Why Xi Jinping’s Chinese dream is nothing like the American one
Michael Chugani says heated discussions among friends reinforced that the Chinese dream is essentially rooted in the Communist Party and the people of China, while the American version has for decades given hope to dreamers from around the world
First we had the American dream. Then came the rival Chinese dream, which President Xi Jinping fleshed out at the 19th party congress. Which dream do you choose? I asked this at two separate dinners with friends, one in Hong Kong and the other on the mainland. Big mistake.
What was intended as good-natured discussions quickly turned into verbal brawls. The mainland dinner had a mix of mainlanders and Hongkongers, some of whom now live across the border and have become fierce loyalists.
Except for a few Hongkongers, the rest uniformly derided the American dream as a fading one that has produced a declining nation populated with warmongers, mass shooters and racists. The Chinese military, they said, is now so powerful it would defeat the Americans hands down. And the US would never dare use force against North Korea for fear of a Chinese counter-attack.
When a Hongkonger mocked such jingoism by asking why there were tens of thousands of mainland students flooding into the US, and not wanting to return, the mainlanders retorted inaccurately that far fewer students now go. The mood turned dark when someone asked why mainlanders lambasted a Japanese beach vendor for charging bad-mannered Chinese tourists 10 times more but didn’t likewise criticise the central government’s ban on tour groups to South Korea.
A patriotic Hongkonger insisted China had an ancient right to most of the South China Sea and the US should stop sending warships to the area. I wanted to ask if, by the same ancient rights logic, China would support India reclaiming all of Pakistan, but thought better of it.
Since the Hong Kong dinner consisted only of locals who take their freedoms for granted, I played devil’s advocate, pointing out that Xi’s Chinese dream has improved the lives of millions and put China on the path to superpower status, even though he first espoused it just five years ago. I noted that, under Xi, corruption is in retreat, the country is churning out billionaires and the people have found a new patriotic pride.
The scornful retorts came from all directions. Why does a nation on the verge of superpower status fear WhatsApp, YouTube, Twitter and Facebook? The American dream doesn’t fear but encourages freedom of thought. The new patriotic pride didn’t evolve naturally but is a manufactured product of a censored media that drills patriotism into the people by controlling freedom of thought. And so it went.
What startled me most was the assertion by one local that China is just a bigger version of North Korea.
It is, of course, too unscientific to rely on views expressed at two small gatherings as representing widely held opinions. But the depth of feelings at both places was very real. I sensed animosity towards the US, and to some extent Hong Kong, among the mainlanders.
The locals I was with likewise made no secret of their scorn for the Communist Party.
Xi’s message of rejuvenating the nation has drawn comparisons between the Chinese and American dreams, with some saying the Chinese dream is the perfect model for developing countries disillusioned by the political havoc Western-style democracy has wreaked on the US. But the two dreams are very different.
The Chinese dream in 2015, three years after Xi Jinping first spoke of it
As a naturalised American who spent many years in the US, I have lived – and seen others achieve – the American dream. Immigrants from around the world have for decades flocked to the US legally and illegally in pursuit of the American dream, which is anchored in freedom, equality and opportunity. Everyone can chase this dream – a Pakistani immigrant who starts out as a taxi driver, an Indian convenience store manager or a Chinese owner of small takeaway restaurant.
Xi’s Chinese dream, firmly attached to the Communist Party, is anchored in patriotism and socialism with Chinese characteristics for a new era. It has achieved much for China but, unlike the American dream, it is tailored mostly for Chinese.
Michael Chugani is a Hong Kong journalist and TV show host