Pudong Targets Social Progress
Exclusive Interview with Shao Yudong, Former Member of the Standing Committee of the CPC Committee of Pudong New Area
Video documentaries preserve images of Pudong as a vast expanse of countryside carpeted by farmlands and dilapidated rural houses prior to 1990. Over the subsequent 28 years, tremendous changes have taken place in the area.
In 1990, Shao Yudong became one of the first contributors to the development and opening up of Pudong. He once served as member of the Standing Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Committee of Pudong New Area, director of the Publicity Department and the United Front Work Department of Pudong’s Party committee and vice chairman of the Pudong committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC). After his retirement in 2008, Shao shifted from being a builder of Pudong to a researcher. He is now a guest professor at several universities and works on researching the theories and practices of Pudong’s development and opening up.
Shao likens Pudong’s development and opening up over the past 28 years to a brilliant historic epic written by builders from both China and abroad with their sweat and tears, presenting a glorious painting of the times that depicts the great journey of realizing the Chinese Dream of national rejuvenation.
China Pictorial (CP): Why did the Chinese government choose Pudong as an important test field for the country’s reform and opening up after establishing several special economic zones and opening 14 coastal cities?
Shao: Pudong’s development and opening up demonstrated a necessary and self-determined choice for history. In fact, it was an innate aspiration for generations. As early as 1919, Dr. Sun Yat-sen, the pioneer of China’s democratic revolution, presented the idea of building Pudong into a major harbor in the East in his book The International Development of China. Restricted by national conditions at the time, however, this dream was difficult to achieve.
From the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 1949 to 1990, Shanghai, known as the “eldest son of China’s economy,” remained a major contributor to national revenues. After contributing massive sums to the national treasury, the city’s remaining revenues could barely cover necessary expenditures in urban construction. Consequently, the city lacked the funds for the development of Pudong, which is just across the Huangpu River from the Bund and Nanjing Road, the most bustling places in Shanghai. In the past, residents of downtown Shanghai called Pudong the “countryside,” and even locals of Pudong didn’t consider themselves Shanghainese and colloquially called crossing the river to downtown “going to Shanghai.” Back then, Shanghai faced a wide array of difficulties in urban development: traffic congestion, inconvenient transportation blocked by the river, insufficient housing and environmental pollution. However, such challenges kindled locals’ aspirations for development and inspired them to strive to develop through reform and opening up. People in the city longed to revive the past glory of Shanghai.
Based on the initiative of Deng Xiaoping, chief architect of China’s reform and opening up, the Chinese government made the strategic decision to develop and open Shanghai’s Pudong area. On April 18, 1990, China officially announced a plan to build Pudong New Area. This announcement elevated the development and opening up of Pudong to a national key strategy and heralded the dawn of Pudong’s development and opening up. Shanghai seized the historic opportunity arising from China’s reform and opening up and stunned the world with Pudong’s development.
CP: What are the factors that fueled the miraculous achievements of Pudong’s development and opening up?
Shao: Pudong’s development and opening up can be attributed to a combination of top-level design and down-to-earth struggle. Since the very beginning, Pudong received intense attention in development planning. Without a well-designed blueprint, a tailor will destroy a piece of fine fabric if he or she rushes to cut it. So, Shanghai organized several international seminars for the planning of Pudong’s construction. To plan the 1.7-square kilometer core area of Lujiazui Finance and Trade Zone, Pudong organized two international seminars attracting more than 30 experts and architects from a dozen countries. Many architects presented distinctive designs. After 17 rounds of discussions and modifications over two years, the final blueprint for the construction of Lujiazui was approved. A model of the final blueprint is now housed at the National Museum of China. It was the first time China carried out specific international consultation and pooled global wisdom to plan a development zone.
In addition to Lujiazui, many landmark buildings of Pudong are fruits of global wisdom. Many architects from around the world were invited to design structures there including Shanghai Pudong International Airport, Shanghai Oriental Art Center, Shanghai New International Expo Center and Century Park.
Moreover, Pudong’s development adopted a strategy combining “rich planning” and “affordable development.” Rich planning refers to aiming high and looking to the future when formulating an overall development plan. Affordable development refers to implementing the development plan step-by-step and considering future development over the coming 30 to 50 years rather than pursuing quick success and unrealistic targets beyond capacity. Indeed, Pudong New Area was built incrementally based on its available manpower, funds and resources.
