Monday 5 October 2009

China birthday

Two days after my birthday in China , China had her birthday.

Or to be more accurate, the Peoples Republic of China celebrated being 60 years old.

I went to Guangzhou last week to look at the republic 60 years on and it was difficult not to be impressed.

New metro. New roads. Nice shops. Huge sky-scrapers and the Pearl River glittering with neon and glowing with a new self confidence.

The "40 watt city", historian and author, Jason Wordie had called it back in 1993. Dim, grim and difficult.

Well not any more. Guangzhou has megawatts to spare.

Skinned and gutted cats in a bucket of water at the municipal zoo.

That was the lasting impression of Canton, fifteen years ago for Jason.

Now they are restoring the old colonial buildings on the waterfront, the food is great and everyone smiles.

The tea go-downs on the banks of the Pearl River are once more being restored and turned into boutiques, restaurants and coffee shops. Starbucks have already arrived in Shamian Island.

Used to be tea in this city but now its over-priced designer coffee.

No-one is sure if this is a love of heritage or just economic pragmatism that stimulates this urgent preservation programme.

If you want to attract the best people from Shanghai and Beijing to your city and to invest in it- you need the best infrastructure and best culture. The second generation of entrepreneurial Chinese middle-class are more sophisticated than their parents.

They have travelled and they have cable TV.

If you are looking for a passive and glum China-man shuffling along in baggy, daggy blue denim you have some to the wrong place.

The merchants of Guangzhou were trading with the Romans and the Arab nations, while we Europeans thought rowing a chicken across the village pond counted as maritime trade.

The world's economic centre of gravity is shifting east and China is ready and waiting.