China is witnessing the return of the old revolutionary idea of the model worker, reshaped for the modern era. These days, it is ordinary people doing extraordinary jobs. It might be a postman in Tibet, or a teacher in a remote village, or a university graduate who has gone to the countryside to upgrade farming practices in the final frontier against poverty.
In this case, I am interested in a certain Chang Xiaolong, who in 2015 began working as a railway police officer in the mountainous Anhui province. His daily life includes basic conditions, keeping an eye on a 21.48 km stretch of railway line, which has 8 villages, 9 tunnels and 11 villages, growing vegetables, assisting the elderly with buying rail tickets, and working on poverty relief. I should add that in China such a job is seen more in terms of fulfilling a duty to assist in the greater common than simply as a job.
A few pictures from Xinhua News:
In 2018, 22 percent of global international students ended up in the United States, although this percentage has been in consistent decline over the last few years.
In the same year, 10 percent of international students went to the UK and 10 percent to China.
Yes indeed, China is now equal second as a favourite for international students. It has outpaced 3 of the traditional post-WWII big five – Australia, Canada and New Zealand are now behind China.
How could this happen? The key is that a sign of a country’s openness and confidence on the global stage is how welcoming it is for international students. And of course how willing it is to provide financial support for such students. Scholarships are available for students from countries that are part of the Belt and Road Initiative, especially students from Africa, Central Asia, Latin America and Eastern Europe. If you are young enough and prepared to spend a year of intensive language study before beginning your studies, you too could land a scholarship. Even more, facilities at many universities have been upgraded, and the post-degree job opportunities in China or in the country of birth are bright indeed. As Matteo Giovannini observes: ‘Generous scholarships, investments on facilities and programs, unrestricted access to student visas and introduction of long-term residency permits for talent in specific fields of knowledge all have contributed to make China a friendly environment for talented foreigners’. And this is only the beginning: China is aiming for a staggering 500,000 international students by 2020.
So why is the Anglophone world declining. Perhaps Ahmed Baghdady, the manager of research and content development at WISE, says it best: ‘We’re seeing several movements of nationalism, and even hate speech and racism against international students from some countries’. His reference is of course to the United States, which has been demonising international students from more and more countries. But so also have Australia, Canada and New Zealand. Obviously, this approach is a sign of decline and weakness. As for the United Kingdom (an imperialist project that will come to an end in my lifetime with the independence of Scotland and the reunion of Ireland), the sheer uncertainties over its future are beginning to make it a doubtful destination.
Let me go back to an earlier observation: a sign of a country’s confidence on the global stage is how much it welcomes foreigners to engage, especially foreign students. Come to study, learn the language and culture, gain a world-class degree and perhaps even stay to work for a while. That was the UK in the 19th century and the USA in the 20th century. But no more. Increasingly it is China.
They call it ‘Chinese speed’: a bridge built in 24 hours; a high-rise building in Shenzhen that had a new floor completed every 2 days; from a mobile network follower to the world’s 5G leader; a new aircraft carrier in 24 months … the list goes on and on. And this is not shoddy work, but high quality production, using innovative technologies and the Chinese aptitude for finding solutions no-else has even imagined.
Let us take the example of China’s naval fleet. It is well worth paying attention to recent observations from Russian specialists, such as Aleksandr Khramchikhin, deputy head of the Institute of Political and Military Analysis. He spoke of China’s navy development program as ‘totally unprecedented‘. He went on: ‘One cannot even count all the ships being built there. The modern Chinese program is unrivaled throughout the world and the Americans cannot even dream of such pace’. In fact, the Chinese ‘have more shipbuilders than the rest of the world together’.
As for Vasily Kashin, whom we have met before and who is Far East researcher at the Russian Academy of Sciences, ‘It is easier for China to increase its fleet numbers as it is the world’s biggest shipbuilder. They have immense shipyard capacities, which the US lacks, as its commercial shipbuilding has been thrown into disarray over the past decades’.
US observers have seen the writing on the wall, knowing they can never match Chinese innovation, efficiency and speed. But what about technology? The Chinese are already ahead of the USA on more and more fronts, but if they still find themselves slightly behind, they can increase their cooperation with Russia. While old-style military alliances are out of favour, the increasing levels of collaboration between China and Russia will see even more breakthroughs.