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Last Updated: Friday, 24 September, 2004, 10:41 GMT 11:41 UK
China diary: Different worlds
Former BBC Beijing correspondent Tim Luard is back in China, 25 years after his first visit, to write a series of articles for BBC News Online on how much the country has changed. He is also writing a diary during his trip, and this is his final instalment:

Today I headed out of town to take a look at the two sides of China's economic miracle.

First I went to see Yin Mingshan, who owns China's biggest motorbike company, Lifan.

I was ushered up to his penthouse office, lined with photos of him meeting China's top leaders.

He was imprisoned as a counter-revolutionary in the 1960s, he told me, and in 1979, when I first came here, he was earning the equivalent of $7 per month.
Yin Mingshan, founder of Lifan
Yin Mingshan says he no longer copies Japanese designs

His company now earns $50 million a month.

Mr Yin has 5,000 people working for him in China alone (he also has factories in Vietnam and Bulgaria).

He brings them to work in company buses and they stand to attention when he approaches. There's also a company newspaper with his picture on every page.

He started off by copying Japanese motorbikes, and the Japanese influence is clearly still there.

"Honda, Yamaha run around. What should Lifan do?" says a huge sign hanging from the roof of a factory building.

"Hundreds of people will lose their jobs without strict management," says another.

Mr Yin, who also owns Chongqing's leading football team, is not a Communist Party member.

But like all China's private businessmen, he keeps well in with the party and is even a committee member of its top advisory body.

Combining business and politics, he says, is a "practical move".

I was then taken across town to the Northern Zone - destined to be Chongqing's new hi-tech and financial centre - to see Mr Yin's latest venture, a car factory.

While an armed guard looked on to ensure I didn't take any pictures, a velvet drape was proudly pulled away to reveal a gleaming prototype of the first Lifan car.

It was made with the help of a BMW engine, but Mr Yin predicts China will be the world's biggest car exporter within 10 years.

Daily struggle

Less than a mile away from the Northern Zone, along a bumpy country road, is a very different type of factory, owned and run by the state.

Zhang Denghua
Mr Zhang finds it hard to get by on his pension

It makes construction materials, so you'd have thought it should do well.

But judging from the decrepit state of its equipment and buildings, it's never made a profit in its life.

In the surrounding village, amid piles of coal, mud and industrial waste, live its employees.

Zhang Denghua showed me inside the dark hut he shares with his wife and three grandchildren, all of whom he looks after on his monthly pension of less than 350 Yuan ($50).

When I asked about the acrid smell outside, he said it came from a nearby chemical factory. But there was no point worrying about smells, he added, when you couldn't get enough food to fill your stomach.

When I got back to my hotel, my fellow guests - businessmen, officials and policemen - were enjoying a buffet containing over 50 dishes, including such highly prized delicacies as abalone, sea cucumber, braised bird's nest and spicy duck's tongue.

As it's my last night, I think I'll just head out to the noodle stand in the square and watch the old women trying to get their sword dance right.

Tomorrow it's back to Hong Kong, then London... and then I'll have to put all my notes together and decide if China really is about to become the next superpower.


Are you in China or have you visited recently? What do you think about all the changes China has gone through in the last 25 years? Send us your comments and experiences using the form below:

The fast growing economy in China means a heavy price for normal Chinese people. Thousands and thousands of Chinese people lost their jobs. The poor in China are getting worse than even before and a few rich people hold the most national wealth. There is no problem for those people to be rich by working hard, but the common phenomena you can see in China is the people who have the special relationship with the dirty Chinese government officials are getting richer. I think the first thing China needs to do is to clean its government to re-establish its credibility. Then, it will bring real development for China.
Sam Won , Auckland, New Zealand

As an American of Chinese descent I spent the last two years working in Shanghai, where I was shocked to discover the Chinese stereotype about Shanghainese largely rings true: they are as fraternal among themselves and discriminating against non-native Shanghainese as ever. While Westerners are treated with courtesy, Chinese from elsewhere in China face condescension, if not blatant discrimation, on a daily basis. For all its modernity, it's a shame their manners haven't quite caught up.
Jimmy , New York City, USA

Twenty-five years ago, this guy must had been reporting how Chinese lived in poor condition, now he's implying the current development destroying "cultural legacy"... there's no way to change this Western negative perception towards China, is there? Everything has its pros and cons, try to view things a little positively, will you Mr Luard?
Roger, Beijing, China

The first time I visited Shanghai was the spring of 2001. I was 15 years old and touring China with my parents. I just recently went back to Shanghai this summer at age 18 with a group of friends. In just three years I had noticed signifigant changes. Even though it's a progressively modernizing city, it still has an intriguing wildness to it.
Nathan Baker, Amherst, MA, USA

As a BBC (British Born Chinese), I frequently travelled to Hong Kong, and have visited at least once every year since I was born. As such I thought myself to be have a thorough grasp and feel of Chinese culture. Two years ago I made my first trip to mainland China, to study martial arts with uni friends in Beijing. The first thing I noticed was how "Chinese" everyone looked, completely different to people in Hong Kong. I was in culture shock depsite being Chinese and having visited the Far East throughout my life! Whilst there we saw a city in transition; the ancient parts of Beijing were still present, with hundreds of cyclists and the hutongs and cosy alleyways, but in the not too distant skyline you could see a forest of cranes and new tall buildings that were transforming the city. I plan to go back for the 2008 Olympics, and I really believe that Beijing will be completely unrecognisable to me then. The face of the city was changing before me whilst I was there, and it has been changing faster eversince.
Wai-Wai, London, United Kingdom

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