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Finding happiness in a changing China | A Billion Chinese Dreams | Part 1/4

Finding happiness in a changing China | A Billion Chinese Dreams | Part 1/4

What is the Chinese Dream? When President Xi Jinping
sounded the clarion call in 2012, it was about country and nation. But to the ordinary Chinese,
what are these dreams made of? In this series,
journalist and writer, Zhou Yijun, travels across China to size up
the shifting shape of this dream. The American Dream
is about self-invention, and the belief that hard work
will lead to a better life. Itís a catchphrase that is familiar
and well-defined. But what of the Chinese Dream? Ten years ago, journalist Peter Hessler wrote the book
“Country Driving: A Chinese Road Trip”. He spent 12 years immersed in China, just when the country was in the thick
of economic reforms. The book was one
of the few Western works touching on the issues
faced by ordinary Chinese. The in-depth observations
made it a bestseller, it also made the Chinese people reflect
on their changing society and country. Now, host Zhou Yijun will revisit the characters and towns
that first appeared in Hesslerís book. Following four unique routes
in this country, sheíll explore four issues
most affected by Chinaís development. The changes in the inner world
of the Chinese. The economic transformation. The rich-poor divide. And finally, sustainable development. She hopes to get closer to the authentic
version of the Chinese Dream… in the hearts and minds
of the ordinary people in her home country. The quest begins at the Great Wall, retracing the footsteps taken by Hessler
more than a decade ago. From the east coast
to the western inland areas, the social changes
have been staggering in the villages, towns and cities
along this route. How have the inner worlds
of the people been changed by the economic development
and the advent of social media. And what do they really feel
about the pursuit of the Chinese Dream? Like Hessler, the Great Wall is the starting point
for many people when it comes to understanding China. This is the place that connects
ancient China with modern China. This was where the Chinese
defended themselves against foreign invasion. It is also a symbol
of Chinaís long civilisation, and a window for the world
to understand China. Here in Beijing, the capital of China, Jiankou is considered the most
dangerous section of the Great Wall. Workers are currently carrying out the largest restoration project
in its history. Cheng Yongmao has worked here
for 15 years as the chief engineer
in charge of the restoration project. His job is to restore parts of the wall
that have been damaged by wars and natural disasters. Even though I grew up
knowing about the Great Wall, I never realised that the construction
techniques used today mirror those
from several hundred years ago. Perhaps that’s why the facade
of the Great Wall remains unchanged, almost like a portal to the past. In “Country Driving”, Hessler wrote about an interesting
chapter in Chinese history. In the 1920s, the intellectuals of the time
were keen to embrace modernisation
and Western thought. They considered an ambitious plan to transform the Great Wall
into a highway connecting the coastal areas
with the remote inland areas. This was to be their national
rejuvenation project. Eventually, the plan to turn the Great Wall
into a highway failed to take off, no doubt because the area it covered
was too remote and too barren. In his journey along the Great Wall, Hessler was more concerned
about the social upheavals and its impact on ordinary people. He worried about
the desolate countryside, the left-behind children
and the elderly, and what he saw
as reckless development. From his point of view, the greatest disturbance
in this country lies in the internal conflict
of the individual. In a place not far from
the Jiankou section of the Great Wall, a group of volunteers are hard at work. Wei Ziqi is one of the protagonists
in “Country Driving”. Back in 2002,
Hessler stayed in his village, Sancha, and recorded the changes taking place
in the Chinese countryside. Hessler wanted
to observe life here up close. But at that time, the villagers found it hard
to accept a foreigner in their midst. Wei Ziqi helped Hessler
rent a room here, making him the first foreign resident
in Sancha village. Wei Ziqi is going back to the old house
on top of the mountain to help his son, Wei Jia,
gather his old award certificates. When Hessler came to the village, Wei Jia was the only child here, and he became one of the protagonists
in his book. Hessler wrote about Wei Jia’s childhood
from the age of five to the time he entered primary school
at age 12. Hessler stayed in Sancha village
for many years and this is where he wrote
“Country Driving”. But the old house has been
abandoned for a long time now. In the rapidly changing China, everyone needs to be mentally prepared
to accept the lifestyle revolution. Like the rest of his neighbours, Wei Ziqi had to move
from his ancestral home. Wei Ziqiís new home
is at the foot of the mountain, built in the style of Western villas. Under the plan to build
a new Socialist countryside, the new houses were basically
provided for them free-of-charge. Now, almost all the villagers
have moved away from agriculture, and found work in the cities. Wei Ziqi has also stopped farming. He now works full-time
as a member of the village committee. Wei Jia, whom Hessler described
as an honest child in his book, is now a young man
studying in a university in Shanghai. He has come home
for the summer holidays. For thousands of years, the Great Wall
has protected the empire, but also trapped
the Chinese people within its walls. Now, the Chinese people
are facing the outside world and the future with a more open mind. Like Wei Jia, the children of Chinese farmers
have left their hometowns to pursue their dreams
in the big city. The next stop, Picun, is where people
from the countryside gather when they first arrive in the capital. Picun is adjacent
to the Beijing International Airport, and a large number
of low-income migrant workers who work in the capital city
make their new home here. In his work, Hessler wrote about
the decaying villages filled with left-behind old people
and children. But now, parents are
taking their children along when they move
from the countryside to the city. Guo Guoguang and his son Guo Shibo
are one such example. Theyíre on their way
to Shiboís summer school. This is a special school for children
of migrant workers. In China, migrant workers do not hold
urban household registration, or paperwork needed to show that
they have permanent jobs and homes. As a result, they cannot enjoy
the social benefits provided in the city, including the right to an education. So these schools in suburban Beijing
are their only option. Since there are no secondary schools for children of
migrant workers in Beijing, the only option is for the children
to return to their hometown to attend school when they turn 13. The conditions in these schools
are a far cry from those of local public schools. But there are many volunteers
who come here to tutor the children in the hope of exposing them
