Potential of the Chinese Dream

Updated: 2014-03-26 09:07

(China Daily USA)

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Survey shows by integrating national and personal aspirations it has been embraced as a shared mission driving change

Early in November 2012, Chinese leader Xi Jinping articulated a vision for the nation's future that he called the Chinese Dream. The Chinese Dream integrates national and personal aspirations, with the twin goals of reclaiming national pride and achieving personal well-being. It requires sustained economic growth, expanded equality and an infusion of cultural values to balance materialism.

Dreams are powerful. In advancing the Chinese Dream the government is uniting people around a shared mission and driving change, especially people in lower-tier cities and rural areas, as they experience increased affluence and opportunity.

Externally, the Chinese Dream can improve the image of China as a fast-growing nation striving to improve the welfare of its people and secure its place as a respected leader of the international community. In addition, the Chinese Dream can help elevate the overseas perception of Brand China, the collective reputation of products and services that originate in China.

Like many developments in modern China, awareness of the Chinese Dream happened with great speed.

Chinese social media is full of postings about the Chinese Dream, in which people express their demand for free education, better air quality and safe food. The government has raised awareness of its view of the Chinese Dream with a poster campaign and other publicity.

When the Chinese people say they support the Chinese Dream, they mean it. They take national pride seriously. According to WPP research from The Futures Company, 67 percent of Chinese say showing national pride is very or extremely important. Only 60 percent of Americans and 48 percent of Britons agree showing national pride is important.

When we asked Chinese what country they feel is most ideal today, they answered the United States. When we asked them what country would be ideal in 10 years, they said China. This optimism may be driven by a phenomenon articulated by The Futures Company, which suggests that personal satisfaction is determined less by one's current status and more by the prospects of improvement in the future. In its Global Monitor 2013, a consumer intelligence tool, The Futures Company found that 58 percent of Chinese say they are very or extremely satisfied with their lives, compared with 48 percent of Americans and only 33 percent of Britons.

At the same time, Chinese realize that their lives have room for improvement, with an overwhelming 79 percent agreeing that they'd be happier with more possessions. Only 16 percent of Britons and 14 percent of Americans say they need more stuff. Based on Global Monitor research, The Futures Company concludes that once people worldwide satisfy their basic material needs, adding more possessions doesn't usually increase happiness. Chinese aren't there yet. But they are determined to reach this threshold. For the past 30 years Chinese have been manufacturing and exporting products to meet the materialistic aspirations of consumers in the West. Chinese are now ready to consume what they produce, to realize the materialistic aspect of the Chinese Dream. The only question is whether this acquisition of material goods will unfold as Western-style conspicuous consumption in China or in a more considered way, informed by a Chinese cultural appreciation for keeping life in balance.

Realization of the Chinese Dream is important to Chinese for practical reasons, because it will improve the lives of people, particularly in lower-tier cities and rural areas. And it is important for reasons of national identity, to bring a country with a proud history out of the shadows of the troubling last couple of centuries. This commitment to the dream is consistent across all age groups and highest among younger people, ages 30 to 39. These people, who mostly grew up during the period of China's rapid economic growth, tend to be more individualistic and determined to advance either by finding a good job or starting their own business. Two-thirds of the Chinese people surveyed said the Chinese Dream makes them feel more confident about their personal future and 61 percent say the Chinese Dream makes them feel more confident about the future of the country. They also rate the dream high for strengthening social cohesion, making the country more energetic and influencing positive social change.

In contrast, achievement of the national dream is not as urgent in the UK or the US, developed nations that continue to evolve, but not at the pace of fast-growing China. Only 39 percent of British people say that achieving the British Dream is important to them. And the result drops off dramatically with age. Only one-third of Britons over age 50 say achieving the dream is important. The absence of a clearly articulated national dream in the UK may reflect an overall sense of national confidence that a nation with a rich heritage can endure without a national dream. Or the absence may indicate a missed opportunity to inspire people and reenergize the country for successful engagement with the modern world. Younger Britons are more open to having a British Dream. Over half of people ages 18 to 29 say a national dream is important. America falls in the middle, with about two-thirds saying that achieving the American Dream is important to them individually. That response stays fairly consistent regardless of age, with a modest decline after age 50.

In the US and the UK, there is also a link between the extent to which the national dream inspires people to feel confident both about their personal future and the future of the nation. The intensity of these beliefs is much lower, however, compared with China. In the US, 45 percent of people polled said that the American Dream makes them feel more confident about their own future; 42 percent said the American Dream makes them confident about the future of the nation. That compares with 66 percent and 61 percent in China.

The American Dream is cultural wallpaper. It surrounds Americans in film, advertising and other popular media, sets the tone for how they think about the nation, but it remains in the background until particular circumstances prompt a political leader or someone else to point it out. Less defined, the British Dream lacks the presence and pattern of wallpaper. It's more like a room filled with random memorabilia that reminds Britons of their history and heritage.

Unlike the American Dream or the British Dream, the Chinese Dream, articulated only 18 months ago, today is part of daily conversation.

This article is an excerpt from a report titled The Power and Potential of the Chinese Dream, done by Britain-based advertising giant WPP.

(China Daily USA 03/26/2014 page11)