I just arrived back in Beijing after a month-long trip across the U.S. My trip started with discussions with mutual and hedge fund managers, corporate executives and Washington policymakers. It ended in Palo Alto where I talked to technology executives and then stumbled across the Chinese literary legend and social critic Lu Xun, who has been dead since 1936 but still dispenses great insights and wisdom.
I am writing this under winter camping conditions in my Beijing apartment, wearing long underwear and three layers of fleece. That is because the Beijing municipal government annually turns off the heat in all residential complexes on March 15th and then turns it back on November 15th, no matter what the weather. As I write this, the temperature is 34 degrees, and the air pollution level is 224, which is considered okay these days as it only qualifies for "health warnings of emergency conditions" and "protections recommended." After readings of more than 1,000 on New Year's Eve, today's murky atmosphere is a relative oxygen bar, though I have my newly installed air filter whirring behind me.
I return to China asking myself if the country is poised to move forward or if China is heading back to the future. For much of the trip, I was watching the National People's Congress and the Chinese leadership transition from afar. While doing so, I found that everybody I talked to -- from those who have hundreds of millions invested in Chinese stocks to those who are advising Obama on how to interact with China during his second term -- is simultaneously very negative about China and also very hopeful that the new leadership can turn the country around and revitalize reform and opening.