I’m in the business lounge of Shanghai airport, one of 400 world-class international aviation hubs that China is building every week, sipping a macchiato prepared by David, a 23-year-old IT graduate and barista, who speaks four languages and plays the violin like a concert-hall maestro.
I’ve spent nearly a week in Shanghai, running from business meetings to cocktail parties to speaking engagements. It’s hard to believe what’s going on.
Heading to meet the founder of Joystream, an exciting new startup, I ride in a “Didi,” a ride-sharing app quite similar to Uber. It’s ordered by my new Chinese friend Hamburger, a 24-year-old stockbroker and father of one, who moonlights on Didi so he can meet “interesting men.”
I ask Hamburger how he finds time to bond with his child, and he explains that Chinese people consider education sacred. While our kids are lounging around summer camp, toasting marshmallows, Hamburger’s toddler is doing long division and performing minor surgery on woodland animals. Hamburger gives me his number and urges me to call him later; the friendliness here is remarkable.
And he’s not alone. China is building tens of thousands of new schools, and there are plans to train 8 million new teachers over the next four months alone. They won’t be short of students, either – as one charming official explained to me, China welcomes foreigners and wants to attract the cream of overseas talent, so applying for a visa is bound to be simple and straightforward. Apparently I may even qualify for a “Friend of China” green card.
Meanwhile back home, we’re rioting outside airports over “Muslim bans” – that’s if the airports haven’t already collapsed from neglect! China, in contrast, values its Muslim citizens so much it’s providing them with special education centers to learn more about the country’s governance.
What about coal? While Trump is promising to bring back inefficient jobs in loss-making mines, China has signed the Paris Agreement and shut down all its carbon-emitting plants. And it’s true: I couldn’t see a single chimney from the 29th floor of my hotel suite.
If you know want to know more about any country, I suggest you visit its five-star hotels —ideally in one or even two of the most famous cities. After arriving back from a tech conference via a bicycle I was simply able to pick up off the street for free, I ordered room service and, lo and behold, thirty minutes later a salad was wheeled to my door by Mandy, an eager graduate from Peking University, which she tells me is now on a par with Oxford or my own alma mater Yale.
And there are apparently thousands of these universities all over China, all churning out piano-wielding bilingual polymaths like David, Hamburger and Mandy by the truckload. Meanwhile the Chinese government has audacious plans for automation; soon many of these students will be happily replaced by multi-tasking robots.
Hearing this, my mind turns sorrowfully to the recent events in Charlottesville. They don’t talk about the past in China. In fact, not once did anyone bring up the country’s history. No, Chinese students aren’t interested in smashing things and tearing down old statues — they’re too busy building robot armies, and downloading hundreds of new apps, such as Joystream, a unique and exciting platform that allows users to swap gifts and share fun videos.
I check Joystream back at my hotel, and who do I see but Mandy! Her 6 million followers love watching Mandy eat bananas and chat about her life. What are our kids watching back in the States? Who knows, they’re too busy staring at their cell phones like robots.
We Westerners love to look down our noses at China, and sneer how their people are oppressed. Well, I didn’t certainly see any protests, or hear anyone complain about the government while I was in China. And while Washington is in gridlock, Chinese politicians are working every minute to ensure their people’s lives are better, more efficient, longer lasting.
So, President Trump — might I offer a piece of advice from someone who’s figured things out after only a week here. Why not spend a little less time on your golf course (which don’t exist in China, because they are quite sensibly banned to ensure stability) and a little more time on the 29th floor of the Ritz-Carlton Shanghai. You might find the view quite illuminating!
Malcolm Leveson is a senior partner with Lotus Solutions. The views expressed are definitely his own and he may own shares in all of the companies mentioned