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Nation looks back and forward, 30 years after landmark reform
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20:44, December 18, 2008

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The bronze statue of Deng Xiaoping atop Lotus Hill in downtown Shenzhen is bathed in sunshine. A stream of people climb to the peak to present it with bouquets or pose for a photo.

"My parents feel they owe a lot to Deng. If not for him, they couldn't have traveled anywhere beyond the confines of their small county," said Zhou Xiaoqi, a 28-year-old engineer.

In fact, his parents traveled from their home in the central Hubei Province to spend the winter with Zhou, who secured a job at a high tech firm in Shenzhen four years ago.

As Zhou and his parents paid tribute to the statue, a meeting was being held in Beijing to mark the 30th anniversary of China's reform and opening.

Exactly 30 years ago, the Communist Party of China decided to open-up the once secluded country and reform its moribund economy. Deng Xiaoping, who masterminded the decision, has since been called the "chief architect" that drive.

"Reform and opening-up are the fundamental causes of all the achievements and progress we have made," Chinese President Hu Jintao told an audience of more than 6,000 at Thursday's gathering.

Born in the early 1980s, Zhou Xiaoqi knows little of the seclusion and supply shortages his parents still talk about. However, he said, "I do remember meat was a luxury when I was a kid. We used to save the best stuff for our guests or for new year's day."

Today, like many office workers his age, Zhou enjoys dining out with friends and singing at karaoke bars in the boom city near Hong Kong.

Shenzhen, one of the four special economic zones Deng Xiaoping decided to set up in 1979 to drive forward reforms, has since been transformed from an obscure fishing village to a gleaming metropolis. It is now seen as a window to China's economic reforms.

"Unlike other big cities, nearly everyone is a migrant here. Everyone speaks Mandarin and people don't distinguish 'us' from 'them'", said Guo Minggang, a photographer at a bridal shop in downtown Shenzhen.

Guo, 30, moved to Shenzhen in 2005 from his home province in northeast China to seek personal development. "I think one of the biggest achievements of the reforms is we are all free to choose where we live or what we do for a living."

TWO GENERATIONS, ONE DREAM

Xu Shenqiu was a teacher in his home province of Shandong when China ushered in an era of reform. In the late 1980s he followed his friends into business and in a few years built up a fortune by running a department store in the northeastern Jilin Province.

Now at 54, Xu and his wife are on a two-week trip to Antarctica.

"Perhaps this is my parents' unique way to celebrate 30 years of reform and opening up," said Xu Yuan, 27, a journalism major at Japan's Doshisha University.

While Xu feels her father was like a "guinea pig" when he first tried his hand at business, she is proud of what he has achieved so far.

"When he started, he was just dreaming of a more exciting life. He ended up with excitement and a much bigger fortune than he could imagine."

As one of several hundred million Chinese born after 1978, Xu has benefited every bit from the fruits of reform and spectacular economic growth.

The only child at home, Xu never experienced the hardship and austerity her parents and some of her rural peers went through. A straight-A student throughout college and graduate school, she was able to decide what she really wanted -- a well-paid job in the capital, or a scholarship to study abroad.

After three years of study in Japan, the dream of an exciting life, which her father once had, now influences her.

The seemingly quiet, bespectacled young woman is planning to find a job in Beijing after graduation. "I'm sure it offers more opportunities and challenges than many other places in the world."

Like many Chinese living abroad, Xu keeps in touch with her old friends via MSN and shares their tears and laughter. She posted diaries on her blog to mourn the thousands of lives lost in the May 12 earthquake and celebrate Beijing's success in hosting the Olympic Games.

She was in a crowd of Chinese students who saw the Olympic torch relay in Nagano. It's experiences and opportunities like this, which her parents never had 30 years ago.

FACING THE UNKNOWN

In the past three decades, China's annual gross domestic product (GDP) grew at 9.8 percent, more than three times the world average.

It was also a critical era for China to embrace globalization. It became a full member of the World Trade Organization and exposed itself to more opportunities and risks in the global financial system, including this year's global financial crisis.

Wang Gang had to return to his rural home in the central Henan Province in October, three months before the Chinese New Year. The electronic firm he worked for in Shenzhen was downsized. He didn't even buy gifts for his family this year as his wages were cut in half.

His parents are also suffering. Their home was stuffed with piles of corn they couldn't sell. "Prices for cotton and peanuts have also slumped," Wang said. "Again the financial crisis was cited as the reason. But it was the farmers that suffered the most."

The chills of the crisis have also affected Gao Hongtao, a farmer-turned consultant who helps farmers, like Wang, find manufacturing jobs in the booming southern Guangdong Province. Employers pay him 50 yuan (7.2 U.S. dollars) for each farmer he recruits.

Gao, 27, used to help 400 farmers find jobs a year, but this year, he helped less than 100 get hired. "When the United States suffers a bad cold, China is certain to start coughing. This is what happens in a global village." Gao is unsure if he will be able to help Wang secure a job after the holidays.

Despite this, Wang was still grateful to have seen other parts of China.

"My grandfather used to say the most powerful men were able to earn their meals in the county seat. Now I've outrun them all."

Wang, 22, has been to Shenzhen's fast-food restaurants, theaters and shopping centers. "Normally, my monthly wage is at least twice the farming income at home. I even bought my father a motorbike last year."

Now that he is back home again, Wang said he is shocked to see how poor his folks are. "Life is still tough here. How come those rich people are so rich in the cities?"

In Wang's home county of Zhengyang, his family of six grow crops on 0.3 hectare of land. "Even if we planted gold, what a meagre income could we make?"

The wide income gap, alongside the overall capacity to withstand financial risks and achieve sustainable development, will continue to challenge China's society in years to come, said Liu Yunxian, a researcher with the Executive Leadership Academy in Shanghai's Pudong New District.

"In decades to come, there's a lot China needs to do to maintain fairness and social harmony and improve people's livelihood," he said. "The reform and opening up has brought China's 5,000-year civilization to a new climax, but this is not the end."

Source: Xinhua



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