Last May 4, the Economist, a conservative weekly magazine in London, commented on the “Chinese dream” as articulated by China’s new president, Xi Jinping, and related it to the “American dream.”
According to the Economist, Xi first mentioned the “Chinese dream” on Nov. 29, 2012, two weeks after his appointment as the Chinese Communist Party’s general secretary. It was the last step to his being named president of China by the National People’s Congress last March.
In a visit to the National Museum next to Tiananmen Square in Beijing, Xi told the Chinese media and museum workers that the “greatest Chinese dream” was the “great revival of the Chinese nation.” Following this declaration by the nation’s presumptive leader, the Chinese media, schools and bureaucracy started widely discussing the Chinese dream.
The Economist noted that Xi defined the Chinese dream while visiting the “Road to Revival” exhibit of the National Museum. “Its aim is to show China’s suffering at the hands of the colonial powers in the ‘century of [its] humiliation’ and its eventual glorious recovery under party rule,” said the Economist.
“Mr. Xi’s words implied that the Chinese dream, in contrast to its American namesake, was about something more than middle-class material comfort.” As a communist, Xi was referring to plans for the attainment of a “moderately well-off society” by 2021, the party’s 100th birthday, and the creation of a “rich, strong, democratic, civilized and harmonious socialist modern country” by 2049, the 100th anniversary of the People’s Republic of China, the Economist explained.
Thomas Friedman, author and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, earlier wrote in his column in the New York Times that for China’s emerging middle class, the dream should be different from the American dream which he described as “a big car, a big house and big Macs for all.”
Indeed, a nation’s dream changes in the course of its history. Under British rule, the dream of the Americans was to be free and independent. Its revolution was a model for the world. In the following years of settling continental America, the dream of most Americans was to own a piece of land.
After the frontier was settled, the American dream caught the virus of Empire under its watchword “Manifest Destiny.” It challenged the tottering Spanish empire first in Cuba and then in the Philippines, whose inhabitants, on opposite sides of the globe, were separately about to win their freedom through revolution.
US Sen. Alfred J. Beveridge, in a Senate speech in 1900, defined the American dream in relation to the Philippines, while its ragtag army under Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo was still fiercely resisting American colonization. “The Philippines are (sic) ours forever,” he orated, “territory belonging to the United States. And just beyond the Philippines are China’s illimitable markets. We will not retreat from either.”
Prophetic words, it appears, as more than 100 years later, the United States pivots its unchallenged military and naval might away from the Middle East to the Pacific, in what some pundits say is an effort to contain China, using the Philippines once more as one of its Pacific bases.
The Filipinos also have their dream. In the late 1800s, after 300 years of Spanish rule, a group of Filipino students in Madrid articulated the dream of equality with the Spaniards through representation in the Spanish parliament. But their petitions for “reforms,” expressed through the newspaper La Solidaridad, were ignored, and their leader Jose Rizal arrested, exiled and eventually executed.
Frustrated, the dream for equality exploded into a demand for independence through revolution. The Katipunan (Society) of workers and farmers led by the laborer and intellectual Andres Bonifacio took up arms. Defeated temporarily by superior Spanish forces, the revolution resurrected and changed into a war for liberation when the new American colonialists replaced the decrepit Spanish empire.
Under the American occupation, a peaceful struggle for “immediate, complete and absolute independence” was waged by the Philippine Assembly led by the Nacionalista Party of Quezon and Osmeña which dominated the Commonwealth government until the American “grant” of independence in 1946. The dream of Rizal and Bonifacio was still alive.
Meanwhile, the Filipino dream was subtly undergoing changes. Three years of brutal Japanese occupation during World War II made the Filipinos hanker for “benign” American rule. Filipinos yearned for the return of General MacArthur. American Liberation brought with it relief clothing, chocolates, bubble gum, K-rations, and jeeps. “Americanization” colored the Filipino dream, and gripped the middle class, as it did in Europe, after the Allied victory against Germany and Japan.
A brief interlude of nationalism emerged in the 1950s, aroused by Sen. Claro M. Recto and President Carlos P. Garcia, and expressed itself in a fit of industrialization and economic independence. But the dream fizzled out in the 1960s under President Diosdado Macapagal, who eagerly embraced globalization, liberalization and privatization, promoted by international financial institutions directed from Washington.
Under globalization, the Filipino dream is “to go abroad” in search of employment. The population has grown much faster than jobs. More than 10 million have become labor migrants, with thousands more queuing daily at foreign embassies, applying for visas.
In the early American years, Filipino workers dreamed of harvesting pineapple in Hawaii and gutting fish in Seattle. Today their dreams embrace the globe, from Europe to the Middle East to North America and, closer to home, Hong Kong and Singapore, as job havens to feed their families at home. Neither war nor racism would deter them.
Many of these dreams have gone bust: Some returned in caskets, or jobless and penniless, as a new financial crisis hit the once prosperous United States and Europe. The dream of the Filipino middle class of owning a car, a home, and eating at McDonald’s, in humble imitation of the American dream, is fading, as the Filipino middle class sinks and disappears among the marginalized masses.
The dream of the informal settlers or squatters, a fast growing breed, is for their shanties not to be demolished, and themselves not banished to the urban wastelands where there are no jobs and no amenities. The dream of the ruling elite is for more First World condominiums, and more GDP growth that would make them richer and the poor poorer. The rich are realizing their dream, the poor are waiting.
“What happens to a dream deferred?” asked the American poet Langston Hughes. “Does it explode?”
Manuel F. Almario is a veteran journalist, semi-retired, and currently spokesperson of the Movement for Truth in History (Rizal’s Moth).