I’ve been living in China for the last five months. Here are a few potentially interesting things I’ve observed (about Shenzhen at least – a huge city in the south that makes up a tiny part of this mega country):
1.) When it comes to technology, these guys are a step ahead.
This is particularly notable here in Shenzhen. Back in the UK I had a healthy habit of regularly checking my pockets for the only three items I felt were essential to always be carrying: keys, phone, and wallet. Out here it is a different story: All I need for everything is on my Huwawei phone (dundundun). I haven’t used cash or card since opening a Chinese bank account, and in the absence of Google and Facebook (both blocked by the Chinese Government), there is WeChat – the mother of all apps. It is my credit card, Oyster card, emails, Messenger, Deliveroo, Facebook, Instagram and keys all in one. It would be impossible to get by in Shenzhen without it, and I have no doubt it is the future. But why is it taking the rest of the world so long to catch up?
2.) The Government are watching, but no one cares.
The narrative form the West is that the Chinese Government essentially spy on their citizens, and that an all-covering app like WeChat helps them to do this…and this is no doubt true. It is immensely convenient for the Chinese Government – as wary of civil unrest as any Government, but more ruthless than most to shut it down immediately – that all its citizens are using the same app to manage so many aspects of their lives. It’s not a secret: They are watching. Everyone knows it – but few seem bothered by it. Why would they? As I mentioned in my previous article, the vast majority of these people are getting much richer, and when this happens there tends not to be appetite for civil unrest. I suspect the US is probably quite envious of the control that the Chinese Government has over their citizens, and is bitter that they have not been able to advance their technologies as rapidly. A Chinese friend of mine joked a few weeks ago that this trade war is not between the US and China, but between the US and Nanshan – the district of Shenzhen where I am living, and also where various tech companies have their headquarters (including Huawei). From what I’m seeing, these guys are not intimidated by the US at all. They do not fear Trump; they either have no interest in him at all or they mock him relentlessly.
3.) These guys are working HARD.
The economic growth of China over the last few decades is simply astounding. 40 years ago 90% of the population lived on less than $2 a day. Now, 99% of the population live on more than $2 a day. Back then, Shenzhen was a fishing port of around 30,000 people. Now, it is a tech-hub of around 12,000,000. New buildings, roads, and metro stations are going up at an unbelievable pace. Obviously the sheer number of workers contributes significantly towards this growth, but also these guys are working crazily hard. China’s richest man Jack Ma, co-founder of tech company Alibaba, recently backed a 996 work system (9am-9pm, 6 days a week) and described it as a “blessing” for Chinese people – and it hasn’t gone down nearly as badly as I imagine it would in Britain. Last month my housemate who works for the big tech company that operates WeChat didn’t come home for four days because he was on the 996 schedule that week – and I get paid significantly more than him working no more than 22 hours a week. The Chinese have this incredibly ability to sleep anywhere instantly. They can just put their heads down on a table and fall asleep. I wish I could do the same, though I imagine it is a sign of their exhaustion, which they rarely complain about.
4.) Despite these observations, I barely know China.
1.4 billion people live here, and geographically it is almost as big as Europe combined. It staggers me, but I really have not met a single person in Shenzhen who I think has got poorer over the last 30 years. The minority of people in this city who have lived here long enough to remember it as a small town have got especially wealthy out of its insane growth. Imagine owning property here then, and how much it’s be worth now. That being said, these same locals have experienced a rapid drowning of their once prominent cantonese language. You can suspect, like most things here, that the Government have planned for this to happen. They eventually want the whole country speaking Mandarin, and without democratic elections to ruin their plans, they might just succeed (on the mainland at least – I cannot see Hong Kong playing ball).
5.) There is real despise between Shenzhen locals and Hong Kong locals. I could write a whole article on this, and I might…but not now.