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China's reform and opening-up ripples across generations

By Kaitlyn Tan | chinadaily.com.cn | Updated: 2018-06-12 16:29

I was born in 1992 after China's reform started. I had not heard much about China growing up in a small town in Wisconsin. However, I have always been interested in Asian cultures. In 2012, I attended a Mandarin class at a university in Minnesota and this was my first introduction to China. The Mandarin class aroused my curiosity and I decided to quit my American university and go to China to study Mandarin. I researched Chinese schools and applied to Southwest University for Nationalities in Chengdu. Most foreigners choose Beijing and Shanghai, but I wanted to go somewhere I had never heard of before, and it just felt like fate to go to Chengdu.

My university in Chengdu [Photo provided to chinadaily.com.cn]

I didn't know what to expect before coming to China in February 2013, but my vision of Chengdu was different than expected. Chengdu was more modernized and bigger than I thought. I had pictured it to be like the Third Ring Road area of Chengdu, with smaller and older traditional houses, buildings, and smaller roads. Instead, there were many western cars and semi-western, tall, big buildings. I had not realized reform had advanced Chinese cities in just a few decades. In a way, because I love cultural styles, I hope China continues to build more modern buildings in traditional styles. This helps China be modern, while keeping a Chinese taste and atmosphere. There is one popular shopping area in Chengdu called Tai Gu Li where they have adapted modern shops in traditional Chinese style and it makes it fun to go there, especially as a foreigner.

While in Chengdu I saw more examples of how China is continuing to develop all over the country, from getting new comfortable public buses, building more subways to meet the public's demand and convenience, building new quality dorms and libraries at university campuses, and building more shopping and business centers, which create more jobs. I can still feel Chinese wanting to learn about other countries and cultures even 40 years after the reform and opening up started. They know they are not done learning and growing, because whenever I meet new Chinese friends they're always interested in where I'm from, my experiences, my life in America versus in China, and we often become good friends. Another surprise I had was when I visited Chongqing. With all the high rail tracks with subways and magnificent freeways and bridges with tall buildings, I thought Chongqing looked like a city from the future.

My university in Chengdu [Photo provided to chinadaily.com.cn]

Now, 40 years later after the reform and opening up, I think food is plentiful in China; even many young Chinese have leftover food after eating out. China also welcomes foreign investments, businesses, and trades. The economy, education, and life quality has grown dramatically. While in China, I felt every few months I'd hear some new advancement China was making, such as housing developments, the Global Center in Chengdu, theme parks being built, and more. Foreign investments that I have used while in Chengdu include foreign dentists, chefs/restaurants, Walmart, Ikea, and veterinarians coming to China, which have helped build diverse communities.

Technology and speed have been a big improvement in Chinese businesses as well. On WeChat, a Chinese messenger app, you can scan businesses bar codes and can easily send money and pay on the messenger app to anyone at anytime. Looking to the future, China has plans to turn Hainan Island into an international resort; welcoming global investment. In the hot topic of the trade war, I agree with China wanting to come to a half-way plan. From a long-term perspective a healthy economy always comes from globalization, not segregation. I think it's safe to say 20 years from now we will see many more contributions and achievements from China.

I enjoy night walks in Chengdu [Photo provided to chinadaily.com.cn]

In the summer of 2015 I returned to America. Not long after that I met and married my Chinese husband, Zhiming, here in Minnesota. Since then I have heard stories from his and my in-laws' childhoods. Before the reform many people were starving, there were not enough jobs, and there was a lack of equal education for people. My mother-in-law told me when she was a child she remembered always being hungry. She would wake up in the morning and go out to look for wild vegetables, resorting to eating grass at times. My in-laws knew people who died of hunger during their childhood. My father-in-law received a few years of education, but my mother-in-law only had three days of school. This was in the 1950s to1960s and shows how drastic are the improvements China has fought for and accomplished.

Zhiming and I visiting Chengdu in 2017 [Photo provided to chinadaily.com.cn]

After coming back to America I started to frequently read China Daily. I have seen many steps that China has made, such as Shanghai making it easier for talented foreigners to get resident permits, China inviting talented foreigners to help work toward project goals, contributing to the global economy, and my favorite, because it affects me locally here in Minnesota are the sister cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, which are Harbin and Changsha, China. There is an agreement between these cities that China has allowed Minneapolis to create a park in the Northeastern style, and it will be called Bei Ming Yuan and St. Paul will also create a park after Changsha's park called Changsha Yanghu Wetland Park. This will help people in Minnesota get a taste of beautiful Chinese art.

Though I am currently living in America finishing my creative writing degree, I miss China dearly. No place is 100% perfect, but I miss friends, food, and everyday life in China. My family and I hope to return to China in a few years. There's a reason why Chinese culture has survived for thousands of years, and its magic has caught my heart.

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