The Biggest Surprise When First Visiting China

The first time I visited China was in 1997 as a study abroad student for 6 months. Even back then, the first impressions of China I remember were how thirsty the entire population was for wealth. My father was a US diplomat who worked in Guangzhou. And it was very apparent how interconnected politics and wealth were.

In China, it’s all about guan xi, or relationships. Treat someone well, they will treat you well. Everybody is jockeying to get ahead somehow.

Impressions Of China Today

My latest visit to China was at an investment conference in Chongqing. I was expecting to experience a lot of positive impressions of China on my trip. After all, there are a lot of benefits to being Chinese, the largest race in the world.

Chongqing is known as one of the “Three Furnaces” of the Yangtze River because temperatures frequently get into the mid 90s. We’re talking muggy, suffocating, scorching heat during the summer months. The heat is way worse than the “armpit states” of America for sure. Wuhan and Nanjing are the other two “furnaces.”

The first thing I asked the cab driver when I arrived was how his life has improved over the years. I thought he’d be ecstatic, given Chongqing has been growing at a double digit rate for the past decadeInstead, he was bitter.

Yes, my income has grown by 30% a year, every year for the past five years. But, I am still a cab driver! Everybody around me is making just as much, if not much more,” he explained.

What about living conditions? Surely, they are better now?” I asked hoping for some positive feedback to improve my impressions of China in the 21st century.

The government has decided to build these massive high rises for all of us. Yes, at least we have air conditioning during our hot summers, but the space is cramped. Furthermore, food prices have risen by 30-40% a year recently, especially pork prices. We’re all richer, but we’re all still the same!

He went on to say, “During the Cultural Revolution, my parents went off to the countryside. They didn’t believe in helping me further my education. So I didn’t go to college. Here I am, decades later driving a cab. This is all I know how to do. And this is all I will ever do until I die.

Related: What Are The Benefits Of Being Asian Or Asian-American?

Competition In China Is Fierce And Fiery

By the time we got to my hotel, the cab driver was flustered beyond belief. And my impressions of China were soured. I thought he was going to have an aneurysm as he complained on and on about how hard it is to get ahead.

I empathized with him through the smog and the eight million city residents who seemed to have no regard for traffic signs. All you notice when driving into Chongqing are construction cranes. They are literally everywhere.

My cab driver’s personality matched the climate – fiery!

Chongqing Yangtze River - Impressions Of China
The lovely Yangzte River

Related: Don't be a Begpacker, ie Privileged Tourists Who Leach Off Locals

Money Changes Everything

It’s sad to see that just like in the United States, more wealth DOES NOT bring more happiness. My impressions of China were disappointing during my trip.

The standard of living in China has never been better. Yet, there is more envy, frustration, and stress than ever before because the rich have really gotten much richer.

It’s strange how showy the wealthy Chinese are, instead of humble, like traditional Chinese cultural teaches. Parked right in front of my hotel were two Ferraris and one Lambo, with a price tag of over $500,000 each. Meanwhile, the GDP per capita of China is only about $8,200 a year. 

Instead of practicing Stealth Wealth, there is an obnoxious way of showing off wealth to the maximum.

Unfortunately, much of China is extremely polluted and the little hu-tongs (side alleys) are no more. Even if you’re a billionaire in China, the quality of life isn’t as good as being a millionaire in America.

Chongqing Skyline
Gaudy hotel buildings in gold

Further Reading

Here are some additional articles for further reading

About the Author: Sam worked in finance for 13 years. He received his undergraduate degree in Economics from The College of William & Mary and got his MBA from UC Berkeley. In 2012, Sam was able to retire at the age of 34 largely due to his investments that now generate roughly $250,000 a year in passive income. He spends time playing tennis, taking care of his family, and writing online to help others achieve financial freedom too.

Sam started Financial Samurai in 2009 and has grown it to be one of the largest independently owned personal finance sites in the world. You can sign up for his free private newsletter here.