Wednesday, 27 October 2010

A resurgent China

It is easy to forget that, before 1700, China and India combined accounted for about half the world's GDP; now they account for just 17%. Factors that changed this were the growth of the populations of the countries, massive industrialisation of Europe and the rise of America. People who decry 'the rise of China' conveniently forget that China has historically been a world powerhouse.

It is rapidly getting back into shape. In 2008 the town of Beichuan suffered a devastating landslide after an earthquake. Since then, a new town called 'Yongchang Town' has been created 25 kilometres away.

Just think about this for a minute: the scale of the work is amazing, and the quality... well, from the pictures the construction quality and architecture seems more than reasonable; there is no sign of the brutalist Communist tower blocks that blighted so many cities. The Chinese have learnt a great deal about construction over the last twenty years; the Olympics was not a one-off.  The old town (once home to 20,000 residents), the site of so many deaths, is going to be made into a museum. Imagine moving a town larger than Romsey; it would not be done quickly, to say the least.

There is no way construction on this scale, this rapidly, could happen in the west. Firstly, most western countries have strict planning controls that delay any construction projects, yet alone ones of this size. Secondly, we do not have strong central control that pushes things through 'for the greater good'. Thirdly, politicians have to listen to many disparate voices. From our perspective, this is a good thing. The Chinese must look at it and shake their heads in bemusement.

That is one thing about authoritarian and/or communist states - when they get their act together, they can really achieve things on a massive scale. I am seriously impressed. Of course, there are downsides, one of which is *choice* and *freedom* for the population.

We in the west have made our choice, and I am glad that I do not live in China. Despite this, I cannot help but be impressed by what China can do when it really feels a need. Yet I am also well aware that many people in the 1930s were proclaiming Germany's massive growth in similar terms - for instance with the construction of the autobahns. It is a frightening (and hopefully inaccurate) comparison.

This throws up many questions: can China continue its rapid growth? Can the Chinese government continue riding roughshod over its citizen's rights (for instance, see this story about resettlements at the Olympic site)? How long before the Chinese citizens demand more rights? Can we compete with a government that is so willing and able to force through the right thing? Should we be worried about a resurgent China, or accept it as a world superpower with open arms?

Whatever the answers to these questions, Yongchang Town is worthy of admiration.

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