I’ve been in Shanghai for four of the last eight weeks. I’m to return from my second trip in a few days. I’ve had some time to walk around by myself, to explore, and to meet a lot of people here.
I’m struck by how completely different this country is from the one we were told about when I was a kid in the 1970s. These people aren’t oppressed, they’re not sweating in stinking hovels, and they’re definitely not living under Communist economic rule.
It’s true there are vestiges of the old authoritarian ways. The Great Firewall of China supposedly “protects” them from evil foreign sexy web. Instead, its true purpose seems to be to help locally created companies thrive selling services like search and chat and social networking to Chinese consumers who eat that shit up like nobody I’ve ever seen.
Almost literally everyone has a smart phone, mostly either Apple or local manufacturers. And they use them 24x7 for every aspect of life. WeChat is ubiquitous in every day Life. It’s like a combination of Facebook, Snapchat, Android/Apple Pay, and iMessage.
People don’t use cash. They use WeChat to pay for their lunch, coffee (yes, there are Starbucks here), or to buy groceries. They meet and become friends on WeChat by scanning QRcodes with their phones. They use WeChat like business cards and contact lists and to hail a cab.
Shanghai is unbelievably impressive. This city went from 500k people in the 1990s to 25 million now. It’s a modern and well planned city with functional freeways and a density that only Asian cities seem to be able to pull off. And at night the place is brilliant with every tall building (and they have a great many of those) covered in moving video or light shows. There must be trillions of LEDs in Shanghai. Even the ramps connecting the raised highways with surface streets are decorated with blue LEDs along their edges.
There’s an excitement of possibilities here. The people of Shanghai appear to believe they’re building the Jetsons future - to sell to the rest of the world of course. And they’re justifiably proud of their accomplishments and those of their great country.
China is not just rising. China is risen. They deserve to be a great world superpower just as the US did in the 20th century. They’re not without their flaws, certainly. But China is now in many ways what my own country was when I was young and no longer is - youthful, exuberant, and full of promise. I wish I could read and speak Mandarin.