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CHINA: THE GIANT AWAKENS : POSTCARDS from China : 'These Are Not Dreams'

June 15, 1993|WILLIAM D. MONTALBANO

Nanjing was where the staring became unbearable. It's a city in eastern China with a long and traumatic history: capital of four ancient dynasties, site of the Rape of Nanjing in 1937 when invading Japanese killed around 300,000 people, last capital of Chiang Kai-shek's Nationalists before they fled the mainland for Taiwan in 1949.

For all its history, the city on the Yangtze River seemed to have little of the present when I visited in 1980. Ramshackle, cheerless, isolated, comatose. Desperately poor. When I went for a walk through dusty gray streets, I instantly became the only show in town. Large, rude crowds quickly drove me back to the dubious shelter of a government guest house whose only virtue was its spicy noodles.

Nowadays, foreigners attract less attention in transformed Nanjing than exotic dogs. Earlier this spring, the city hosted China's first dog show--a sign of the times, for Nanjing is a good place to be if you sincerely want to be a rich Communist. I saw no statues of Mao Tse-tung, but in the riverside tourist area that attracts 300,000 visitors a year, there is a life-size statue of Colonel Sanders.

Deputy Mayor Zhong Yahui, an accountant by trade, riffles through the numbers in a government training center next to a classroom where a professor is giving a dull lecture on patent law.

Boom times: Nanjing's GNP up 26% last year, income up 28%, profits and taxes up 25.6%. Savings up 25%, sales up 18%.

In 1984, said Zhong, there was a single enterprise in the city with foreign capital. Now there are 1,700.

"People used to worry about getting their bellies full. Now they worry about nutrition, selecting the healthiest food," Zhong said.

There are luxuries, too: Downtown shops sell Swiss candy and American pistachios. "People used to buy clothes for warmth, now they buy for the brand. They buy air conditioners, stocks and bonds."

The future is limitless, said Zhong. In store is a new international airport for the city of 4.6 million, a second bridge across the Yangtze, a thermal power plant, a sewage treatment plant, an expressway from Nanjing to Shanghai 200 miles east and a high-speed rail line.

"These are not dreams, but actual projects, some already well-advanced," Nanjing's deputy mayor said.

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