China has undergone a massive economic development in the last few years and makes for an interesting adventure into how differently a country could be run. I explored Central China for two weeks and here is what I found.
Construction is everywhere
At times it seemed half the city of Zhengzhou was under construction. Whole neighborhoods have been torn up, roads and several dozen buildings were coming up simultaneously.
Demand, demand, demand
Unlike most 'developed economies' you can almost feel the demand growth for anything in China. It's electrifying.
Where are the entrepreneurs?
Service businesses are almost all major chain businesses - there is very little of a service economy including restaurants, cafes, laundry - anything that makes life easier. There are major chains but nothing else.
There are exceptions but generally it feels more like Dubai's supercharged state economy than Taiwan or Hong Kong.
Despite being an Orwellian surveillance state pictures are typically allowed. Nobody ever balked at me for taking pictures - instead often encouraging pictures.
What's propaganda really?
I few years ago I remarked to my friends where were living in China that I felt sorry for the printed press that seemed full of propaganda - even the English magazines edited in China.
This time around I felt Chinese media seemed much less on a propaganda trip compared to US media. Chinese state media hasn't changed much but the death spiral of US print and TV media have created a wave of propaganda back home making Chinese magazines suddenly readable in comparison.
Goodbye Political correctness
The asphyxiating political correctness that has taken hold in Europe, Australia and the US is absent from almost all daily life in China. What a refreshing feeling!
The flip side is a rowdy-like behavior with a dog-eats-dog mentality in most daily life. Cutting corners, pushing and shoving is a must if you want to get anything done. Personal courtesy is a concept from a foreign planet.
The Chinese millennial generation is showing more restraint and behaves more like people of teh same age from Taiwan,
Everyone is an informant?!
There are potentially heavy penalties for talking to foreigners and it seems everyone around you is an informant for the Chinese-run state-spying system. Is that just my paranoia? I do not think so - I grew up with the 'Stasi' at a young age and China seems to have perfected electronic and traditional surveillance. As a foreigner you are under surveillance the second you cross the border.
The 'Social credit system' that is being introduced makes Chinese paranoid about anything that is sanctioned as 'allowed'.
Group Think gone viral
I felt I have never been anywhere I saw so much 'Group Think'. People are stubborn and if you can get them to communicate with you the opinions are very predictable - see the above paragraph.
China's leadership and the 'common man on the street' have bought into the communist superiority complex and the 'Middle Kingdom' Authoritarian system wholeheartedly.
The brainwashing is still in full effect - much like Russia in the early 1980s.
Pollution is getting better
While there are still miserable days of fog - most of the days I spent in Central China came with blue skies. That battle has not been won yet but it is turning the right way.
Everything is electric
All scooters (i.e. mopeds and motorcycles) are 100% electric in China. Many city buses are electric and so are many cars. The roads are stunningly quiet in many Chinese cities (especially Nanning). That is fantastic!
China has pulled off a capitalist economy that serves mostly foreign buyers and re-invested the cash flow into a first grade infrastructure
and mega projects.
The socialist dictatorship and capitalist economy co-exist somehow - that's quite a feat.
Show me the money
China seems awash in money - capital investment seems to be abundant. Now this could be from an over-leveraging and too much credit. But still there is no shortage of funds for mega projects.
The dollar is NOT overvalued
Talk of politicians seems to suggest the Chinese Yuan is undervalued. Walking through a few Chinese cities this seems perfectly bogus - as if anything the currency is overvalued. Local services and products are priced as in the US - it should be cheaper in a middle income country than what it is in China.
Huge cities with minimal connections to the world
The city of Zhengzhou (10 million inhabitants) is home to huge Foxconn plants and produces the lions share of worldwide iPhone production. However the city has barely any cultural connection to the outside world beyond China.
The mega-city of Wuhan (also 10 million inhabitants) has no brand at all outside of China.