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Pan Qinglin: my Chinese dream brings me back home

Pan Qinglin(潘庆林), is known in China as the ‘nuts’ CPPCC delegate(政协委员),  who advocates resumption of traditional (also called complex) form of Chinese characters (繁体字).

He put forward the ‘notorious’ proposal at the annual political consultative conference in 2009, which immediately jarred mainland China’s cyberspace frequented by younger generations. And the 60-year–old political advisor was thus nicknamed by some acid-tongued internet users ‘Mr. Jia Gu Wen (甲骨文)’; they joked, “if the complex form of Chinese characters (繁体字) could be resumed, then why not Jia Gu Wen—inscriptions on tortoise shells.”

In my view, the avid advocate who has been elected three times CPPCC delegate should be more than some radical guardian of feudal culture.

And my guess was later proved true when I finally met Mr. Pan, a returned overseas Chinese from Japan at his Beijing residence on Chang’an Avenue near Guomao(国贸) last week.

He looked spirited, much younger than his real age, although chronic rhinitis caused by Beijing’s air pollution, as he later complained, had been distressing him since Beijing stepped into winter.

In the spacious living room of a luxury apartment of 200 square meters, with a sunshine balcony facing Chang’an Avenue and a grand piano stood in one corner, Pan sat on sofa quite straight to receive the interview, although occasionally, he had to rub one wing of his nose for more smooth breath. 
“How could it be true love when there is no heart?”

About the seemingly resounding proposal aforementioned, Pan just said, “In my perspective, it’s not just characters with more strokes but a culture that should definitely be carried forward. The traditional form of 爱(love) writes 愛. You see, the simplified 爱 removed the heart (心) from the old愛. How could it be true love when there is no heart?” Hearing him out, I think I could understand his insistence on the proposal to some extent.

Pan went to Japan in 1985 and then married a Japanese lady from a well-off family with his father-in-law being a revered banker. “My wife’s family treats me quite well even though at the time I was just a poor student. Marriage relived me from financial burdens, while like most men who wags to riches, I got confused, lost ambition and my life suddenly seemed aimless,” recalled Pan, confiding it is the encouragements from his wife and parents-in-law that led him onto the path to be a stand-up guy.”

In 1989, together with his Japanese wife, Pan came back to China, and during the past over two decades, he kept travelling to and fro between China and Japan for over 1,200 times. “No one ever breaks the record till now, and I believe at least in this case, I’m entitled to make a comment on Sino-Japan issues,” said Pan.

“It’s better to sever the diplomatic relations with Japan than being stuck in such a dilemma.”

Pan once delivered a letter for Shinzō Abe(安倍晋三) to former Chinese president Hu Jintao(胡锦涛) in 2005. According to him, Shinzō Abe, Japan’s new Prime Minister that took office last December, at the time spent nearly six hours on writing the letter in Chinese. “He told me ‘Japan and China should work on relations to make it better, and people-to-people exchanges may play an active role.’ ” Pan said, back then, he could sense Abe’s urge to make friends with China.

Pan Qinglin was waiting for Abe to finish the letter to the then Chinese president Hu Jintao in 2005. Photo:

However, when being inquired about how to relieve the current tense relations, Pan said, “it’s better to sever the diplomatic relations with Japan than being stuck in such a dilemma.”

Sensing my puzzlement, he further commented, “In my view, the most ineffective thing in the world is diplomacy. Until now, it seems all so-called efforts made by our Ministry of Foreign Affairs lead to nothing but incremental resentments. So, maybe it’s time to lay aside political contact, break off diplomatic relations in a peaceful way, and let people-to-people exchange take the lead in making things right.”
“1.43 billion people should not pay for governments’ failed efforts in making peace.”

Pan said, the relations between the two neighboring countries have been sabotaged, and hostile relations are hurting people’s feelings and causing huge economic losses. “People should not pay the price for governments’ failures.”

According to Pan, at the current stage, Japan and China are all using their peoples’ feelings and emotions to fight with each other. “We see anti-Japanese TV series flooding in prime-time shows and on the other hand, Japanese, who seldom watch TV but like to read books and papers, could always find headlines hinting at China Threat (中国威胁) at newsstands.”

Failed diplomacy is make things worse and 1.43 billion people from the two countries do not deserve the aftermath. “China has population of 1.3 billion and Japan has one of 130 million. The failure to maintain friendship has left many people being affected and distressed.” Pan believes if let civil exchange play its role and temporarily shelve Diaoyu Islands arguments, time will dilute all.

“I’ve never sent the government one expenses receipt for reimbursement and until now I don’t own my own house in China.”

Acting as a political advisor for so many years, Pan has been trying to bridge between Japan and China and advocate developments of his hometown, Tianjin. And he’s been carrying out the activities on his own expenses.

Pan told me the luxury apartment that we were sitting in is actually rent by him but not owned by him.

He then admitted until now, he hasn’t bought a home in China.

Talking about housing issues, Pan referred to former president Hu Jintao’s much-maligned theory about ‘building a harmonious society’.

“Most common civilians in the country could afford housing, education and when they get ill, they could be treated for free or at reasonable costs. This is a harmonious society,” explained Pan.

“Some people these days would mention the phrase (harmonious society) in a sardonic way because of all the corruptions, pollutions and all kinds of negative elements in our society, what do you think about it?” I asked.

“Common people don’t care about advocacies or slogans. They care about material things like housing, living, education and welfare benefits,” said Pan, emphasizing “the point is, the advocacy is not supposed to teach us common people, but those communist party officials who are in powers.”

“You know, it’s definitely a good and helpful thing,” concluded Pan, further explaining, our political leaders in the central and local government are supposed to abide by the principle of building a harmonious society. Before this, they may don’t think housing problems faced by common people could count as a concern. But now, with a harmonious society being their common goal, all things concerning common people’s well-beings become their top concerns and responsibilities.”   

“If I do not believe in Chinese dream, I would not come back.”

I asked, “Do you share the Chinese dream put forward by President Xi Jinping?” He answered, “If I do not believe in it, I would not come back to China.”

“My suggestion is we learn from more developed economies like Japan and the US,” Pan said, “GDP are only figures, and it’s time for our country to pursue just impressive figures. I lived in Japan for a long time. I know that counties like Japan never isolate talks about GDP from people’s living standards. Without people’s living conditions being improved, the economic indicator means nothing,” concluded Pan.

“I don’t own an inch of land in China, but I share the concerns and responsibilities of President Xi Jinping,” said Pan with a naughty smile. Although the veteran political advisor could hardly establish himself as a shrewd statesman due to his lack of practical experiences, he is a man with enthusiasm and innocent heart for making good to his motherland. That’s for sure. 


All the opinions and perspectives put forward by the interviewee in the article do not represent the views of


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