Scope for aspirations if jobs can be created

Updated: 2013-05-27 05:34

By Ed Zhang (China Daily)

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Last week investors were disturbed by changes that might be coming in Japan and the US - compounded by a rather lackluster domestic economy.

HSBC's China Purchasing Managers' Index, a measurement of activity within the manufacturing sector, showed a new low - but for obvious reasons. Because the economy is growing more slowly than the last decade's average, powered primarily by the manufacturing activity, it is inevitably reflected in the PMI.

But wait a minute, there were bright spots. A movie directed by a Hong Kong director, entitled American Dreams in China, took 200 million yuan (around $35 million) in box office revenues in the first week of its release on May 17, enough to qualify as a movie business success in China.

Scope for aspirations if jobs can be created

It is an aspirational and sometimes funny drama, according to some film critics, about how three poor college graduates build a business empire by teaching English in China. A friend of mine, who is in her 60s and has been busy founding a new company with some friends in the United States, sent me by email a link to the movie on the Internet, apparently inspired.

Aspirations come from elsewhere, too. The Chinese mainland's growth enterprise market, a stock market for smaller and newer companies, saw quite a robust rise while the main board of the stock market (or the A-share market), where major banks and State-owned large corporations gather, was putting on a boring show.

Investors love new varieties. The market has been abuzz with the question as to where to find the new varieties of enterprises and private initiatives in an economy that is not running as rapidly as once it did.

Premier Li Keqiang, who was touring Europe last week, gave a ready answer: China's urbanization will be the driving force for the next stage of growth.

Urbanization is a beautiful concept - sometimes referred to by Chinese media as the people's urbanization, or humanist urbanization, meaning the purpose is to serve the people.

But except for an overall concept, all details remain murky. And many questions are still to be answered.

How can urban residential house price rises be prevented from skyrocketing? And for that matter, how can local governments be prevented from relying so heavily on land auctions for their revenues.

How can people feel secure enough to spend money on a larger variety of consumer supplies? For example, how can air pollution be brought under control (which is also a kind of health and retirement insurance that citizens deserve)?

The minister of the National Development and Reform Commission, who was among Premier Li's entourage, promised to reporters that an overall urbanization plan was being made that would be released later this year. But many cities have already embarked on their local plans - some expanding their present industry zones two or three or four times their size, others designing tax-free zones for overseas investors.

How can the NDRC take the lead - by not only filling the new cities with new houses but also with new jobs? And not only new government jobs but new opportunities for small entrepreneurs? The NDRC has yet to give us a clue.

Indeed, the key to economically flourishing new cities is not physical construction but whether citizens can launch more companies of the sort on the growth enterprises market - from traditional services to art studios to online partnerships. China's urbanization will become a beautiful reality once it is no longer regarded as a Chinese variation of the American dream but as a more natural Chinese dream - and having no longer to be directed by a Hong Kong man.