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In Pursuit of Dreams
A journey taken along with China's reform and opening up
By Zhao Piao | NO. 34 AUGUST 23, 2018

On a normal, temperate June Friday in Beijing, the city's workforce celebrates following an arduous week at work. But for one man it is a special day, because today he will reunite with his family after several weeks of separation.

"I live and work in Beijing, but my hometown is in Shanxi Province so I have two homes. Today, I head for my hometown." Yang Fu told Beijing Review.

This year, Yang turns 40 years old, having been born in an extraordinary year for China when the reform and opening-up policy was adopted.


Before and after shots of a road in Yang Fu's hometown of Gejiatun Village, Tianzhen County in north China's Shanxi Province, in 2008 and 2018 (YANG FU)

A good omen 

Yang was born in Gejiatun Village, Tianzhen County in north China's Shanxi in the summer of 1978. Because of the poor conditions, his birth brought economic worries to his family along with the happy atmosphere usually generated by the arrival of a child.

Yet, it would transpire that what this new life brought was not burden but blessed change for the family.

In the winter of that year, a household contract system for agricultural output was established in Xiaogang Village in east China's Anhui Province. Soon, a spring breeze carried rural reform from Xiaogang around the country. By the end of 1983, more than 95 percent of farmers in China had implemented household contracts, and more than 97 percent of arable land was being cultivated this way.

"Ever since, life has improved with basic necessities like food and clothing provided for. We could also begin to amass some savings," Yang recalled.

In 1990, the Yang family moved into a separate yard with six rooms away from the crowded communal warren in which they had lived in. Lying on the big bed of his new home and thinking about the past, Yang, then 12 years old, tasted the fruit of reform and opening up for the first time and felt true happiness.

"This is the reason why my parents named me fu (good fortune) before I went to primary school at 6," Yang said.

Leaving home 

For Yang it seemed that life continued to get better and better, until a shadow was cast over his family when his father was diagnosed with a severe illness. To relieve the financial burden placed on his family by his father's medical fees, Yang dropped out of school and began working.

"Since the implementation of reform and opening up, the mobility of China's population has increased. At the same time ideas began to change too, and more and more young people became willing to head off on adventures to the big city in search of opportunities. My mother supported my decision to go and find work in Beijing," Yang said. In 1995, Yang left his hometown for the first time.

He landed his first job as a salesman at the grain bureau of Chaoyang District, where he stayed for six years. "It was stable work. The salary was also steady," Yang said, recalling these first six years in Beijing as fulfilling.

But as China entered the year 2000 on a rapid wave of development driven by the market economy, Yang realized that in the new millennium the prospects of state-owned grain enterprises would not be so promising. He quit the bureau and used all his money to start his own business.


Yang Fu participates in the Beijing Benz-Tsinghua University Advanced Seminar on Manufacturing Enterprises and takes a photo with a lecturer in May (COURTESY PHOTO)

Startup land  

"Using a fashionable term, it was a kind of 'startup'," Yang said referring to the launch of his own business. "The market was much more complicated than my imagination," he added with a wry smile.

With his business facing difficulties, Yang turned to the skills he had taught himself in his time at the grain bureau, and took on extra work installing electrical equipment. Another six years quickly flew by and Yang got married.

During this time, the Chinese market was opened further to the outside world as the country joined the World Trade Organization. Foreign companies were increasingly influenced by their peers, who had made large profits by entering the Chinese market at the initial stages of reform and opening up, and many decided to conduct business and invest in China.

In August 2005, Beijing Benz-Daimler Chrysler Automobile Co. Ltd. was established by Daimler AG, Daimler Chrysler (China) Investment Co. Ltd. and Beijing Automobile Industry Holding Co. Ltd. Two years later, the company officially changed its name to Beijing Benz Automobile Co. Ltd. In the same year, following a recommendation from a friend, Yang was recruited by the company and became an automobile manufacturer.

"It was a good era. Reform and opening up had not only solved basic living problems but also created a lot of job opportunities." Yang said.

At Beijing Benz, Yang made his way up step by step, from a low-level production line worker to a technician. By 2013, another six years had passed and Yang decided to buy a home in Beijing. The 17-year-old boy who moved to Beijing in 1995 had finally settled down in the city after 18 years.

Due to the restrictions of the household registration system, Yang's children could only receive nine years of compulsory education in Beijing. They went back to Yang's hometown in Shanxi for senior high school education. The same problem affects millions of migrants in the country's major cities.

Since the start of reform and opening up, China has adhered to the principle of development and concentrated on building the nation into a modern country. By 2010, China's GDP had leapt into second place worldwide, with both economic and comprehensive national strength elevated to a new level.

But in the process of development, some problems also appeared. One of the most prominent side effects of rapid economic progress was unbalanced development between urban and rural areas. More and more people became attracted by the advantages of big-city life, and the one-way flow of the population far exceeded anyone's expectations. The demand on civic structures became bloated, and sections of the migrant labor force were unable to access fundamental public services.

These issues have attracted the attention of the authorities in recent years. Based on the historical position of socialism with Chinese characteristics in the new era, the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China proposed that the principal contradiction in Chinese society had transformed into the disparity between people's growing needs for a better life and unbalanced and inadequate development.

The congress put forward many new requirements for the work of the Party and the government toward resolving this incongruity. Among them, the most important is a focus on people-oriented development, finding solutions to problems caused by unbalanced and insufficient development, and promoting all-round development and the common prosperity of the people.

On the way to this common prosperity, Yang has realized personal gratification in the country's achievements.

"The most obvious change is the roads in my hometown which have increased in both quantity and quality," Yang said, scrolling through photos on his mobile phone. "Asphalt roads are replacing dirt tracks. The changes are not limited to this. By the end of next year, the high-speed train from Datong [in Shanxi] to Zhangjiakou [in neighboring Hebei Province] will be put into operation and I will have yet another choice of transport when I go home."

Yang, now entering his 40s, has set goals for the coming six years for both his family and himself. He plans to achieve more at work and earn promotion to a senior technician as soon as possible. He also hopes that his son can be admitted to a university in Beijing.

Copyedited by Laurence Coulton  

Comments to yanwei@bjreview.com   

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