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Window dressing China's makeover

All day, a police car with a wailing siren escorted our bus to help it accelerate past every red light and staring commuters. Reshma Patil writes.

world Updated: Sep 02, 2010 23:44 IST
Reshma Patil

All day, a police car with a wailing siren escorted our bus to help it accelerate past every red light and staring commuters.

While emerging India's obsessed with an international-quality infrastructure challenge, China is obsessed with acquiring an international image for its wealthiest cities. China's pride in building its new 'western-style' culture is on show whenever a local government invites foreign journalists ahead of hosting a major global event.

On Monday, the wealthy port and industrial city of Tianjin, which links it 12 million residents to Beijing by China's first bullet train, pulled out the stops to showcase its image.

"First, we will see the Italian-style plaza. It was built in six months," said the official guide at the square overlooking Tianjin's Haihe river. Chinese officials take double-digit growth for granted. But the growth of an English-speaking, western-food culture that Indians consider routine back home, China still considers a novelty.

We were led down a small cobblestone street with a prominent German and American restaurant and a streetsign that said Welcome to Italian-style Town. A foreign ministry employee excitedly gripped my elbow. "I had no idea Tianjin has so many western-style restaurants!"

Tianjin, an erstwhile treaty port has reinvented itself as a cosmopolitan Chinese municipality.

That morning, propaganda officials incessantly used the phrase 'western-style' more often than mention of Tianjin's 16.5 per cent GDP growth in 2009.

The government is recreating China's global image with a 30-second commercial being shot with 50 celebrities. At the ground level, the western image obsession is getting curiouser. The Chinese media recently reported a trend of renting white faces for Chinese companies to impress clients during deal making. In Mandarin, the trend is called bairen chong menmian or 'white guy window dressing' with foreigners paid to pose as employees. "Firms have been using the ethically-questionable technique for some time to present an image of being internationally connected," said the China Daily.