue of Chen Yi stands where, one hundred years ago, a plaque stood to degrade the Chinese people. It said, “No Chinese and dogs allowed here”.

Presently, as I mingled with the happy crowd around me, I felt the Bund would be so empty if Chen’s statue was not standing there, watching over everybody and everything. I sang quietly:

Where his kind was not allowed

He now stands tall and proud

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