to new experiences. Rich or poor, the Chinese believe deeply
in the value of education. But the dividing lines
in the education system are stark. The facilities of this school
are so basic. I canít believe
we are still in Beijing. But for the migrant workers
and their children, Beijing is their Chinese Dream. In Beijing,
schools like this are disappearing. In recent years, migrant workers and their families
have become casualties in a campaign to eliminate the so-called low-end population
in the cities. It has become
increasingly difficult for them to find their own community space
in the cities. Also in Picun, Wang Dezhi runs
the only unofficial museum of migrant workers in China. He hopes to give
the migrant workers a voice. When Hessler drove across
northern China in the early 2000s, it was not difficult for him to foresee
how prosperous the cities would become. But the countryside
was a different story. China was going through the largest wave
of rural-urban migration in human history. No one knew what would become
of the countryside. Today, Zhou Yijun is joining
Guo Guoguang and his son on their trip back
to their hometown of Handan. Here is a typical Chinese village. Everyone here is friendly
and unpretentious. Every time he returns home, Guo Guoguang finds the respite
that is missing from Beijing. The children here seem no different
from their urban counterparts. But in a few yearsí time, will this confusion
about their personal identity lead to greater uncertainty
about their future? Where is home? Where will they belong? While Guo Shibo and children like him
struggle to find a foothold in the city, how do the middle-class children
who benefitted from the reforms realise their dreams? The next stop on this trip
along the Great Wall is Tianjin. Here, some 10-year-olds are headlining
a rock and roll performance. The city of Tianjin was once northern Chinaís
largest financial and commercial centre. It was also one of the first cities
to open up to the outside world after the economic reforms. In his book, Peter Hessler wrote about
how the rapid changes in China produced a personal void
for many people. People no longer believe
in the old communist ideas. At the same time, the speed of change
made it difficult to focus on finding the right direction in life. But the rapid transformation of society
seems to have led to something else, the awakening of self-consciousness. The children on this stage are pursuing their dreams freely
at a very young age, and their dream is completely different
from their parentsí just a generation ago. These 10-year-oldsí ambition
to becoming rock stars may not be as far-fetched as it sounds. Certainly, the music school
where they got their start believes in their promise. Here is the headquarters of the largest rock music school
in the world. I have never seen so many students
playing drums in a classroom. Let’s see how this school is
producing young musicians in China. In China, before the opening up
and economic reforms, Western rock and roll music
was banned by the authorities. Forty years on, rock music is being taught here
using the Chinese-style collective method. Every child practises
with the same textbooks, techniques and songs. Teachers also follow the traditional
modular teaching system. This seems different from the rock music
most people know and understand. The school is about to set up a branch
in the United States, the birthplace of rock and roll. The export of the Chinese collective
teaching method has begun. China is home to the worldís
largest network of roads, and the Great Wall runs parallel
to some of these expressways. This is where Hessler passed through
more than a decade ago, describing the declining countryside and the gradual disappearance
of local village life. Fast forward a decade later,
and the scene is quite different. In an age where social media
and user-generated content is booming, so has the Chinese search
for self-worth online. Brother Bao
is one such grassroot celebrity. Despite having more than
3 million followers on Kuaishou, Wang Hongbao never thought
of milking his fame. He knows what he is good at, and wants his fans to love him
for who he is. If we prepare lunch in a carpark, we run the risk of being surrounded by Mr Baoís legion of fans, so he will have lunch
on the side of a road instead. While Wang Hongbao prepares lunch, his wife is in charge of filming, editing,
and posting the video online. These two never had
any video production training, but now this has become a part
of their daily routine. Even though it was a random truck stop, Wang Hongbaoís fans
were not far behind. Kuaishou is one of Chinaís
biggest video-sharing platforms. Itís also where grassroot
internet celebrities like Brother Bao first became household names. What does this say
about Chinese society today? Perhaps the people at Kuaishou
can provide some answers. What? Technology has broken down the walls
between the cities and the countryside. Maybe this is the biggest change the internet has brought to the lives
and dreams of ordinary Chinese. The journey ends in Ordos
in Inner Mongolia, also one of the last places
Peter Hessler visited on his journey along the Great Wall. After the founding
of the People’s Republic of China, the government encouraged
large numbers of people to move out of the Great Wall area to settle down
in the unpopulated outer areas. Decades later, Ordos has become one
of the richest cities in China, far exceeding the per capita GDP
of Beijing and Shanghai. Its wealth comes from the abundant
energy resources found here. But the Chinese people are
beginning to think more and more about the non-material side of life. Here in the wealthy city of Ordos, how would people define happiness? When it comes to happiness, love and family are the starting points
for many Chinese. Today is Qixi, also known as Chinese Valentineís Day, and a special event
is currently taking place. This may look like a variety show, but this spectacle is actually a government-organised
speed dating event. Owing to the favourable
living environment, Ordos ranks among
the happiest cities in China. Due to an imbalanced population ratio, the Chinese government changed
the decades-long one-child policy to allow for two children
per family in 2016. But birth rates
have continued to plummet. Despite living in one of
the most prosperous cities in China, the young people here
still face relationship pressure. A low birth rate
coupled with an ageing society means the large population advantage
is also disappearing. With that, the pace of development
will no doubt slow down. No wonder the local government
is organising events like this to encourage
the young people to meet. In the worldís most populous country, marriage has become one of the main
concerns for the government. Even in this prosperous city,
happiness is not a given. Economic development has changed
the mindsets and attitudes of ordinary Chinese. Everyone is still chasing after
a better life. But there is also more reflection
about society and country. Even as the Chinese Dream continues
to take shape on the national level, ordinary Chinese
will add their own aspirations to their very own Chinese Dream.

