A few months back, I wrote an article “What Is the Chinese Dream” here. In that article, I recounted an incident in which someone asked me: “tell me in one sentence or two, what is the Chinese dream?” I stuttered, and then said, “This is a simple question, but there are no simple answers.”
Since then, I have been thinking about this question, “what is the Chinese Dream?” I feel a little foolish that, having written a book titled The Chinese Dream, I still cannot articulate what the Chinese dream is.
When I speak to an American audience, I often say “the Chinese Dream is like the American Dream” (and this has even offended some of my Chinese compatriots). Yes, the Chinese middle class wants what Americans have – owning a big house, driving a luxurious car, and living a comfortable life.
But many would argue with me that that is not the essence of the American Dream.
Wikipedia defines the American Dream as “a national ethos of the United States in which freedom includes a promise of the possibility of prosperity and success.” American historian James Truslow Adam coined the term “the American Dream” as “life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement.”
My version of the American Dream, which I hope many would agree with, is: regardless of one’s background, with determination and hard work, one can achieve whatever one aspires to in life.
In order for such a dream to thrive, it needs a system that encourages entrepreneurship, creativity, and diversity. That system must also guarantee equal opportunities, freedom, and rule of law.
During my trip to China in June, I asked Chinese audiences what they thought the Chinese dream was. No one, not a single person, could answer the question. To put it bluntly, China doesn’t have the Chinese dream. Or, there is no “Chinese Dream” that defines China the same way that the American Dream defines America.
This is a serious problem for China. It is like a person without soul, a computer without an operating system, and a ship without a navigator.
In Beijing, a young woman challenged me: “Why do we need a dream?” she asked. True. The Chinese are pragmatic people. Good health, good fortune, and good family are all they need – fair enough.
In writing my book The Chinese Dream, I spoke to over one hundred people in China. They are from all walks of life – entrepreneurs, office workers, rural migrants, and so on. About half of them said they didn’t have dreams, didn’t bother to dream, or there was no use to dream because dreams and reality are too far apart.
Without dreams, one will lose the source of inspiration and imagination. It is dreams that drive upward mobility, that allow us to see beyond our limitations and achieve what seems impossible.
When I left China 20 years ago, there was no Chinese dream. I had to leave my country and come to America in order to pursue my dreams of a better future. Today, many young people in China can start businesses and they have a lot more opportunities. But many of them still want to come to America. There is still no Chinese dream.
Recently, more and more Chinese middle class families have emigrated to the United States. They saved up enough cash, sent their children to American universities, and bought properties in the States and settled down here.
One might ask “why?” Today, China seems to have all the opportunities while the United States seems to have all the troubles. Yet, the promise of the American Dream is still attracting people from around the world.
What is the Chinese Dream? This question is not only important to China, but also to the rest of the world. Today, China is the second largest economy in the world, a major economic power. What does China stand for, what will China become? People around the world are watching and speculating.
I believe part of the reason that people in the West fear China is that they are not certain whether China will be a benign power or an evil power because they don’t know what the Chinese Dream is.
In my recent speech, one person from the audience asked: “I understand many positive things you said about China, but why does China support regimes like North Korea? We consider Kim Jong-Ji as evil as Gadhaffi.”
I explained to him that Chinese don’t see friends and enemies the same way American do because they don’t see things as black and white. But honestly, I don’t have an answer to this question.
Recently, a Canadian reporter discovered that China intended to sell a huge amount of weapons to Gadhaffi during the final months of his regime. As a commentator from Phoenix TV, a Hong Kong based Chinese TV station, pointed out, the Chinese government has no problem befriending the governments with bad reputations. So don’t blame the West for demonizing China.
The United States as a superpower has done many wrong things and bad things internationally. But people around the world in general know what the U. S. stands for. Some people may disagree or resent U.S. foreign policies, but few people see the U. S. as an evil power.
It is time for China to define a new dream. The real Chinese dream has to come from the Chinese people – something that reflects the fundamental values of who they are and what they represent. It will probably require some deep soul searching of an entire generation or even several generations of the Chinese people to identify the true Chinese dream.
Now my book The Chinese Dream is being published in China. It is my hope that it will not only serve as a bridge between China and the West, but also start an important conversation about the Chinese Dream.
What do you think? Please add your version of the Chinese Dream in the comments area.
(This article is originally published on Forbes)