By Li Zhixin
Last Saturday, Chinese American writer Helen Wang spoke about the Chinese dream and the impact the nation’s rising middle class will have on society and the world at the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art (UCCA).
In her book, The Chinese Dream: The Rise of the World’s Largest Middle Class and What It Means to You, Wang discusses a wide variety of topics related to the rising middle class and explores its implications for the economy, environment, culture and political climate.
Wang said there was no Chinese dream when she left China 20 years ago.
“Today, many young people in China have abundant opportunities to realize their dreams by running their own business. Even many of my American friends are going to China because of the tremendous opportunities presented here,” she said.
The birth of the new middle class owes much to dramatic changes that have taken place during the last 15 years.
The restructuring of China’s economic system at the beginning of the 1990s helped a group of officials make the first plunge into the commercial world. Globalization gave urban people an image of middle class life to pursue. The explosion of urbanization brought that dream to many.
She said China’s middle class is deeply influenced by American lifestyles. “To own a big house, drive a nice car and have a comfortable life – middle class Chinese want it all,” she said.
“They are bombarded by many material temptations and proliferating choices. TV commercials, the Internet and Hollywood movies give them a rosy picture of the American middle class,” she said.
To Wang’s way of thinking, the Chinese dream is a copy of the American dream.
“The burgeoning middle class, expected to number 600 to 800 million within the next 15 years, is jumping aboard the consumerism train and riding it for all it’s worth – that may provide the answer to America’s economic woes,” she said.
The book also presents ways Western companies can capitalize on China’s enormous consumer market and argues that the Chinese middle class will be an alternative growth engine for the global economy.
Although a large Chinese middle class offers significant benefits for the world economy, it will also pose serious challenges to the environment, she said.
But this also provides the US with a chance to help China resolve its own problems. The bottom-up environmental movement in the US and the top-down governmental approach in China may also offer a chance for mutual learning and collaboration.
The book recounts stories of people’s search for spirituality and their desire to find meaning in life.
“It is also a big challenge for Chinese government to resolve the middle class’s quest for balance between material and spiritual enrichment,” she said.
She concludes that China’s middle class is connected to “Westerners” by a common set of core values, aspirations and dreams.