Bloomberg Businessweek

China’s Big Bang

Thatcher’s 1979 financial reforms transformed Britain. Is the People’s Republic about to undergo the same?

In 1984, I came to China as a grumpy, uninquisitive backpacker, dragged from crowded bus to uncomfortable hostel to inedible meal by two student friends who spoke Mandarin. The highlight of my trip was a visit to Maxim’s, supposedly the only Western restaurant in Beijing. The coffee tasted like nectar, and I survived another week. The idea that China was five years into Deng Xiaoping’s great opening shamefully passed me by.

I thought of Maxim’s as I waited for a plane at Haikou Meilan International Airport earlier this month, nursing a cappuccino at yet another Starbucks; opposite me was a Jimmy Choo shop, each shoe worth several times the cost of a hostel three decades ago; on the other side stood a mountain of Lindt chocolate. These Western luxuries weren’t there for international visitors. Haikou is a provincial airport—the place China’s middle classes pass though on their way to the beach.

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