By Wei Ling
Affordable luxury was probably the first benefit most Chinese imagined they would enjoy when the country joined the World Trade Organization (WTO) four years ago.
But there are many other positive changes that have taken place since China joined the global trading club.
There is a great choice of services, more job opportunities and a greater desire to learn English.
WTO membership has brought cheaper, diversified foreign products to supermarkets, improvements in the services offered by banks, and chances to attend all sorts of training courses with a view to securing better positions with different employers.
But when we review the changes that have taken place in China since 2001, we have to say the impact of the WTO on Chinese people reaches far beyond mere material comfort.
An even more profound change has taken place in many people's mindset, no matter whether they are civil servants, the employees of businesses or farmers.
New concepts such as market economy, fair competition, transparency, win-win, the rule of law and international practice are no longer just buzzwords, but have seeped into everyday thinking and become part of daily life.
The broader opening up has widened horizons, ushered in social changes, enriched knowledge about international practices, and increased eagerness for integration in the world arena. Many have abandoned old ideas and working habits formed under the rigid planned economy.
What is really behind these changes is the transformation of the whole country from an inward-looking, planned economy to a more market-oriented powerhouse, and the reform of domestic enterprises that are adopting modern management systems.
The past four years have witnessed China's integration with the world economy in which China has become a fully-fledged player.
At home, laws and regulations have been revised so as to gradually open the market to foreign companies according to its commitments.
China has become a critical part of the global economy, contributing 12 percent to world trade growth and 10 percent to world economic growth last year.
Over the four years, China has attracted investment from the world's major multinationals, grown into a dominant manufacturer of goods, and become the third largest trader with foreign trade topping US$1.1 trillion last year.
For domestic enterprises, the impact of WTO membership is even more obvious. One needs only to observe how hot competition is in some sectors such as retailing, insurance and banking.
Pressure imposed by the market entry of multinationals has triggered sweeping reforms among domestic enterprises.
To narrow the gap with foreign rivals, they are striving to become modern enterprises applying advanced management and marketing skills.
The wider access to the world market has also encouraged a global perspective among enterprises when positioning themselves and their products in the market.
Reforms, as well as changes in overall economic performance, have inevitably influenced individuals.
More and more people have realized that China's integration with the world economy is an irreversible trend, and have been preparing in different ways.
To play the WTO game, firms have to learn international rules, refresh their ideas and abide by the new regulations.
In addition to its role as an administrator of society, the government has been striving to provide more services for the market economy making efforts to increase awareness of good service, fairness and efficiency among civil servants.
WTO protocols on transparency, and in particular WTO supervision of government performance, have put government departments under more pressure to deliver, leading to changes in their working style.
That explains government departments' simplified procedures and improved efficiency and more smiling civil servants.
Market-oriented reforms at domestic enterprises have also catalyzed changes in ideas and activities among employees. Fearing they may lose their jobs, many workers have been striving to improve their efficiency, acquire new skills and provide better services to make themselves, as well as their companies, more competitive.
In the past, a job at one of China's "big four" banks was described as a golden bowl meaning a high salary, rights to grant loans, a light workload and almost no chance of being laid-off.
But staff are facing tough times as banks launch massive market-oriented reform programmes in preparation for competition when China fully opens its banking sector in 2006.
An important part of reform is setting higher standards for business performance and service provision. To meet the new challenges, staff have to embrace concepts such as good service and efficiency, and improve their working habits.
WTO commitments have facilitated increased competition in many other industries, which in turn has motivated individuals to try to adapt to the new environment.
Another change in mindset is the increasing awareness of rights.
With China implementing its WTO commitments to foster the highest degree of transparency possible and the rule of law throughout society, citizens have learned to ask for better government services, to be treated equally, and call for greater government efforts to implement international rules and practices. That was rarely seen before 2001.
This process is not a flash in the pan. Only when new ideas, rules and practices are embodied in the actions of everyone in society will we really be able to claim that we are fully integrated with the world.
(China Daily December 13, 2005)