22 thoughts on “Finding happiness in a changing China | A Billion Chinese Dreams | Part 1/4

  • What I learned if watching closely the history in recent decades: China really plays Civilization while America plays Call of Duty.

  • The countryside is the real China where most people live and most in the west never see, it's really poor and in some places they have to eat rats to even survive. While in the big cities they have more money than they really need for a good life, it's not fair in China depending on where you are born your life will be pre-determined already.

  • China dream under CCP? 😂😂😂😂 they can spin the story anyway they want but the truth is they are being forced to follow the rules.

  • 28:00 When it comes to teaching music, its difficult for students to grasp what's necessary when everyone's learning at a different pace. I'm confident when I say that it's easier, and faster, for someone to develop in a one on one basis. Not to mention, they'll probably end up with a vastly larger set of skills in that time. This is because, along with learning an instrument, there's also music theory, composition, ect. that the student needs to grasp. One thing I'm super proud of is to be able to say I've even taught adults to play guitar (yes, I can also play drums too/many other instr.) and in a relatively short amount of time had them progressing on their own. But something is better than nothing, even if it's not the preferred way.

  • Zhou Yijun has done a remarkable job with this series. I would like to request subtitles. There are instances when she talks, and her accent is quite strong. I hope subtitles will be added in the future. Second, the American dream is not just being famous/successful/rich, it's the promise of freedom. You have the freedom to be the architect of your life. You can work your hardest, and you get to keep what you earn, you get to dictate how you conduct your life. America does not promise equality, or an easy life, but you have the right to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness". It's crucial that people understand this. It's not just about money. You must have the liberty to pursue a life of happiness.

  • Get your money out of China…the Rich Chinese are doing it. Companies are leaving China, and China is experiencing a serious credit and housing bubble. Want to find happiness, get your money out of China!!!!

  • Still remember five years back when western media visited Ordos claiming it as a ghost city and spewing gloom of a looming property bubble crash

  • Trump saw the Great Wall of China a light bulb went off in his head he suddenly wanted to make the Great Wall of America. =O

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