Is 2013's Chinese Dream like the 1960s American Dream?

Linda Yueh
Chief business correspondent

media captionNew graduates in China tell the BBC's Linda Yueh about their middle class aspirations and chasing the 'Chinese Dream'.

With a cash crunch and signs of an economic slowdown, will there be enough good jobs for the record seven million Chinese graduates each year?

Will they have the opportunity to aspire to a better life like their parents did? The answer is perhaps key to whether the world's second-largest economy will realise its potential.

Is the Chinese Dream like the American Dream? That is, to have a good job, a house with a white picket fence, a car, and 2.4 children that became a symbol of post-war America.

The Chinese Dream being invoked by the new President, Xi Jinping, also comes after a golden era of growth. The American Dream became prominent during the 1960s, as the middle class faced a less rosy future after a decade of strong growth that is referred to as the golden age.

By the end of that decade, Americans even worried about falling behind the Soviets.

The face of that era who captured the national mood was John F Kennedy, who was US President from 1961-63.

JFK said that he wanted to "get the country moving again" - and that Americans stood "on the edge of a New Frontier - of the 1960s - a frontier of unknown opportunities and perils - a frontier of unfilled hopes and threats".

He exhorted Americans to aspire to be the first nation to put a man on the moon.

Turning point

For China, that time is now. The decade of the 2000s saw strong growth that raised China's average income level from below the poverty line of $1,000 at the start of the millennium to middle-income level now.

Like America before it, China has reached a turning point in its development.

One of the reasons is that the first phase of growth - the first 30 years - certainly was challenging. But it was also the easier part in some ways. China grew largely by reforming inefficient state-owned enterprises and producing cheap goods for export.

The next 30 years will take more ingenuity. It will require real improvements in productivity and innovation to help China overcome the so-called middle-income country trap.

And that can only come from the young aspiring to a better life and developing the ingenuity to achieve it. In other words, to aspire to the Chinese Dream.

What is it, though? It's unclear what Xi Jinping means. He has invoked it on a number of occasions during his first months in office, alongside his glamorous wife. There is perhaps an echo of JFK and Jackie there. But whether China of the 2010s is really the America of the 1960s comes down to the hopes and dreams of its people.

Although there are 150 million people - that is, more than double the population of Britain - already considered middle class, the challenge of the new Chinese leadership is to evoke a sense of aspiration to bring along the other billion-plus into the middle-income ranks.