Sure, Shanghai appears slick and modern on the surface. There are all the usual trappings of a world-class modern metropolis: the new airport; the new subway; the new (yes, everything is new) skyscrapers, each taller than the one before; hotels, restaurants, bars that can rival the best from New York; etc, etc. But peel away all that veneer just a little bit and even the most casual observer can see truly how backwards it still is. By backwards I mean the communist propaganda that can be felt all over the place: there are huge billboards everywhere (regrettably, I neglected to take any pictures of these) expounding all sorts of bizarre socialist values, trying to brainwash the populist. By backwards I also mean the fact that information seems limited and hard to come by. By backwards I also mean that the disparity between the rich and the poor is too great: two pints of Guiness could be a week's pay for somebody (my driver, as a matter of fact). And of course we all know about the abysmal track-record of China's human rights policies (or lack thereof).

But there is definitely a palpable sense of excitment in the city. Most everyone thinks that there is great potential there, but this reminds me of all the big foreign conglomerates salivating at the thought of the huge Chinese-market. Yes, the potential is there, but I wonder if there is still too much momentum behind the communist bureaucracy and the general backwardness of China to turn much of that pent-up potential into kinetic energy.

Copyright © Liao Yusheng.