I was in the home studio of a radio DJ friend in Shanghai and he had on his desk a notebook with the slogan "New Oriental Spirit" – xin dongfang jingshen – on its cover, and it struck me as being very significant, reflective of the growing confidence of young China in what they are and what they represent. What is the "New Oriental Spirit?" No one could give me a clear definition or idea, and I don't think it exists at this point anyway. But there is a vague conceptual structure growing, which includes such points as "China is amazing," "I am proud to be Chinese," "China is becoming powerful," "China is at the forefront of Asia."
There seems to be virtually no political implication to this. It is just a feeling. If anything, it could be construed as a negation of the leadership position of the Communist Party in that the party does not seem to figure in this new state of mind. That is hardly surprising – the people of China, in general, have been working for the past two decades to get to a situation where they can ignore the party, just push it out of their lives.
So this "New Oriental Spirit" if it means anything, is something more national or even cultural. From it will flow a growing confidence that Chinese ideas and trends are credible and can hold their own against Western ideas and trends. That will impact the direction of movies, music, fashion trends and television programming. Already, the general opinion of the quality of Chinese television and movies has shifted. Chinese music still has some way to go, but it is making progress, and in terms of hairstyles, China is surely already at the forefront of the market. One of the big global tourism trends at the moment is the growing visibility of Chinese tourists at venues all over the world. Europe's fate is almost certainly to become a quaint destination for tour groups from Hunan, but given the "New Oriental Spirit" idea, there may be a limit to the amount of time and money Chinese people will want to spend in Rome and Avignon. It could be that in the longer term, they will show more interest in their own country, rich as it is with contrasts and historical artifacts.
China's history is something Chinese people can connect with in the same way that Westerners feel a sense of closeness with Rome and Athens. There is no reason Chinese tourists should take anything other than a superficial "that's nice" approach to Western historical sites, just as Westerners do when they visit Chinese temples.
If I had a lot of money, I would invest right now in a plan to build five-star exclusive spa resorts at each of the five holy mountains of China – Taishan, Songshan, Huashan, and both the northern and southern Hengshan. In the end, I think the super-rich of Shanghai will want to spend time in places like that more than in random travel spots around the world.
Las Vegas, of course, falls outside the bounds of that analysis. Related to this growing pride in Chinese-ness, I was on a plane flying from San Francisco to Tokyo recently and sitting next to me was a Hong Kong-born guy named Rick who grew up on the west coast of the US and is very Americanized and desperately regretful that his parents never forced him to learn to read Chinese.
"Nowadays, the kids are pushing their parents to let them learn Chinese," he said, speaking of the ABCs, the American born Chinese, 10 or 15 years ago, everyone in college in the States was learning Japanese, now they are all studying Chinese." Slight hyperbole, but Rick is now in the ridiculous position of having significant computer programming and management skills which would have a value in the China market, and he would like to try his luck here. But he feels his Chinese skills are too weak. And because he looks Chinese, of course, he is at a disadvantage because everyone assumes he should be able to do it. For white or black foreigners, there is no problem – say "Ni hao" and the Chinese fall over themselves to praise your excellent Chinese language skills.
In the past couple of months, China's central bank and other senior financial officials have been quoted in various ways on the prospects for further moves in the renminbi's exchange rate against the US dollar and other currencies. The end of the peg in July, the shift to a basket of currencies approach to renminbi valuation and the renminbi's slow drift in value up the agreed trading range have all left the markets with the sense that more moves will occur at just about any time.
One central bank official was quoted as saying that no further significant one-step revaluation was planned in the near future.
As it happens, China Eye's favorite forex oracle, the black market money changer Mr. Chaw-piaw in Shanghai agreed in mid-October with that view, saying that he is aware of no plans in the foreseeable future for a further revaluation.
Given that Mr. Chaw-piaw predicted accurately the revaluation on July 21, his words carry a lot of weight.
On the other hand, if I were a Chinese central banker trying to keep the speculators off balance, I would definitely say something like that. Steve Jobs tells the market that a video iPod is not on the cards, and then releases one.
China is now in the same situation as central bankers everywhere. They have to play cat and mouse with the market, which means calculated obfuscation.
I made a prediction a couple of months ago about a potential solution to the Taiwan problem involving Chen Shui-bian doing a Richard Nixon and negotiating a deal with Beijing before his term as president ends in 2008. I increasingly think this view, while neat and persuasive, is unlikely.
The problem is that Chen lacks credibility with Beijing, Washington and with a substantial portion of Taiwan people too. In an interview that Chen gave to Reuters in October, he said that he would not be rushed into talks with Beijing, adding cryptically: "I want to strive for delays while not fearing talks."
Reuters raised with Chen the widespread view that Beijing will wait for the 2008 election which the Kuomintang leader Ma Ying-jeou would appear to have a good chance of winning, and he of course turned the idea aside, saying: "If they pin all their hopes on Mayor Ma winning administrative power for the opposition in 2008, then I must very clearly tell the Beijing authorities that they cannot succeed. From past experience, any presidential candidate not supported by Beijing authorities wins the election."
That may have been true in the past. Whether or not it will hold true in the future is questionable.
I think it is now the case that Beijing would prefer to take its chances on Ma winning in 2008 than seriously talk to Chen, and Washington will not step up to support him if he tries anything creative.
The next thing that happens in the history of the Taiwan-Mainland stand-off is almost certainly the 2008 presidential election.
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