'Shanghai 2020': Reform and the Chinese Dream

13 January 2014

When Kerry Brown first visited Shanghai in 1998, he didn't have a very good first impression since streets were jammed with bicycles.

"I remember I couldn't even get across the road," recalled the British author and professor of China studies at the University of Sydney.

But as a diplomat based in Beijing, he visited Shanghai more often between 2000 and 2003 and came to appreciate its diversity. Today it's jammed with private cars.

"I started to feel that Shanghai isn't just one place, it's made of different places and I realized Shanghai is a very abundant city," he said.

Now Brown is not only comfortable in Shanghai but sees it as model and beacon for China's reform and development, a place that embodies the Chinese Dream.

Today he is executive director of the China Studies Center at the University of Sydney and has written extensively about China.

On January 8 he released his latest book, "Shanghai 2020: The City's Vision for Its Future," which examines the city's dynamics, its place in China and changes in Chinese society and the economy.

"Shanghai embodies the atmosphere and spirit of China in experimenting with reform," he said. "In this sense, it carries a meaning which resonates with both Chinese and foreigners."

Brown, who speaks fluent Mandarin, interviewed city officials, scholars, top businessmen as well as Westerners working and living in Shanghai in late 2012.

"Shanghai 2020," published in Chinese and English by the Foreign Language Press, will release an edition in Russian this year.

"I think Shanghai is the first place in China where you see a global Chinese citizen," he told media during the press launch of the book. "It shows Shanghai's great ability to accept outside influences and to take people who are not from Shanghai and make them Shanghainese. It's very flexible."

"When you look at Shanghai, you see that the China Dream is in fact people here wanting a good tomorrow. It's quite simple."

The publisher wanted a different angle on Shanghai, one that envisions the future and decided to invite someone from abroad to write from an individual point of view, according to Hu Kaimin, associate editor in chief of the Foreign Language Press.

Brown writes in the introduction: "This is about a city in a country which is engaging with modernity in ways which have utterly reshaped its economy and society since the start of the reform and opening up process more than three decades ago in 1978."

For Brown, Shanghai is a city that respects its historic roots while marching into the future and undergoing rapid urbanization. It is a modern and cosmopolitan city and an entry point for people who want to get to know China.

His work covers history, globalization, society and governance, economics, the environment, culture and international finance, since the city is becoming an international finance center.

The book emphasizes three points: the future of finance in Shanghai, the importance of middle class in the Chinese economy, and what China's future will be like.

The finance industry will grow rapidly, and it will be crucial for China's future, he said.

"China has more and more middle class people. We don't have to talk about what they are like, you can see it everywhere," he said. "Come to Shanghai, you'll see a diversified Chinese society."

Middle class people spend much more, they invest heavily in their child's education, they want to own their own house and car and they want to travel abroad and buy foreign brands, he noted.

"Overseas we think this concept of China Dream is not easy to understand, but I think what the people in Shanghai want in the future is not so different from what people want in the United Kingdom or Australia," Brown said.

The city's most urgent problems are environmental and resource issues, such as air quality and water usage, he said. There's no easy solution. With rapid urbanization come challenges of social stability, economics, and the social welfare system, all requiring more government efforts.

He called urbanization "a big gamble," but said he was confident the central leadership would create a middle-class consuming service sector.

"Shanghai is a massive experiment," he said. "I can see many problems, but I can also see hopes," Brown said.

"The hardest part of China Dream is to meet people's expectations."

Books by Kerry Brown

"Friends and Enemies: The Past, Present and Future of the Communist Party of China"

"Struggling Giant: China in the 21st Century"

"The Rise of the Dragon: Inward and Outward Investment in China in the Reform Period"

"Hu Jintao: China's Silent Ruler"

"China 2020: The Next Decade for the People's Republic of China" (2011)