A new sun rises

Old China hands in Bei­jing share their perceptions of China since its re­form and open­ing-up

Global Times – Metro Beijing - - FRONT PAGE - By Zhang Xinyuan

This year marks the 40th an­niver­sary of China’s re­form and open­ing-up, a set of poli­cies that was pro­posed by the then leader Deng Xiaop­ing and im­ple­mented in 1978 that pushed

pushed China through the bar­ri­ers of hun­dreds of years of self-iso­la­tion and al­lowed more fre­quent com­mu­ni­ca­tion and ex­change be­tween China and the out­side world.

Af­ter the re­form and open­ing-up poli­cies were im­ple­mented, many for­eign­ers got to come to China, and they have wit­nessed and ex­pe­ri­enced the changes that hap­pened in the coun­try over the years.

Metropoli­tan in­ter­viewed three “old China hands” who have been liv­ing in China for over 20 years to get their thoughts on China af­ter the re­form and open­ing-up and find out how the changes im­pacted on their lives.

Jade Gray, founder of Gung Ho! Pizza

Gray ar­rived in China in 1996 from his home coun­try of New Zealand. He had learned Chi­nese at univer­sity and had al­ways wanted to come to China and start a busi­ness here. He cur­rently has seven Gung Ho! Pizza stores in Bei­jing.

GT: What was your first im­pres­sion of China when you first ar­rived?

Gray:

I had read some in­for­ma­tion about China in some news­pa­pers and mag­a­zines back in New Zealand about the re­form and open­ing-up pol­icy, but when I got here, it was noth­ing like what I read in those ar­ti­cles. It was chaotic in China, but in an or­ga­nized way, and I was im­pressed with Chi­nese peo­ple’s in­dus­tri­ous spirit of turn­ing every sit­u­a­tion into the best pos­si­ble sit­u­a­tion in a prag­matic way.

GT: What’s your ob­ser­va­tion of China’s changes af­ter the re­form and open­ing-up?

Gray:

In terms of en­trepreneur­ship and the busi­ness en­vi­ron­ment in China, the real change af­ter the re­form and open­ing-up is the strength­en­ing of the law. [For ex­am­ple], more re­cently, there is an anti-cor­rup­tion drive that has re­ally changed the way busi­ness is done here. The re­la­tion­ship be­tween busi­nesses and the gov­ern­ment has be­come more trans­par­ent. It makes it eas­ier for for­eign­ers to nav­i­gate the busi­ness en­vi­ron­ment.

An­other change is how China’s con­fi­dence in it­self has grown.

When I first got here, for­eign­ers were put in a bub­ble, al­most on a pedestal. For­eign­ers were treated with re­spect and in­cred­i­ble hos­pi­tal­ity, but also aloofly. We had cur­rency specif­i­cally for for­eign­ers and friend­ship stores for for­eign­ers. We were treated dif­fer­ently be­cause we are for­eign­ers. The ex­pe­ri­ence was nice, but it wasn’t right.

I started to feel the chang­ing at­ti­tude to­ward for­eign­ers af­ter Bei­jing got the op­por­tu­nity to host the sum­mer Olympic Games. China did very well, and the Pek­ing Olympics was also a suc­cess; I could just sense the na­tional pride growing. I felt the peo­ple get a sense of be­lief in them­selves again and find di­rec­tion af­ter a re­ally dif­fi­cult pe­riod.

The global fi­nan­cial cri­sis hap­pened around that time. For years, China had looked to Western coun­tries, es­pe­cially the US, as an eco­nomic model, but af­ter that, China re­al­ized that Western mod­els have prob­lems too and started to look in­side [the coun­try] for in­spi­ra­tion.

Since then, peo­ple started to treat me like a reg­u­lar per­son, and I was no longer treated dif­fer­ently be­cause I am a for­eigner.

I work in the food and bev­er­age in­dus­try, so one change I am amazed at is how fast China’s con­sumers have evolved in terms of so­phis­ti­ca­tion. They now have an in­ter­na­tional mind and taste. That’s be­cause with the re­form and open­ing-up, Chi­nese con­sumers have broad­ened their hori­zons with Chi­nese go­ing abroad to study or travel. [At the same time,] more for­eign prod­ucts are com­ing in, and the in­ter­net, which al­lows them to learn trendy things, has been pop­u­lar­ized.

Ten years ago, a for­eigner opens a pizza store, and it’s a sure thing that it would be a suc­cess. But now, Chi­nese con­sumers no longer fol­low the stores opened by for­eign­ers with wide eyes. They would ask what type of pizza it is, whether it’s au­then­tic and where the in­gre­di­ents come from. They are al­ready the most so­phis­ti­cated con­sumers in the world.

Jennifer Sachs, CEO of Hyde Academy

Jennifer Sachs ar­rived in China in 1991 from the US. When she first ar­rived in China, she taught at the Bei­jing Univer­sity of Tech­nol­ogy. Now, she owns two learn­ing cen­ters in Bei­jing and works as the CEO of Hyde Academy. She is mar­ried to a lo­cal Chi­nese man, and they have three sons to­gether.

