The economic rise of China during the past few years has had the greatest influence on my thinking, especially in respect to economics, finance, my personal values and social responsibility.
I was born in Shanghai in the early 1980s when China’s economic reform just began and the nation opened its doors to the outside world. I can still recall the relatively low living standards during my childhood: televisions and vehicles were rare; people seldom dined out; a majority of commuters were on bicycles – there were no subways or highways, even in the biggest city in China. However, since then, the national economy started to bloom, along with the modernization of agriculture, industry, science and technology. From the first underground subway line to the first stock traded on the Shanghai Stock Exchange, I witnessed tremendous economic advancement while living in Shanghai. Meanwhile, people seemed to get increasingly enthusiastic about making more money, from starting up businesses to trading stocks. Back then, I believed that economic growth only meant a more comfortable life and a more developed society. In high school, I began to pay attention to some economic indicators, such as GDP, as well as the stock market in order to keep up-to-date on the progression of people’s living standards nationwide along with the growth in our wealth.
Since I moved to the U.S. after college, I have been keeping a close watch on my home country through both the Chinese and Western media, such as Xinhua News and Bloomberg. The growth appeared to be even more rapid with close to double digit GDP increases during the past few years. However, while a lot of people were getting wealthier, more and more social problems, such as environmental pollution, unsafe food conditions and limited health care, arose. When I visited my home city, not only did I perceive the creation of massive wealth, but also noticed the emphasis on money over community among individuals and businesses. Several surveys showed much less dedication among citizens towards community service than before. Some corporations pursued profits unscrupulously at the cost of customers’ safety or environment. For instance, in 2008, six babes were killed and 300,000 were left sickened after consuming contaminated infant formula. I started to re-think the implications of economic development – if the primary goal of economic activities is to advance the society, then the process underlying the growth must align with what is good for society, such as sustainability and individual well-being. I realized that fast growth does not necessarily mean good quality growth; therefore, more wealth does not always benefit people’s lives, nor does the increase in GDP figures represent improved quality.
With the development of the financial market in China, there is the speculative and money-focused investment philosophy. Lots of equity investments are made with a focus on short-term trends and returns rather...