China: three things

What stands out most about my recent trip to China is how familiar it feels. Walking through the downtown streets of Shanghai, Hangzhou or Beijing, you’d be hard pressed to know you’re in China and not in downtown Toronto or Chicago. The hordes walking past wear the same clothes, they each carry multiple shopping bags from brand name stores, and most are glued to their smartphones using near ubiquitous wifi. In fact China’s cities feel like they’ve leap-frogged ahead with massive investments in modern transportation infrastructure and futuristic architecture that make Toronto feel old.

When I was last in China, a four month stint in 2002, it was clear that the country was undergoing a massive, and rapid, process of modernization and development but it still felt decades, and in some cases, centuries behind.  Beijing was booming, as were Shenzen, Chengdu, Xian and Guanzhou, but the interior felt… like the early 1900s. And while that’s still undoubtedly true in parts of the country, far less of it seems to be stuck in time thanks to an endless expanse of brand-new highways, high-speed trains, and forests of condominiums and apartments that sprout for what seems to be hundreds of kilometers around major cities. Some of the smaller towns evens seem to have been razed to the ground and rebuilt, despite a ghost-town quiet, a trend that reminded us of some of the deserted villages cum cities in Western Sahara/Morocco that had been “updated” by the Moroccan government as a means of showing progress/occupation.

With that, here are three things about China that stand out with respect to the country’s future. Read the rest of this entry »