When China realised that pollution was affecting the health of its people, it quickly devised a plan and implemented it at lightning speed. (image: DC)
Hyderabad: It was a foggy afternoon. The flight landed in the sprawling Chengdu international airport, which was built recently to serve China’s fast-growing metropolis. Stepping out of the aircraft, a foreigner cannot stop visualising scenarios — built up by global media — of a city billowing with industrial and vehicular smoke.
Once downtown, located a few kilometres from the airport, it was welcome relief to find Chengdu anything but what people feared about pollution. The city, which is the capital of Sichuan province, presented a pleasant atmosphere, with electric vehicles cruising with a hum on the 16-lane expressway, lined with magnificent buildings.
When China realised that pollution was affecting the health of its people, it quickly devised a plan and implemented it at lightning speed. In no time, it switched over to electric vehicles, providing a clean breath of air to the residents and showing the stark difference with the rest of the world.
According to a report released in September, 60 per cent of electric vehicles (EVs) registered in the world this year are in China, with nearly eight lakh vehicles coming on to roads every month. The Chinese government kept the prices of EVs affordable to encourage people to switch over. Contrast with India, where, for example, governments of two Telugu states — Andhra Pradesh and Telangana — brought back life tax on EVs resulting in a sudden hike in prices.
Cleanliness is striking
As the popular idiom "seeing is believing" goes, visitors Chengdu in the southwestern province will be awestruck, not only by the massive infrastructure and well-planned skyscrapers, but also by the spotlessly clean surroundings.
Thanks to the local administration’s efforts to enhance the green cover, the roads are lined with trees. Dried leaves are not to be seen even in the current fall season. Be it roads, parks, Metro stations or any other public place, they are spick and span, leaving serious doubts over claims of other developing nations that the burgeoning population leaves them helpless in heralding change. China was, till recently, the world’s most populous country, overtaken by India just a few months ago. Senior citizens at Chengdu recollect the abject poverty the country had witnessed, but take pride in the rapid economic growth that ensured a better future for future generations.
The people, in general, have imbibed a culture of cleanliness from the previous generation. In fact, it is not just limited to cleanliness but the Chinese are known for other traits, such as patience and hard work.
Of patience, fun and discipline
When it comes to patience, nothing explains it more than the expressionless faces of drivers on seeing someone sneaking into lanes or jumping signals by cyclists or motorists. Cycling is widely encouraged in Chengdu, where a lane is dedicated to two-wheelers on all main roads. Cyclists, therefore, casually cross junctions, sometimes jumping signals. But car drivers wait for them to cross without murmur. Honking is rarely used to caution violators, let alone use it as an expression of anger.
Contrary to the general perception of people having a mechanised lifestyle in China, people in Chengdu – an ancient city with an imperialist history – take a break at People’s Park in the evening, amid the hustle and bustle of the metropolis. People spend time at the park in groups, chatting, playing mahjong (a card game) and sipping tea. Chengdu-ites, as in other Chinese cities, frequently consume warm water and tea, which they say keeps them healthy. Irrespective of age, including those over 70 years, people join in group dancing, unmindful of what others may think.
Another thing that sets the Chinese apart is discipline. At famous tourist destinations like museums and parks, the 2,300-year-old Dujiangyan irrigation project or Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda, more than one lakh people visit but there is no jostling or shouting. Everyone follows rules. If there is a signboard asking people not to feed pandas, the animal which is native to the region, people do not do so. No incident was ever reported about people teasing pandas.
The ‘iron curtain’ lifts a little bit
The term ‘Iron Curtain’ was initially used for the Soviet Union. It is now colloquially used to refer to strict censorship that is said to be practised in China. However, when one observes life in Chengdu, everything seems normal. Women in workplaces are in greater numbers than in any other western country.
Like in other countries, society is allowed to adapt to the changing trends. For instance, the admission of students from single-parent families was denied earlier but now, it is allowed. Same-sex marriages, though not official, are not punishable and are left to the choice of individuals. Google and other social platforms are banned but people get the same content on their own social media platforms.
On India, well there’s silence
What about India? Most Chinese are aware of their neighbour’s rich heritage and traditional links between the two giants tracing back to the early days of Buddhism and flourishing trade millennia ago. But now, as relations are not very cordial, they prefer to stay silent on this issue.