Reform from a foreign perspective

A new book tells the stories of expats who witnessed the changes over four decades since China launched the reform and opening-up policy.
Ti Gong

A group photo of the book's foreign participants and the editorial team. Habib Ur Rahman is fifth from left and Noyan Rona is fifth from right.

As China celebrates the 40th anniversary of reform and opening up, a new book offers readers the perspective of foreigners who worked in, lived in and grew with the city and the country over the past four decades.

“Witnessing Excellence” collects the stories of 40 foreigners from 13 countries and regions, engaged in different industries such as education, technology, finance and culture, who contributed their wisdom and efforts to Shanghai and China's economic and social development.

The interviewees in the book include Japanese musician Tanimura Shinji, British biologist David Waxman and American architect Marshall Strabala.

The book has been compiled, published and launched by Shanghai People’s Publishing House, Shanghai People’s Association for Friendship with Foreign Countries and Eastday.com.

“Chinese people create a miracle over the 40 years of reform and opening up,” says Turkish Noyan Rona, chief representative of GarantiBank in Shanghai. Before becoming a banker, Rona was sent by the Turkish government to establish its Shanghai consulate and he worked there for three years.

“China has a population of 1.3 billion people, and 600 million were born after I came here. So I think I’m more Chinese than the 600 million people,” he jokes in fluent Mandarin.

The Turk came to China to study history in 1983. He still remembers the hard days at the time — frequent black-outs in the dorm, two out of seven days with hot water and only two hours of central heating a day.

He experienced China’s planned economy where everything was rationed, and coupons were a must when purchasing something. Today, he still keeps various coupons, his student ID card and traffic pass from 35 years ago.

Things started to change after 1999 when he joined GarantiBank in Shanghai as its chief representative. 

“The financial environment in Shanghai was opening up with more friendly policies to foreign bankers,” he recalls.

“Over the past four decades, the country has changed 400 times for the better. It’s just beyond imagination,” he says.

Habib Ur Rahman, from Pakistan, was among the city’s first batch of foreign community volunteers. They regularly patrol to maintain the neighborhood’s traffic orders and assist the police to communicate with expats.

“Shanghai police impress me with their strong sense of responsibility and high efficiency,” Rahman says. He came to Shanghai nine years ago to study finance and economics and opened a carpet store after graduation.

Today, the Pakistani is been a celebrity in his community, and Shanghai has become his second hometown.

“It’s not only an open city but also a metropolis that makes constant progress. As a foreigner, I feel lucky to have witnessed the improvement of community administration and traffic order. I believe that China is sure to attract more foreigners to work in and live in. It is a wise choice to come to Shanghai,” he says. “The reform and opening up has brought new opportunities for China and also for every individual.”

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