DEAR EDITOR, in the late 50’s I was a young soldier serving in the New Territories in Hong Kong and I have been busy putting together my memories of those earlier years into a chapter of a new novel, I am writing called ‘Plum Blossom.’
A very vivid recollection at the time was looking out over the miles and miles of low lying rice paddy fields across the border into China’s Guangdong Province and the sub-provincial area known as Shenzhen.
One could see rivers and streams with deep drains within the paddy fields and the name Shenzhen literally means “deep drains.”
Today, the same area is referred to as China’s ‘Sillicon Valley’ and I could never have dreamed that I would live to see such a remarkable transformation.
Shenzhen was singled out to be the first of the five Special Economic Zones in May 1980. Initially, the SEZ comprised an area of only 327.5 km2 (126.4 sq mi) of southern Shenzhen. The SEZ was created to be an experimental ground for the practice of market capitalism.
Shenzhen, today, has became one of the largest cities in the Pearl River Delta region, which itself is an economic hub of China, as well as the largest manufacturing base in the world.
By 2001, as a result of Shenzhen’s increasing economic prospects, increasing numbers of migrants from Mainland China chose to go to Shenzhen and stay there instead of trying to illegally cross into Hong Kong. There were 9,000 captured border-crossers in 2000, while the same figure was 16,000 in 1991.
On 1 July 2010, the Shenzhen Special Economic Zone was expanded to include all districts, a five-fold increase over its pre-expansion size.
Setting aside politics, I am amazed by the fact that, in 1978, 90 percent of the total Chinese population of 1 billion lived below the poverty line (set at US$1.9 per day by the World Bank). However, the pyramid had been turned upside down, so that, by 2014, only 1 percent of its total population was in such dire straits.
China, through its rapid reform and opening up policy that has now lasted 40 years, has been able to lift more than 700 million people out of extreme poverty. This figure is more than the combined population of the United States, Russia, Japan, and Germany. It also accounts for almost 70 percent of the global poverty reduction figures.
Additionally, China has also contributed immensely to fulfilling the United Nations millennium development goals (MDGs) set by the Millennium Summit in 2000. The MDGs are eight international development goals with targets ranging from eradicating extreme poverty to combating the spread of HIV/AIDS, malaria, achieving universal primary education to reducing child mortality by 2015.
According to the 2015 UNDP report, the MDGs had produced the most successful anti-poverty movement in history. The report also recognized that, between 1990 and 2005 alone, more than 470 million people in China were lifted out of extreme poverty.
It also stressed that the direction of China’s future development endeavors and the degree of its commitment to global public goods would have a significant impact on the entire international community.
Former U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, speaking at the Imperial Springs International Forum held in Guangzhou last Dec. 18, said: “China’s reforms and opening up has lifted at least 500 million people out of poverty, bringing benefits to not only Chinese people but also those in other countries.
By way of an ending to this story, I will mention what happened when I went to my local bank the other day to replace my debit card with a new one.
I entered the bank and sat waiting to be served. There were several Chinese people waiting also and one man, sitting next to me, saw my passport (which I needed to prove my identity in order to obtain a new debit card). The man spoke to me in broken English after noticing several immigration stamps in my passport from Hong Kong. He said, “You know Hong Kong?” I replied I had worked there and visited many times.
He seemed keen to ask me more questions but struggled with his English pronunciation. I then spoke to him in Cantonese, much to his surprise, but that opened the ‘flood gates,’ so to say.
The man then handed me his I-Phone on which I saw several very, very expensive properties for sale in London. He said, “You think I should buy one now?” I explained, as best I could drawing on my late “rusty” use of Cantonese that I was no property expert but I felt sure buying one of those luxury properties in London would be worthwhile.
The man shook my hand firmly and thanked me, saying he would fly to London the next day and buy one.
My new “friend” told me he was from Shenzhen and a factory worker.
“Defer not till to-morrow what may be done to-day.” (Chinese Proverb)