China’s thousand faces

The modern China

Nya Dagbladet visits the country that in a short period of time has gone from being a poor country to a global economic engine. In a unique series of articles, we explore the five-thousand-year-old cultural nation of China, which has dramatically transformed itself into a hyper-technological superpower. What kind of world awaits as the Middle Kingdom regains its central position on the world map?

publicerad 20 december 2023
Tiananmen Square, intercity high-speed trains, a police robot in Beijing, the metropolis of Shanghai, and a Daoist temple outside Chengdu.

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In Mandarin, China is referred to as Zhongguo – the Middle Kingdom. At the start of the new millennium, this designation has become increasingly apt. In terms of actual domestic purchasing power, known in economic parlance as PPP (purchasing power parity), the Chinese economy is already the largest in the world. Even in terms of nominal GDP, China is expected to overtake the US before the end of this decade.

Behind these numbers is a very real transformation of the country, which has gone from a poor agricultural nation to something out of a science fiction movie in just a few decades. 800 million people have been lifted out of poverty in record time, while the country’s infrastructure has been rebuilt from the ground up with 21st century technology. Side by side with the thousand-year-old stone blocks of the Great Wall of China, 5G towers now line up. Automated robots perform all sorts of tasks, from hotel service to police surveillance.

View from the Great Wall of China with Beijing on the horizon. Photo: Nya Dagbladet.

Driving through China’s capital, the impression of massive new construction is almost numbing to the untrained eye, with one massive complex after another. About 100 kilometers outside the capital, Beijing, a brand new city has been built from scratch in just a few years and will soon be home to more than 5 million people, a futuristic megaproject that Nya Dagbladet was one of the first Western media to gain access to.

It is difficult to know what we Chinese are really thinking, the development has been so unbelievably fast. It is difficult just to try to keep up with the changes the whole country is going through. Whether it will make us happy or not, we don’t even really know ourselves yet.

So says a well-educated young woman we meet in central Beijing, capturing the rapid pace at which China is developing in a new and as yet unfamiliar era.

Photo taken in Shanghai’s Huangpu district, where the contrast between ancient and modern China is striking. Photo: Nya Dagbladet.

The inescapable feeling is that the world has already been redrawn. What kind of a world awaits us now that China seems to have reemerged as the Middle Kingdom on the geopolitical stage? This is the question we tried to answer during our trip. The Chinese encounter with Marxist socialism, technological modernization, and thousands of years of cultural tradition can be puzzling at first glance, especially to Western eyes. In conversations with the people we met, Chinese medicine and feng shui are as much a part of the conversation as analysis of the policies of the ruling Communist Party.

During Nya Dagbladet’s trip, we speak with some of the country’s leading experts on Chinese politics, including learning more about the political philosophy of current leader Xi Jinping – known as “socialism with Chinese characteristics”. This is described not as a straightforward Soviet sister model, but rather as a social model that learns from the mistakes of the Soviet Union and instead claims to reflect ancient Chinese tradition in the form of the teachings of Confucius and, to some extent, ancient folk teachings of a higher natural order – the Dao.

A couple is photographed in the Forbidden City in Beijing. Access to the ancient imperial palaces was opened to the public after the Communist Party took power in 1949. Photo: Nya Dagbladet.

We also take a closer look at Chinese foreign policy and its so-called multilateral vision for the future – with the New Silk Road initiative as a key project. By the way, what is the state of China’s much-discussed technocratic surveillance society? What exactly is the so-called social credit system and how is it explained by officials?

Nya Dagbladet news director Isac Boman at the security checkpoint. Facial scanning is mandatory for flights into and within the country. Photo: Nya Dagbladet.

We explore this and much more in our exploratory series of articles on modern China.

– China is a country of a thousand faces. With this series of articles, we hope to present a more nuanced picture of a country about which we in the West know very little. At the same time, it is a country that is becoming increasingly relevant and therefore important to understand, says Nya Dagbladet’s editor-in-chief Markus Andersson about the upcoming series of articles.


Editorial staff

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