GT: What was your first im­pres­sion of China when you ar­rived?

Sachs:

I was a Rus­sian ma­jor at univer­sity, and I vis­ited Rus­sia. So, I had an idea about China be­fore I came here, which was that the coun­try is go­ing be gray and re­ally con­trolled. How­ever, as soon as I got off the plane, I re­al­ized that the coun­try is full of the color, I don’t just mean the build­ings and trees. I mean the at­ti­tude of peo­ple and the en­vi­ron­ment. I could feel the warmth and the joy in peo­ple, and there was al­ways some­thing new hap­pen­ing every day. Since the day I landed in this coun­try, I fell in love with it. There is al­ways some­thing new that draws me in, just like the way you fall in love with a per­son, you can’t ex­plain it.

GT: What’s your opin­ion of China’s re­form and open­ing-up pol­icy?

Sachs:

I be­lieve it’s a very good pol­icy. To me, com­mu­ni­ca­tion is key be­cause when we are closed, we can’t see the out­side world, and it’s im­pos­si­ble to learn. Also, it’s be­cause of the openingup that I was able to come to China and start a fam­ily and busi­ness here.

It also brought up an ocean of op­por­tu­ni­ties. Every week, peo­ple in dif­fer­ent in­dus­tries come to me ask­ing to co­op­er­ate. It’s been a re­ally

good time to be here.

GT: What’s your ob­ser­va­tion of China’s changes af­ter the re­form and open­ing-up?

Sachs: There are so many changes. For ex­am­ple, I have an old photo of Chang’an Av­enue back in the 1990s; it was filled with bi­cy­cles, and now it has so many cars lin­ing the road. It’s a com­pletely dif­fer­ent view.

I work in ed­u­ca­tion, so I will start there. In the past, par­ents and stu­dents only wanted to learn English, but now they want to learn more about for­eign cultures as well. It’s no longer just about lan­guage now.

In addi- tion to that, in the past, par­ents only cared about grades, but now they care about whether their kids are car­ing and re­spon­si­ble and about other qual­i­ties they can im­prove on other than grades.

The in­ter­est in for­eign­ers and for­eign cul­ture has also deep­ened. In the past, when lo­cals see me, they would point at me and shout laowai (for­eigner). Now, some of them will talk to me and ask me ques­tions like what are my val­ues and why I chose to stay in China. We can have a real con­ver­sa­tion. Do­minic Johnson-Hill, founder of Plas­tered T-shirts

Do­minic Johnson-Hill ar­rived in China in 1993 from the UK as a back­pack- er. He later re­al­ized the vast po­ten­tial for busi­ness op­por­tu­ni­ties in China and stayed. Af­ter sev­eral en­trepreneurial ex­plo­rations, he started one of the most fa­mous lo­cal ex­pat brands: Plas­tered Tshirts. He is mar­ried to a lo­cal Chi­nese, and they have four daugh­ters.

GT: What was your first im­pres­sion of China when you ar­rived?

Hill: Orig­i­nally, I only started to work in China to earn some money so that I could move on to my next des­ti­na­tion. Then I re­al­ized that there are so many op­por­tu­ni­ties here, and I could get jobs that I could’ve never got­ten in any other coun­try, so the op­por­tu­ni­ties are what kept me in here. For ex­am­ple, I got to work for a big mar­ket re­search com­pany where I was sent all over the coun­try to re­search their prod­ucts. Later, I got to set up my first com­pany do­ing mar­ket re­search.

GT: What’s your ob­ser­va­tion of China’s changes af­ter the re­form and open­ing-up?

Hill: I want to show the changes in China through one per­son. Back in the 90s, I was trav­el­ing all over China to the small cities and vil­lages. I re­mem­ber meet­ing a man in Shan­dong Province who was earn­ing 800 yuan per month work­ing for a tobacco com­pany. I vis­ited him 20 years later, and I met his son who had just been born when I met him for the first time.

His son is 25 years old now and has just re­turned from the US where he stud­ied at a univer­sity. [His son] has started his own busi­ness now and has a very nice car and house.

It’s very im­pres­sive to see how China has changed in just one gen­er­a­tion, how many peo­ple have come out of im­pov­er­ish­ment to have a suc­cess­ful busi­ness.

I went back to many of those small towns and vil­lages I went to in the 90s; they all have nice in­fra­struc­ture now, from high-speed trains to IT fa­cil­i­ties.

I feel ex­tremely for­tu­nate to be able to be part of this growth, cre­ate my own busi­ness among the changes, and be a small frac­tion of Bei­jing and see my Tshirts be­ing sold to Eng­land and France as a Bei­jing brand.

Photo: VCG

Long-term ex­pats in China talk about the coun­try’s re­form and open­ing-up as the na­tion cel­e­brates the 40th an­niver­sary of the pol­icy.

Photo: IC

China has un­der­gone marked changes over the last few decades both on the lo­cal and in­ter­na­tional stage, old China hands say.

Pho­tos: Zhang Xinyuan and Li Hao/GT

Jennifer Sachs

Jade Gray

Do­minic Jonhson-Hill

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