New Stories of Silk Road: Towards Building a New Community

Rajendra Sharma

WHILE collecting the information about the working of Baibuting community in the Wuhan city, we were introduced to interesting facets of organisation of urban life. This urban community with a population of 1,80,000 is served by not just one centre that we were visiting, but by more than 10 community facilities in the region that  serve the varied social and cultural needs of members of this community. The Baibuting community centre we visited was housed in a five storey building with each floor dedicated to different activities. The facilities and services provided to the members of community are either free or for very nominal fees. The facilities provided at the centre includes a huge library/ reading room with lakhs of books, computers with internet facilities and training centres for using the same. There are also facilities for learning, singing, dancing, painting and other fine arts. The elderly were particularly seen enjoying these facilities.

The 4.30 pm class for the school children specially drew our attention. This facility is for those school going children who come back early from school while their parents reach late. Actually the 4.30 class is for self-learning by the children. Modern equipments including 3D printers are available to them. A similar and interesting facility is also available for the old parents who are alone once their children go out to work. This is just like a creche facility where the old parents are dropped at the community centre by their children while going to work and picked up in the evening.

The Baibuting community has received many awards for its good work. Services rendered especially to the old through large number of volunteers are considered its special strength. The centre we visited has also become a training centre for community workers from various parts of China. China which has invested hugely into the health and care of its people has a higher life expectancy and a large population of the elderly. But the good care taken not just as a ‘state’ by China but also, its thriving network of communities can be easily seen by huge and enthusiastic presence of the old at various tourist places including the ‘Great Wall of China’ and other public spaces.

A 14-member delegation of media and policy advocates from three countries, India, Pakistan and Burma visited China from September 11-20. As a part of it, we visited cultural activities centre of Quyang community in Shanghai. Actually, it was a pleasant surprise to note that in China the word community is mainly used for a neighbourhood-based community, while we use it mainly for ethnicity, religion, language and caste. In China its based on the place of living. Not just urban but rural China is also organised into such communities.

This organisation in communities (Sheque in Chinese) works on the basis of  financial aid from the relevant structures of governance prevalent in China and also from the individual contributions from the members of the community, which also includes volunteers work, sharing various kind of skills. This model is not just very flexible to respond to various needs of people but is also democratic. It is run by elected members, though a community can put certain minimum qualifications for contesting for community committee.  For example, only those who have volunteered for at least 2-3 years are eligible to contest for Baibuting community.  The communities apart from taking care of the cultural and social needs of the society, also look after other needs of their members. For example, they also work for ensuring cheaper houses or houses on lesser rent for poor or even free accommodation for homeless. These communities build a sense of belonging and collective identity amongst the members. For example, QyuYang community in Shanghai takes pride in the fact that they get some of the well-known performers in their programmes. More or less this has become an all China phenomenon in which the Communist Party of China plays a guiding role. This is a path for the formation of a new community of equal citizens.

Naturally our delegation could also see the huge and rapid economic development of China that has prepared ground for development of new community of equal citizens. Our delegation was impressed by development in Shanghai, Wuhan and Beijing, three places that we visited. The town planning for very fast developing Shanghai is very impressive. Similarly, the Waigaoquio port in Shanghai speaks about its very large trade through the seas. Shanghai has two international airports and also is a city that have two deep river ports capable of handling very large vessels, simultaneously at its port. Similarly, we were impressed by volume and nature of giant Chinese infrastructure construction company called China Communication construction company.

The pace of development one saw at Wuhan city impressed us most.  May be this is the reason that Wuhan,  also a city of historic importance was chosen to host recent informal summit between Indian prime minister, Narendra Modi and the Chinese president Xi Jinping. Wuhan, with its six dozen universities and colleges, is one of biggest education centres of China and biggest centre of scientists and innovators. Its ‘FibreValley’ is considered as a Chinese equivalent of ‘Silicon Valley’ of US. Out of 500 fortune companies 87 are based here only. One of the innovative inventions of fibre technology- the micro-capsule sized magnetically computer-controlled camera that can be swallowed by patients for internal examination of digestive tract, amazed us completely. We had also the experience of the high-speed bullet train from Shanghai to Wuhan which runs at a speed of above 300 km per hour. China has already connected its major cities with such speed trains.

No surprise that China has become the second largest economy of the world.  But it has not kept its developmental borders limited to just its own geographical limits. It has taken a road of helping development of other developing countries as well. Five years ago, in August-September 2013 the idea of re-developing the old silk road was articulated by President Xi Jinping. Today it has evolved into a giant effort for shared prosperity and development. Along with historical silk route even the sea route has been added, which is the old spice route. This is now known as ‘Belt and Road Initiative’.  By now over 78 countries have joined this collaborative effort.

In fact, our delegation was invited in the context of the fifth anniversary of this initiative, by the international department of the Central Committee of Communist Party of China. Both the Pakistani and Burmese delegates had brought experience of many infrastructure, energy and connectivity projects in various stages of construction in their respective countries under the BRI. On the other hand, we from the Indian contingent, could only bring an outside view as India is kept out of this huge effort for political reasons by our government.

Our discussions in relation with silk route were mainly concentrated in Beijing. We had an interaction with the representatives of China Foundation of Peace and Development. This is an international NGO supported by the Chinese government, which is actively engaged in livelihood capacity building and education, health, etc., in the developing countries. We also met the representatives of China Daily, where issue of the western misrepresentations of BRI was discussed extensively. As part of this,China watch portal representatives apprised us about their initiative for a dialogue world wide for the BRI.

Nevertheless, various questions regarding nature, impact and problems of BRI came up in our last three discussions. First was with the delegates of the international department of CC of CPC; the second one was with an expert from CPC central school and the third one was with the experts of Institute of Financial Studies at Renmin University.

In ideological terms, China is presenting an idea of a ‘new globalisation’, different from the imperialist globalisation that emerged after the second world war and allowed only free flow of capital and technology. This globalisation has impoverished the developing world further by exploiting their resources. Challenge for China is to present an alternate to this. This initiative of the Chinese government raises many hopes for a new world of a community with common interests. There emphasis on dialogue, mutual benefit, cooperation and keeping people in centre raises hopes that through process of experiment, dialogue and corrections, a more inclusive development model can be evolved. China is already taking care that BRI projects create more jobs in host countries and only a minimum number goes outside.

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