To dream the un-Chinese dream

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 09 May, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 09 May, 2013, 4:45am

It's either a sad reflection on today's China or an example of its increasing freedom of movement, but a growing number of Chinese plan to leave the country. That's their dream - to start a new life in Australia, Canada, or best of all the US. Even some African countries and tiny Hong Kong will do as a stepping stone to the West. I am not talking about corrupt officials and rich businessmen who need to skip town, but ordinary mainlanders.

Call it their un-Chinese dream. In 2010, 508,000 mainlanders left for the 34 developed countries that make up the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, a 45 per cent jump from 2000. In 2011, the US took in 87,000 permanent residents from China, up from 70,000 the year before. Of these, mainland Chinese made up twice the number of recipients of investment-based US green cards than all other nationalities combined.

If you ask them whether they share President Xi Jinping's Chinese dream of a resurgent and powerful nation, I am sure most would say yes. But though on average they are much better off than the majority of Chinese, many feel insecure, whether from food scares, bad air and health care costs or potential political and financial instability. Many want their children to study abroad and stay there if they can.

Like most Chinese, I share Xi's nationalistic dream, up to a point! I wouldn't call it my dream, though. I rather fantasise about writing "the great Chinese novel" that would turn into an international bestseller. Real dreams, fantasies and ambitions are highly personal. Even Xi's dream is personal because he is the leader of the nation. So of course he wants it to be great, rich and powerful. The bottom line is, it's hard to "nationalise" dreams - not if you are talking about authentic longings and ambitions, rather than state-imposed propaganda.

Whatever you say about the American dream, clearly the source of Xi's idea, it's been powerful enough to attract immigrants over almost two centuries. Will the Chinese dream be enough to keep the Chinese contented in their own country?

At the moment, it sounds like a trite and airy exaltation. Xi will only succeed if it becomes authentic for most Chinese - and who knows, maybe even a few foreigners.