China’s Opening-up is the Light that Illuminates the Life of My Generation

This article was written by Hu Xijin, former Chief Editor of Global Times, on November 15, 2023. In the article, Hu thanks Deng Xiaoping's Reform and Opening-up policy for changing his life. "May the policy be flaunted fiercely in the winds of the times," Hu stated.
December 5, 2023
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Hu Xijin
Chinese journalist, Former Editor-in-Chief of Global Times
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The Shanghai Import Expo, which was held for the first time in 2018, is widely seen as a declaration of China’s determination to expand its opening-up to the outside world and to continuously improve the quality of its opening-up. I went to university in 1978, and the life of my generation has been accompanied by the opening-up of the country.

When I was a child, there was a high bridge in a place called “Dahongmen” in the southern part of Beijing, under which there was a sign saying something like “No foreigners are allowed to cross the bridge”, with a PLA soldier standing next to the sign with a gun. To the south of the bridge was a large area of farmland, then Nanyuan Airport and a compound and living quarters later renamed the China Launch Vehicle Research Institute (CLVRI). Soon after the Reform and Opening-up, the sign and the guard post were removed, and now that location is the intersection of Beijing’s fourth ring road and the wide central axis, where ground buses and subways run concurrently.

When I was a kid, I hardly ever saw any foreigners with high noses in my life, but once I saw a man and a woman in the Xinhua Bookstore in the center of the community, both of them were very young, eighteen or nineteen years old. The girl had two big pigtails, and I was especially surprised to see that the two of them spoke authentic Beijing dialect. Later I realized that they were the son and daughter of the famous American friends Erwin Engst and Joan Hinton.

Then I took the college entrance examination and entered the Foreign Languages College of PLA in Nanjing. Reform and Opening-up paved the way and stage of my life and that of all my peers, and the vastness of the world and the splendor of China’s embrace and interweaving with the world participated in illuminating the lives of all of us. Opening up to the outside world opened up the horizons of Chinese society as a whole. Suddenly, masterpieces from all over the world flooded in, falling like hailstones on the heads of our generation, which had almost no books to read before. For our generation, opening up to the outside world was the propellant of reform, the goal and reference cluster for China to modernize and catch up with the world, and the mechanism to do so as well.

In the early days of Reform and Opening-up, Chinese people were really poor and had never seen anything. I remember once watching a movie depicting a poor man in Hong Kong dressed as a bear to welcome customers in a shopping mall. He came home, in a bad mood, and shouted at his wife, “Bring me water.” His wife opened the refrigerator and gave him a bottle of soda. He unscrewed the cap, raised his neck and drank it. We were amazed: the poor people in Hong Kong were so rich that they drank soda when they were thirsty at home!

Later, as China did more and more business with the world and received more and more investment from the outside world, it became common for us to come into contact with foreigners in our lives. From the feeling that they are much poorer than foreigners, to begin to be able to compare with foreigners, and later found that we have more and more places to gradually catch up with foreigners. Opening up to the outside world enables the Chinese people to catch up with the world, and to be a part of the world, until in globalization to become a leading force.

Today I have retired, so do the first three generations of college students in 1977, 1978 and 1979. Looking at the various kinds of anxiety and uncertainty on the Internet, I remembered that our generation’s youth was more anxious and uncertain, and at that time, we did not dare to think that China’s economy could be so successful. There are even more debates on what the country’s path should be. But if I were to summarize today, I would say that as long as China insists on opening up to the outside world, and continues to expand the breadth and depth of opening-up, the collective vision of Chinese society will be broad, and the fundamental errors that may occur in a closed society will not occur in China, and even if the first signs of them emerge, they will be corrected. In an open society, the society’s value system will be generally healthy, and people’s pursuit of a better life must correspond to the society’s greatest political goal. In a highly open society, many indicators are commonly used internationally, China’s achievements can be seen at a glance, and problems are also clearly exposed, so seeking truth from facts has a very strong foundation. If there is anyone who wants to cheat, the room for maneuver must be limited.

China must keep developing, and the pace of development must be higher than the world’s medium level and higher than the average level of the world’s major economies, which is a hard indicator of China’s national achievement. The Chinese government has repeatedly declared its intention to further open up to the outside world and has taken a series of strong initiatives, including the opening of new free trade zones, allowing foreign companies to build wholly-owned factories in China, and further liberalizing market access, etc. These approaches are the establishment of a high-quality standard for China’s socialist market economy. In such a level of opening up to the outside world, there is no way back for China, we can only keep moving forward.

It should be pointed out that the deterioration of Sino-US relations in recent years has made China’s opening-up environment become unprecedentedly severe. Objectively speaking, this will frustrate some of the positivity and initiative of China’s society to open up to the outside world. Related to this, China has some negative performance in some places and areas, the expansion of opening-up is not coordinated. For instance, some foreign elements have become more and more sensitive in our society. And this particular time is exactly when China becomes the strongest in all aspects of the time. The threshold for accusations of “pandering to foreigners” in the court of public opinion has been lowered, and such labels are all over the place. In addition, the staff of many organizations complain that their procedures for contacting foreigners have become so complicated that some have simply cut back on meetings with foreigners in order to avoid the hassle. What’s more, some companies that have gone far in internationalization are getting a lot of flak in the court of public opinion.

The time has come to really test China’s confidence and patience in opening up to the outside world. There are some extreme politicians in the United States who want to “decouple” with China and force China to back to closure from opening-up. In the face of US’ all kinds of blocking and suppression, the Chinese society must not be temperamental, we must do our best to maintain China’s open environment, and constantly encourage China’s various elements to go out, while welcoming the normal interests of foreign countries to enter China. We have to guard against all kinds of risks that emerge in the new era, while at the same time maintaining our self-confidence and realizing a high level of comprehensive security for Chinese society by strengthening our ability to defuse risks and continuously improving the resilience of Chinese society.

China’s opening up to the outside world is a big flag, and may it be flaunted fiercely in the winds of the times.

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Hu Xijin
Chinese journalist, Former Editor-in-Chief of Global Times
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