Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Monday, July 22, 2013

More on Chinese mass urbanization

Dan Hoehler, who teaches in Maryland sent a note to remind me of the continuing series on the ambitious urbanization project going on in some parts of China.

He wrote, "The NYT put together a great set of resources about China’s massive move from farms to cities.  There is a good article, a solid video, and a great series of photos.  I thought your subscribers might be interested in seeing it."

Indeed, I was interested and you probably will be interested too. You could use this by asking students what the government would have to plan for, what peasants should expect, and how the program would affect people's attitudes toward the government and its leaders.

Once again, reporter Ian Johnson makes reference to the Cultural Revolution in the article. I think references to the Great Leap Forward would be much more relevant.

See the first article in this series, If it's worth doing, it's worth doing on a huge scale.

Pitfalls Abound in China’s Push From Farm to City
Li Yongping is directing one of the largest peacetime population transfers in history: the removal of 2.4 million farmers from mountain areas in the central Chinese province of Shaanxi to low-lying towns, many built from scratch on other farmers’ land. The total cost is estimated at $200 billion over 10 years…

It is one of the most drastic displays of a concerted government effort to end the dominance of rural life, which for millenniums has been the keystone of Chinese society and politics. While farmers have been moving to cities for decades, the government now says the rate is too slow…

The effort is run by officials like Mr. Li in Xi’an, who speaks emotionally about wanting to help push China’s 700 million rural residents into the 21st century. Heirs to imperial China’s Mandarin officials, modern-day Communist Party officials like Mr. Li speak knowingly of what is best for China’s 1.3 billion people, where they should live and how they should earn a living…

The problem is jobs, or the lack of them, in these areas… During a visit in February, townspeople sat in their front yards, huddled around open fires. Their homes were brand-new, with indoor heating and modern appliances, just as Mr. Li’s plan envisions, but it all runs on an unaffordable luxury: electricity. Hence the fires to keep warm…

Li Yongping
Underlying the project seems to be a distaste among city dwellers for rural life. During the Cultural Revolution, Mr. Li lost his chance at a college education because the country’s leader, Mao Zedong, closed schools and sent young people to work in the countryside. Mr. Li said the time helped him understand the plight of peasants, but like many elites in China he also speaks dismissively of rural life. “They need to shower more often, but how can they shower on a dirt floor?” Mr. Li said of the farmers and their old adobe homes in the mountains. “If you don’t shower a lot, that’s no good. Put simply, we want to teach ordinary Chinese people to bid farewell to several backward ways of living.”

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