China’s headlong rush into the industrial urban dystopia has a million silent victims. Some were simply abandoned to the creeping weeds and vines of nature’s return. Others have been razed to the ground to make space for concrete sprawl or mechanized farming.
The magnetic attraction of the megacities pulled hundreds of millions of rural Chinese out of their historic villages and into the urban jungle. By 2012 China was over 50% urbanized and the trend continues inexorably.
Such rapid social change has serious negative consequences. Air pollution is a multi-billion-dollar problem for the Chinese government, particularly as it directly affects the health and productivity of factory workers, and air quality in Shanghai and Beijing is at an all-time low.
Urban dwellers have many advantages; better access to resources, such as healthcare, education and employment. But congestion and exploitation have heaped a pile of social ills on the fastest growing cities, despite the authorities’ best efforts.
But there’s no spotlight on the traditional towns and villages that now lie like forgotten wrecks on the seabed of affluent progress, after the tsunami has passed. China has moved millions from poverty to middle-class, but at what cost to culture and traditional roots?
Rural Chinese had ancestral ties and identified with the people and geography of their villages; they even spoke their own regional languages. Now they are part of the homogenous mass of humanity that inhabits the megalopolises of modern China. Beyond middle-class, will they aspire to sufficient wealth to be able to afford ‘a place in the country’?