January 31, 2008

A Country in Progress

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As he showed off various places in Nanjing, an engineering professor at Southeast University repeatedly proclaimed, “China is a country in progress.”
Prof. Wuyi Zhang, who works in the Office of International Cooperation at Southeast, takes pride in how much change China has seen in the past 20 years. Nanjing has further developed its road system, built an array of new buildings and seen the opening of new universities. [img_assist|nid=27086|title=One view|desc=People walk around a commercial shopping area in Nanjing. Photo: Matt Hintsa|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]
The plethora of contemporary architecture and nearly new buildings are not limited to Nanjing. Many people highlighted changes not only over the past 30 years, but also said that China differs greatly, particularly in its economic and global power, from only five or 10 years ago.
Kenneth Jarrett ’75, who has been working and living in China on-and-off for the past 30 years, also spoke of the immense changes in China during that time. When he first arrived in Shanghai in 1979, one year after China ended its isolationist policies, the city was “dark” and without much commercial activity. This description contrasts Shanghai today, with its bright night skyline, florescent building signs and booming economy. [img_assist|nid=27088|title=Another view|desc=A view of an older apartment building in Beijing. Photo: Matt Hintsa|link=node|align=right|width=|height=0]
The 130-acre area of Shanghai known as Pudong was largely low-end housing, closed or run-down factories and farmland until 1990.
Located on the eastern bank of the Huangpu River, Pudong holds much of Shanghai’s financial and commercial services; the Shanghai Pudong International Airport opened there in 1999, the second of two airports in the city.
While most international investment in China has been in a few large cities, Jarrett said that people are now looking to invest in second-tier cities.
Even the government, which retains ultimate control over political decision-making, has made reforms that Jarrett said would have been unheard of 10 or 20 years ago. Holding public hearings and allowing public comment on drafted government policy are two examples of this, he said.
“There are gradual changes, but it’s extremely incremental,” Jarrett said, adding that the government is very concerned with stability and tries not to make rapid changes.[img_assist|nid=27089|title=Cornell Connection|desc=Consul General Kenneth Jarrett ’75 talks to The Sun in Shanghai. Photo: Matt Hintsa|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]
The “single largest change” Jarrett said he had seen was the loosening of controls on individuals’ choices. Whereas Chinese people previously were told where to live and what jobs they would have, people in cities are now free to choose their own career paths and buy apartments when they can afford them.
Residence regulations are still a major problem for many Chinese people; it is much harder to find work or housing, to gain admission to schools and universities and to receive health insurance and general services if you were not born with a residence card for the place in which you live, according to several different people from Beijing and Shanghai.[img_assist|nid=27090|title=The Cornell Connection Continues|desc=Two of staff members of the Consulate General’s Office in Shanghai Tom Cooney ’90 and Liz Rawlings, daughter of former Cornell President Hunter R. Rawlings III, talk to The Sun. Photo: Matt Hintsa|link=node|align=right|width=|height=0]
The Consulate General in Shanghai has four major responsibilities: commercial and business promotion, public diplomacy and outreach, providing public services to Americans living in Shanghai and visa services to Chinese people looking to travel to the U.S. The Consulate also does analysis and research for the U.S. government.
“We try to fill in [the] picture,” said Jarrett, who attributed his interest in China to his professors at Cornell.
The U.S. has an embassy in Beijing and four other consulates in China in Guangzhou, Shenyang, Chengdu and Hong Kong.