New Applications Rooted in Ancient Ideals

2020-11-03 14:24:00 Source:China Today Author:BILL BROWN
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THE third volume of Xi Jinping: The Governance of China – a systematic and comprehensive work on governance, which contains a compilation of 92 spoken and written works of Xi Jinping from October 18, 2017 to January 13, 2020, along with 41 photographs, has been warmly welcomed by those hoping to understand the mechanisms by which China has combated not just poverty but also other threats such as the COVID-19 pandemic, desertification, and urbanization.

When the first volume was published in 2014, there was less confidence, because even though China was by then the second largest economy, its per capita GDP still ranked only 80 in the world, indicating that its development was not well balanced and strong enough to generally allow its people a well-off life.

In addition, China still had around 70 million people mired in poverty in 2014 – more than the entire population of all but 19 of the world’s 192 or so countries at that time. But Xi simply said, “It will not be an easy path,” and in November 2013 when he told the residents of the remote Shibadong Village in Xiangxi Tujia and Miao Autonomous Prefecture of Hunan Province that he believed targeted poverty alleviation could end absolute poverty in China by 2020, this further enhanced the whole nation’s confidence in fighting poverty.

Fast forward to 2017, when the second volume was published, the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres indicated that China’s targeted poverty alleviation is the world’s only way to help the poor reach the goals of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

The third volume is even more compelling and authoritative than its predecessors because it arrives at a time when China is soon to win the battle against absolute poverty and is bringing COVID-19 under control – proof that good governance is key to tackling with precision problems that a nation and even the world face.

What makes the book unique is the author’s sound marriage of vision and pragmatism. Xi Jinping writes from both the head and the heart, promoting the Chinese Dream but always grounding his vision in sound economic and political theory implemented through decades of hands-on, practical, and personable leadership.

Xi began crafting his theory of governance in 1988 when the 35-year-old was transferred from my Chinese hometown of Xiamen to Fujian’s Ningde, the least developed prefecture-level city of Fujian back then. Young Xi’s first move was to visit every village and talk to farmers about their unique problems. Often as he helped locals hoe their fields, he suggested solutions. Xi also emphasized sustainability by balancing growing and greening. In November 1994, he told Fujian leaders, “A true treasure (environment) should never be exchanged for false treasures that can harm the environment.” Today, Ningde, once one of the poorest places in China, is both prosperous and green, ranking second in environment in the China Integrated City Index 2016.

Xi’s holistic insights on governance were so pragmatic that many of his ideas were adopted nationally long before anyone suspected the quiet, unassuming leader would in 2018 be ranked by Forbes as the most powerful and influential person in the world. And I have observed Xi’s growth as a leader since I moved to Xiamen in 1988, even meeting with him on a few occasions when he was Fujian’s governor. But even I was skeptical about his goal of ending absolutely poverty by 2020. In 1994, I had driven over 40,000 kilometers around China to explore development in remote areas, and I knew all too well the challenges. So to see if Xi’s 2020 goal was feasible, in 2019 I drove 20,000 kilometers around China with colleagues from Xiamen University’s School of Management – and we were astonished at the transformation.

“Roads first, then riches,” the Chinese have long said. Today, once hopelessly isolated villages now prosper thanks to the world’s most extensive bullet train and highway networks. These villages have schools, medical care, and new government-subsidized homes – many with unique architectural elements to display local historic or ethnic heritage, thanks to Xi’s emphasis on preserving and promoting local heritage. And I was astonished to see express delivery trucks even in secluded Tibetan valleys hauling local specialties that enterprising Tibetans had sold through thriving online businesses.

On October 13, 2020 attendees to the International Seminar on Poverty Eradication and Responsibility of Political Parties visit Ningde, a prefecture-level city of Fujian Province.

I was quite impressed by photos of Xi’s trips to so many of the remote places that we visited. Three decades earlier, he had visited every village of Ningde to see their needs first hand, and as president, he has visited cities, towns, and villages across China to inspect environmental projects, health and educational facilities, new factories, or to ask farmers to frankly share their own perspectives. “We used to be frogs in a well,” a Yunnan farmer told me, “but we are no longer now. President Xi knows our needs and cares for us.”

Xi’s greatest contribution to the governance of China has been his insistence on continually evolving theory and innovating practices to meet changing domestic and global needs. “As an ancient Chinese poet said, ‘Prose and poetry are composed to reflect the times and reality.’ We should keep pace with and speak for our times,” he said on March 4, 2019 at a joint panel discussion of CPPCC National Committee members from the literary, art and social science circles during the Second Session of the 13th CPPCC National Committee.

In Xi’s eyes, one of the greatest threats to the world today is growing isolationism and protectionism, hence the third volume’s emphasis upon a “community with a shared future for mankind.” On December 1, 2017, in his speech delivered at the CPC in Dialogue with World Political Parties High-Level Meeting, Xi indicated, “As the term suggests, a community with a shared future for mankind means that the future of each and every nation and country is interlocked. We are in the same boat, and we should stick together, share weal and woe, endeavor to build this planet of ours into a single harmonious family, and turn people’s longing for a better life into reality.”

We are indeed all in the same boat, and The Governance of China (III) offers the time-tested guidance that even skeptics now admit. If we will take these lessons to heart and row in the same direction, perhaps other nations can also achieve their own dream in a world of moderate but peaceful and sustainable prosperity.  

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