© 2022 Iowa Public Radio
IPR20012_Website_Header_Option2_NewsNavy.png
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations

Bejing residents share what they want from their leader

SACHA PFEIFFER, HOST:

This week, delegates to the Chinese Communist Party Congress are expected to approve plans for Xi Jinping to remain China's top leader for the foreseeable future. While they meet behind closed doors in central Beijing, we caught up with three ordinary people in the Chinese capital to get a sense of how they feel about the foreseeable future. NPR's China affairs correspondent John Ruwitch has their stories.

WANG LIANG: (Speaking Mandarin).

JOHN RUWITCH, BYLINE: It's lunchtime, and Wang Liang is hustling through a food court, picking up takeout boxes.

WANG: (Speaking Mandarin).

RUWITCH: Then, he jumps on his scooter and heads off to make his deliveries.

WANG: (Speaking Mandarin).

RUWITCH: Wang is dressed in a costume of the Monkey King, a famous hero of Chinese folklore. His father wore a different uniform. He was a coal miner, and Wang remembers his advice.

WANG: (Through interpreter) Whatever you do, don't go to work in a coal mine.

RUWITCH: So he made his way to the capital, where he's chasing a classic dream.

WANG: (Through interpreter) To have an apartment, a wife, a baby.

RUWITCH: The thing is, all that's getting harder and harder to attain. Real estate has become impossibly expensive. He says he has to work too long each day to go on dates. And the economy is worsening. As for the big political meeting, he's totally uninterested.

WANG: (Through interpreter) I don't care. It doesn't matter who's the leader. They're all leading us toward a better future.

(CROSSTALK)

RUWITCH: At a Starbucks in southern Beijing, Sylin Li isn't paying much attention either. He works at one of the country's best-known online retailers.

SYLIN LI: Especially, well, right now it's near double 11.

RUWITCH: That's a big online shopping festival on November 11.

LI: Now, every day, I go home around 11 o'clock every night. So at weekends, well, the only thing I want to do is to relax. And to watch that...

RUWITCH: He means the Party Congress.

LI: ...Well, I don't think that can bring me a peaceful life.

RUWITCH: Unlike Wang Liang, Li has a lot going for him - a high-paying job, a girlfriend and property in an expensive downtown neighborhood. And yet...

I mean, are you happy with that direction? Are you OK with the direction that China is going now?

LI: Well, absolutely I'm not happy about that. But, well, people have to live, right?

RUWITCH: Li is just 32, and he's thinking of leaving China and going to live by the sea in Malaysia.

LI: Maybe when I turn 40, and I want to stay there for the rest of my life.

RUWITCH: He's disillusioned with the rat race in China - what he sees as economic mismanagement and unreasonable government controls. And he thinks it could be four years before the government lifts its tight COVID policies.

LI: You know, they are trying to spy us on everything, you know?

RUWITCH: If anyone should be optimistic about China's future, it's people like Maria Zhou, a 20-year-old college junior with a big smile. But according to official statistics, 1 in 5 people age 16 to 24 are unemployed.

MARIA ZHOU: (Through interpreter) My biggest worry is the same one a lot of young people in China have these days, and that is the direction in which things are headed.

RUWITCH: Zhou is far from a dissident, but she's tech savvy, a free thinker, and she says she sees things rationally.

ZHOU: (Through interpreter) When I was little, I remember watching the 2008 Olympics and feeling very proud.

RUWITCH: Over time, though, she began to wonder about some of the government's policies. And then, there was a watershed.

ZHOU: (Through interpreter) If you want to pinpoint a specific turning point, it would probably be when the Constitution was amended.

RUWITCH: In March 2018, China's parliament abolished term limits on the presidency. Xi Jinping could be leader for life. Like Wang Liang and Sylin Li, Zhou has no interest in following news about the Party Congress.

ZHOU: (Through interpreter) Policy and the general direction of things won't change in a short period of time or just because of one meeting.

RUWITCH: That, she says, will take something bigger. John Ruwitch, NPR News, Beijing. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

John Ruwitch
John Ruwitch is a correspondent with NPR's international desk. He covers Chinese affairs.