Manchester Metropolitan Police pose for a group photo during the launch of Mobike in Manchester, Britain on June 29, 2017. (Xinhua/Craig Brough)
by Xinnua writer Deng Xianlai
BEIJING, July 2 (Xinhua) -- When Japanese actress Ryoko Nakano visited China in 1979, a year after her film Manhunt released in China and became a hit, she was struck by the "sea of bicycles" on Beijing's streets she saw from her hotel window.
Nakano was not the only one to notice the flocks of two-wheelers. That's one of the memories shared by most foreigners who visited Beijing around that time.
Forty years ago, ordinary Chinese could not afford cars and rode bicycles, which became a unique cultural phenomenon, earning China the title "kingdom of bicycles."
However, the wheels of change had started to move in China. In the winter of 1978, Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping initiated the historic reform and opening-up policy, which would pave the way for a stunning development of the world's most populous country.
Over the last four decades, the Chinese economy has moved from being largely closed to becoming a major global player and the world's second-largest.
FROM BICYCLES TO HIGH-SPEED RAIL
China today has taken the lead globally in the construction of infrastructure, with modernized transportation an important part of it and a shining name card of that is the high-speed train.
With the railway being a cost-effective means of transportation, China's resolve to build high-speed trains dated back to the beginning of the reform and opening up.
When Deng visited Japan in 1978, he took a ride on the Shinkansen bullet train from Tokyo to Kyoto and was impressed.
Forty years later, it was Yasuo Fukuda, former prime minister of Japan, who was surprised by China's "Gaotie," or high-speed railway, saying it symbolizes China's overall rapid development.
China's first high-speed railway was completed in 2008, connecting Beijing with nearby Tianjin municipality. The 120-km one-way trip takes only 30 minutes.
By the end of 2017, the high-speed railway in the country totaled 250,000 km, making up 66.3 percent of the world's total.
FROM WORLD FACTORY TO INNOVATION HUB
But the trusty bicycle remains in vogue even today, becoming trendy after traffic jams and automobile pollution in big cities spurred a green lifestyle.
This time around, it is a part of China's sharing economy. Dozens of stylish orange, yellow and green public bikes abound in streets. Scan their QR code and they can be easily unlocked and ridden for just 1 yuan (15 U.S. cents) per ride.
"Now bicycles are back again but backed by e-commerce innovation. It has been a remarkable and respectable process," Arafat Harahsheh, who first came to China in the 1980s as an undergraduate student from Jordan, said.
Harahsheh worked for a foreign-owned garment company in Shanghai in 1992. Three years later, he co-founded a company selling Chinese industrial products to Arab countries.
Now chairman of the Arab Businessmen Forum in China, Harahsheh describes China's opening-up as combining the inflow of foreign technology and investment and the emergence of local entrepreneurs, which led to small and medium-sized businesses flourishing.
"The two forces helped create domestic jobs, increase the government's revenues and form a middle-income class, building the foundation of China's economic miracle over the past 40 years," he said.
China has become a global leader also in mobile payments and online shopping.
Even those living outside China are taking part in the country's technology boom. On the streets of Singapore, London, Berlin and Washington, people are riding the orange bikes owned by Chinese bike-sharing company Mobike. E-commerce giant Alibaba's Alipay is being used to pay for goods in China and abroad, while those living abroad are using online platforms like Taobao and Tmall for shopping.
"Things were 'made in China' in the 1980s; now many are 'designed in China' and 'innovated in China,'" Turkish businessman Murat Kolbasi, an eyewitness to China's evolution from a market known for cheap labor to a high-tech powerhouse, said.
In 1972, Italian director Michelangelo Antonioni presented foreign audiences with rare footage in his documentary film "Chung Kuo, Cina," showing what the lives of working-class Chinese looked like back then.
Arguably, one of the most memorable scenes in the film is the stark contrast between the largely Western-style architecture in Shanghai and the pedestrians walking or cycling between the buildings, wearing almost identical drab blue or grey.
Maria Zakharova, a Soviet diplomat's daughter and now the Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson, underlines the change then and now.
She came to China with her parents for the first time in the early 1980s. When she came again in the 1990s, Zakharova said she was surprised to notice how people in Beijing were dressed more stylishly and interested in learning foreign languages.
"For me, China's reform and opening up is not only a political, economic or diplomatic term, but also my childhood memories and feelings," she said, describing the historic process as a "blooming flower."
If the Chinese interest in learning foreign languages represents China's eagerness to embrace the outside world in the early years of the reform and opening-up, the growing prevalence of learning Chinese among non-Chinese is an indication of China's global integration.
The Confucius Institutes and Classrooms, the Chinese equivalent of Germany's Goethe-Institut or Spain's Instituto Cervantes, are the main platform for promoting Chinese language and culture overseas. By the end of 2017, there were over 500 Confucius Institutes and more than 1,100 Confucius Classrooms in 146 countries and regions in Asia, Africa, the Americas, Europe and Oceania.
But despite the increased cultural and people-to-people exchanges, Harahsheh believes more work needs to be done.
"I shuttled between Arab countries and China for more than 30 years, and I've found that Chinese editions of Arabic books are still scarce," he said.
"We need a 'Translation Movement' between the Middle East and China," Harahsheh said, referring to the ancient efforts in Baghdad to translate Greek classics into Arabic. "Cultural exchanges help people understand each other and live in peace."
(Xinhua reporters Zhang Ning, Xie Meihua and Fei Liena in Hong Kong, Zheng Kailun in Cairo, and Shi Hao and Liao Bingqing in Moscow also contributed to the report.)