CP: What benefits have ordinary people enjoyed from Pudong’s development and opening up?
Shao: Pudong has always aligned its development and opening up with the improvement of people’s living standards. In the beginning of Pudong’s development, we launched a “locomotive program” in which various functional zones took the initiative to stimulate the development of neighboring townships. A development zone was responsible for supporting the development of the place where it is located. It placed priority on training and hiring locals who could become qualified for relevant jobs while injecting vitality into local township enterprises by bringing in investment or technological instruction. Major developers played the role of “locomotives,” and neighboring townships became “carriages” for local farmers and residents as “passengers.” Together they form a sort of “train” chugging forward together, with no one left behind.
In 2017, per capita disposable income in Pudong hit 60,715 yuan (US$8,830), higher than Shanghai’s average. The growth rate of residents’ income was higher than that of GDP. Last year, Pudong’s GDP grew by 8.7 percent year-on-year, while the average income of its residents increased by 9.2 percent year-on-year. Each year, more than one-third of Pudong’s fiscal expenditure goes to fields concerning people’s livelihoods such as employment, medical care and education. Today, Pudong provides 614 schools for basic education and hosts 1,098 medical institutions including 10 third-grade public hospitals. Moreover, it has built government-subsidized housing of over 30 million square meters, benefiting a million people in 300,000 households. Pudong also has large libraries, stadiums and 100-plus places of worship open to the public, and its per capita vegetation area has hit 25.44 square meters.
Nowadays, Pudong focuses as much on social development and social progress as on building skyscrapers and growing the economy.
CP: What influence has Pudong’s development and opening up exerted on the people’s mindsets?
Shao: At the outset of Pudong’s development, many were still focused on planned economy philosophies. Before performing a job, they always awaited instructions from superiors or searched relevant government documents for permission. We were doing something unprecedented that required the courage to innovate and break through old systems. It would never have worked if we had stuck to our former working methods. We emancipated our minds and pioneered many new practices in Pudong. One major breakthrough Pudong has made during its reform and opening up over the past 28 years is that we no longer ask “what we can do,” but instead ask “what we cannot do.” We need to take bold action to attempt new things, being bound only to existing laws and regulations.
In the early days of Pudong’s development, large amounts of funds were needed to carry out infrastructure projects, but the initial capital ran short quickly. In 1992, we boldly adopted the practice of “conducting land transfer with idle public capital.” In times of severe fund shortages, this practice effectively facilitated the government’s demonstrative and leading role in investment. Of course, it also received pushback and criticism. Some argued that it didn’t conform to any existing government documents or policies.
Today, it has become consensus in Pudong to take on more responsibilities, ask for fewer instructions, eliminate empty talk and seek greater innovation. Pudong encourages innovation and tolerates mistakes.
CP: How will Pudong New Area achieve greater development in the new era?
Shao: Local leaders have a clear vision of Pudong’s future development. Right now, Pudong is going to great lengths to implement national strategies as it faces greater and greater difficulty in promoting industrial restructuring largely due to uncertainties in the global economy. Moreover, the development of its cultural industry cannot match the pace of its economic growth. Pudong may be rich in human resources and commercial atmosphere, but it is insufficient in cultural ambience. The administrative capacity of the local government doesn’t meet the needs of modern urban development. One must stay vigilant when walking on thin ice and remember Xi Jinping’s warning of the dangers of incapacity. The overall quality of citizens has been outpaced by demand for modern urban development.
So, we still have a long way to go to complete the development and opening up of Pudong. Construction of a modern city should target all-round development. Alongside growth in GDP, it should also enhance the moral quality of society, improve the cultural ambiance of its people and strengthen the rule of law. Moreover, Pudong has yet to completely fulfill its responsibilities in terms of national development.
If we compare Pudong’s development and opening up to a symphony orchestra performance, Deng Xiaoping was the composer, and the CPC Central Committee with Xi Jinping at the core is the conductor. Every contributor to Pudong is a performer. Together, their performance is a song for the ages, the anthem of China’s reform and opening up. The great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation belongs not only to China, but also to the world.