Mr. Shangkong

Film reveals Chinese dream for Hong Kong's financial community

Xi Jinping's concept resonates with some in Hong Kong after viewing American Dreams in China's depiction of struggle on the way to success

PUBLISHED : Monday, 03 June, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 03 June, 2013, 10:17am

Many would have noticed that in China the main government slogan is not about "building a harmonious society" any more. It's now about achieving the "Chinese dream" - the concept new leader Xi Jinping has been promoting since he took office.

But what is the "Chinese dream" really about?

There has been much long-winded debate about Xi's vision, and it never comes to any conclusion.

If you are put off by such parsing of a two-word phrase, I suggest you see a recently released movie. It will give you a much clearer picture of what it is all about.

American Dreams in China, called Chinese Partners in Chinese, is a movie directed by Hong Kong filmmaker Peter Chan. It is based on the true story of Yu Minhong, an English teacher fired by his employer, Peking University, because he did some teaching on the side to earn some extra cash.

The film, which depicts how Yu and his two best friends eventually turned their small business into a New York-listed education business empire, was released in Hong Kong last week. It is generating some buzz in Hong Kong's financial community, with many young overseas returnees, nicknamed "sea turtles", saying they connected with the story.

Don't misunderstand what I am trying to say. My point about the "Chinese dream" is certainly not that everybody in China dreams to become a rich and successful businessman like Yu.

The most powerful part of the movie was not the success of Yu and his two friends-cum-business partners. It was how a group of determined young mainland Chinese, born in the 1970s and 1980s, were able to work hard and make their dreams come true.

The driving force behind many of the achievements of China over the last three decades was not just three generations of Communist Party leaders - there were young Chinese who struggled before they finally succeeded.

Often, these people paid a higher price for their success than those in developed economies. Moreover, many of them failed several times before they tasted success.

In my view, there's not much of a difference between the old and new versions of the Chinese dream, and well-known American dreams for that matter. They all have one thing in common - it is all about young people making a difference.

People like Yu, who came from a village and could have easily ended up being a farmer his entire life, are making a difference.

There are many people like Yu and his students. They gather in shaky classrooms without air-conditioning to study English and prepare for TOEFL examinations - the first hurdle that must be overcome if they are to go abroad for further studies.

I was one of them, and I was certainly not a unique case.

Michael Woodford, the former president of Olympus, told me in a recent interview: "China has a much more vibrant and entrepreneurial culture now. Everybody wants to be successful or get rich. Of course, life is not just about money; but in a society you do need some people to be energetic and to have a desire to be rewarded."


George Chen is the SCMP's financial services editor. Mr. Shangkong appears every Monday in the print version of the SCMP. Like it? Visit