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The China of today – Lu Shumin
Lu Shumin . The China of today
Friday, May 09, 2008
Many Canadians know that Canada is special to me. This is the country where I was first exposed to western culture, where I spent my memorable university years in the early 1970s, where I met my wife, where I started my diplomatic career, and where I have been serving as China’s ambassador since 2005. Indeed, Canada to me is not just another destination of diplomatic posting, but a destiny for life.
Much has changed since I first landed in Ottawa some three decades ago, in this part of the world, and on a much bigger scale on the other side of the Pacific Ocean. Almost any Chinese can list mind-boggling numbers about the country’s change and development, things measured in trillions and billions, but the big numbers do trickle down to the lives of every ordinary Chinese. The lives of one-fifth of the world’s population have taken a different course, for the better, which is by far the largest scale of human progress the world has ever seen.
Back in my time as a student here, ideological lines still ruled supreme in China. We came to Canada to study, but were not allowed to take any degrees, because of their “capitalist nature.” Even so, I was among the most fortunate few of my peers, many of whom had no access to college until the late 1970s.
Life for Chinese students abroad today is totally different. Over one million Chinese have studied abroad since the country’s opening-up in the early 1980s, and there are more than 50,000 Chinese students in Canada alone.
To be a diplomat was a much more fancied profession in China in the 1970s. It was a mysterious job in the eyes of the general public, and to many, part of its attraction was that after years of service abroad, diplomats could bring back home, out of their not-so-deep pockets, a colour TV set or a washing-machine or a wristwatch that were either not available or in extremely limited supply in China.
The supply of commodities was based on rationing and coupons. There were coupons for TV sets, for bicycles, for sewing machines, for oil, for cloth, even for rice and wheat flour. As a result, if you were travelling from one part of China to another, you would have to bring with you plenty of coupons, because money alone couldn’t buy you a meal.
The generation of my daughter, in her late 20s, barely knows anything about this time. They were born to have everything, more than they need. What was once called a “land of famine” is now basically self-sufficient in food, feeding 22 per cent of the population of the world with only seven per cent of its arable land. China is producing for itself as well as the world. Almost everyone has benefitted, directly or indirectly, from the deflationary effects of “Made in China.”
Economic development can hardly be disassociated from political and social changes. People in China are no longer supposed to work for the same employer for life – which used to be the case a few decades ago. While the employment market is fiercely competitive, employee turnover is equally high. Hundreds of millions of rural labourers go to the cities for work and 20 million of them move to the urban areas on a permanent basis every year.
The West has been sort of a beacon for China for longer than people tend to think. Over the last two centuries, many Chinese looked to the West for ways to change and develop China. Most of them have failed, finding that the West that they tried to embrace with such enthusiasm did not embrace them, or the country they come from. For over a century, China fell victim to repeated invasions at the hands of imperial powers, but we Chinese never give up our quest for the way forward for our country, and China is now moving ahead at a pace that even Chinese diplomats posted overseas find difficult to keep up with.
Over the course of this passing month, much of the attention of the media and public focused on Tibet. Maybe very few commentators have been to China, and even fewer ever made it to Tibet, where I was fortunate enough to have visited twice, first in the early 1990s and second in 2007. I saw with my own eyes decrepit shanty towns in front of the Potala Palace replaced by a clean and orderly public square, and many prayer-wheel holding pilgrims in front of the Jokhang Temple and Ramoche Temple.
Tibet in the old days was a place where only 2 per cent of children of school age got some form of an education. Today, 98 per cent of them get enrolled and Tibetan language and literature are taught throughout the education system. Tibet has leap-frogged from a mediaeval theocratic serfdom into a modern society.
There were definitely a handful of violent rioters, as we have all seen from TV footage. If there is anything that they have achieved, it is not for, but against the peace-loving image and the fundamental interest of ethnic Tibetans. The murderous mobs in Lhasa were no “peaceful protesters,” but dangerous rioters. No responsible government would sit idle when its citizens’ lives are in grave danger at the hands of criminals. Ironically, the “howling” of the rioters has been infinitely magnified in the reports of certain western media, as if all their murdering, arson, and looting are somehow justified, while the cries of sorrow of their victims are often muffled and ignored.
Are the human rights of the five girls in the full bloom of youth, or the eight-month-old baby who should have a long and fulfilling life ahead of him, all burned alive by the rioters, any less important than those murderous mobs? If not, why haven’t we heard any word of sympathy, or condolence, or compassion for them, or any condemnation of their victimizers, in this part of the world? No, nothing.
After 30 years of reform and opening-up, the perception of China in many parts of the world lags far behind the reality on the ground. China has dramatically changed. However, there is never a shortage of challenges in our way ahead.
I started here in Canada as a student, of its language, culture, systems and values. I came back some 30 years later as the Chinese ambassador, but my learning continues. On my departure from this beautiful land, I will bring with me fond memories of Canadians and their goodwill back to China and I hope more and more Canadians will become interested in China as well. With the will to learn and understand, together we can make this world better.
Lu Shumin is the outgoing ambassador of China to Canada. © The Ottawa Citizen 2008
Embattled Chinese Ambassador Lu Shumin to Return Home
(Embassy Magazine) After more than three years in Canada, Chinese Ambassador Shumin Lu will be returning home, after what has proven to be a stormy tour of duty.
While the ambassador leaves Canada at a time when relations between the two countries are at their lowest point in decades, Chinese officials told Embassy last week that there is no political motive behind Mr. Lu’s departure.
According to Yuzhen Tian, a spokesman for the Chinese Embassy, Mr. Lu, perhaps best known by Canadians for his attempts to paint the Dalai Lama as a liar, is leaving under normal circumstances.