A miracle I witness: China in the eyes of long-time observers

Chinese President Xi Jinping delivers a keynote speech at the United Nations Office in Geneva, Switzerland, on January 18, 2017. (Xinhua/Rao Aimin)

"Never in the world has a developing country (leaped) to an economic wonderland at such a pace," German journalist Martin Kummer said, recalling changes he had witnessed in China in his lifetime.

Kummer, now in his eighties, told Xinhua the country has made significant improvements in quality of life, technology, infrastructure and global governance.

Like Kummer, who has put on several photo shows on China, numerous China observers have recorded the vicissitudes of China's development process in photos, travelogues and essays, telling the story behind China's sound and fast development in seven decades.

OPENING UP TO CHANGES

In April 1976, Kummer recorded with his camera various facets of China and the lives of its people during a three-week visit to China, then a mysterious land of the East to many in the West.

People wore "the same black or gray Mao suits," led "poor lives" and had "scarce" recreational activities, he recalled.

In 2006, Kummer retraced the same route of his previous visit, shooting pictures at the same place and from the same angle. He was amazed to see that the cities had developed like mushrooms after the rain.

A two-story plant was replaced with the over-400-meter skyscraper Jin Mao Tower in the economic powerhouse Shanghai. Sedans and limousines ran through the avenues, which were once grayish streets with cumbersome bicycles standing on the side.

Over the past 70 years since the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949, the country has grown into the world's second largest economy, the largest manufacturer, and the largest trader in goods, with its gross domestic product (GDP) exceeding 90 trillion yuan (about 13.4 trillion U.S. dollars) last year, and its average annual growth rate reaching 9.5 percent. Per capita GDP hit 64,644 yuan (about 9,624.8 dollars) in 2018, more than 500 times that of 1949.

Unveiled in 1978, the reform and opening-up drive has "produced the greatest economic achievement in human history," said John Ross, a British academic and senior fellow with the Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies, Renmin University of China.

Through persistent endeavors to strengthen its reform and opening-up, China has ushered in a stage of high-quality development, and leapfrogged as an innovator of mobile payment and a sharing economy.

As unilateral and protectionist measures roil the global markets, China has been working to optimize its business environment by passing a foreign investment law and implementing a negative list management system to shore up investors' confidence and create a stable, transparent, predictable and fair market environment.

Economic productivity is fundamentally determined by the performance of the human capital market, and with a vibrant development of a market for ideas, "China will then stand not only as a manufacturing center of the world, but also as a lively source of creativity and innovation," said Ronald Coase, a late Nobel laureate in economics, in one of his books.

Tourists enjoy scenery on a skywalk at Jinmao Tower in Shanghai, east China on May 1, 2017. Sightseeing tourism projects at some skyscrapers in Shanghai attracted tourists during the International Labour Day holiday. [Xinhua]

PUTTING PEOPLE FIRST

William Brown, a U.S. professor of business management at Xiamen University in Southeast China's Fujian Province, has been living with his family in China for more than 30 years.

This summer, he retraced the journey he took in 1994, a 40,000-km drive to inland and coastal areas, and noticed that changes were going on in "every province, every town and every corner."

Rural areas have embraced new technologies, he said in fluent Chinese, citing an example of him buying local specialties -- farmers used mobile payment apps to make online transactions.

Kummer has similar feelings: He said he was impressed by "the dramatically improved everyday lives of people and their ever-increasing prosperity -- first in the east of China, then on to the west."

Compared with 1949, Chinese people's average life expectancy rose from 35 years to 77 years in 2018, and the education level leaped from an 80-percent illiteracy rate to having nearly one in three people with a high school diploma or above.

China has created the miracle of lifting over 700 million people out of poverty, which is unprecedented in human history and has set an excellent example for other countries that still struggle with poverty, said former United Nations General Assembly President Maria Fernanda Espinosa Garces.

The country had 16.6 million rural people living below the national poverty line at the end of 2018, and is striving to make all-out efforts to wipe out absolute poverty by 2020.

"China still has a long way to go" and faces "great internal and external challenges," but Chinese people and their leaders have been able to discern the road to harmony and prosperity in an increasingly convulsed and uneven world, said Peter Nolan, director of the Center of Development Studies at Cambridge University, in an article published in July in the Spanish news outlet Rebelion.

People walk in the exhibition hall of the 125th China Import and Export Fair in Guangzhou, south China's Guangdong Province on April 15, 2019. China's rapidly expanding consumer market offers a strong link between China and the world, as well as a huge opportunity for international businesses, said a report released by McKinsey Global Institute.

OFFERING POSSIBILITIES TO WORLD

While achieving progress in its domestic development, China has been shouldering responsibility as a major country to make this world a better place.

"We will continue to pursue a win-win strategy of opening-up, share our development opportunities with other countries and welcome them aboard the fast train of China's development," Chinese President Xi Jinping said at the UN Office at Geneva in 2017.

China remained a stabilizer and motor of the world economy in the 1997 Asian financial crisis and the 2008 global financial crisis, contributing about 30 percent to global growth for many consecutive years.

Facing headwinds of unilateralism and protectionism, the country has been playing a key role in global production and value chains, further opening up its market to foreign investors and injecting fresh vigor into the global economy.

Meanwhile, drawing from its rich development experience, China is trying to shed light on effective global governance to achieve lasting global peace and prosperity.

Thoughts and visions such as a new model of major-country relations, the principle of achieving shared growth through discussion and collaboration, and building a community with a shared future for mankind have resonated with many in the international community.

The contribution of a nation to the world and humanity lies not only in how much it creates materially, but also in the ideas it proposes, Greek President Prokopis Pavlopoulos said in his state visit to China in May.

Martin Jacques, a senior fellow of politics and international studies at Cambridge University, said China has done unprecedented pioneering work and offers "a new possibility" to the world, and the country is abandoning "the law of the jungle," hegemony and power politics and replacing them with win-win cooperation and sharing.

Kummer, as an accredited journalist to China, was affected by the generosity and warmth of the Chinese people during his many visits, saying it is his "greatest luck" that the number of his Chinese friends continues to increase.

He and his Chinese friends enjoy "a warm friendship with each other till today," Kummer said. 

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