Author attempts to record history in real time

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He Fan, professor at Peking University HSBC Business School. [Photo provided to China Daily] 

Many liken history to a river. When you are a drop of water in the river, you have no choice but to flow onward. Only when you observe it from above, can you recognize its changing course, He Fan says.

The economist now has a new book, Momentum: An Ongoing History of China from 2019-2049 Vol 1: 2019, the first of a series that looks at the changes in the country from an unconventional perspective.

The series takes the form of an annual report, with one book to be released every year. And starting this year, he will have recorded 30 years of Chinese history by the year 2049, the 100th anniversary of the founding of New China.

"These are exciting years in Chinese history, with a series of major changes that will challenge our perceptions. Nothing is more interesting than writing about this era which we will be experiencing," He says.

The idea for this project came from a conversation between He and Luo Zhenyu, the founder of iGet, an online learning mobile application.

And both of them are fans of the book, The Glory and the Dream: A Narrative History of America, 1932-1972, written by US historian William Manchester.

So, when He said to Luo that he hoped to one day write such a book, Luo replied: "Why don't you start now? You can witness and record the changes in this nation year by year."

He soon started to put the idea into practice. But rather than a chronological account of the historical events, he intended to both see the broad picture and focus on the details by studying specific cases and analyzing the trends.

Speaking about how he sees history, He compares it to a tree instead of a river, inspired by a connection he felt with Confucius through the ginkgo trees in Anqiu, Shandong province, which legend says were planted by the Chinese philosopher.

"When we try to understand the changes in today's China, we are actually observing a tree," He says. "So, to feel its vitality, we must examine the new buds and tender branches, and also constantly pay attention to its main stem."

These buds and branches, exemplified by the case studies in the book, while seemingly trivial, indicate societal trends in China.

"My selection criteria is that after 30 years, they have the potential of becoming the pillars of the Chinese socioeconomic system."

To He, the theme for 2018 was "shocks and twists". Based on the US-China trade war, He analyzes the three most important social changes in the Chinese economy-innovation, industrialization and urbanization.

Finally, he talks about individual communities, the strength of which may seem meager, but could become the forces that will change Chinese society.

In order to find cases to feature in his work, He and his team conducted multiple field studies throughout the past year covering more than 10 countries and over 20 provinces in China, visiting urban and rural areas, and interviewing people from varied professions-scholars, workers, farmers, students and entrepreneurs.

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