Another Great Leap Forward?

Justin Jin

China's Communist leadership has decided that it needs to move 250 million people from the countryside, where they consume what they produce, into the cities, where they are to become the engine of increased domestic consumption. The process is proving to be painful and expensive.~~In another comprehensive rethink of the country's economic trajectory the Chinese leadership has decided that for the economy to continue to grow at its present rate it needs to move 250 million rural dwellers into newly constructed urban conurbations. Ultimately it wants to see 70% of the population, or 900 million people, living in cities by 2050. The logic behind these gargantuan plans is that the economy is slowing down and the way to bring about further growth is through raising domestic consumption. Rural dwellers consume what they produce and buy few manufactured goods. Moving them off the land and into the cities should get them consuming domestically produced products and infrastructure projects to accommodate them should encourage further growth.

This most recent decision by the Communist leadership comes after decades of radical policy shifts and U-turns with piecemeal moves to private land ownership followed by wholesale collectivisation. The sweeping levelling of entire villages and breakneck construction of colonies of 20 plus storey tower blocks throughout the country, however, suggests that this latest decision could be presaging a long term vision for the country. ~~On the surface, the deal for farmers willing to sell up looks tempting. They are given their new apartments in one of the thousands of identical tower blocks for free and are compensated for the loss of their land by a one-off payment. In reality, however, corruption at local level, coercion to move and a complete lack of social infrastructure in the newly built cities has made many a once hopeful migrant's experience into a nightmare.~~While some find their new city experience gratifying with construction and other low-skilled jobs paying decent monthly wages, others have refused to budge from their ancestral lands and protests connected to land disputes are becoming worryingly common and increasingly violent in the countryside. In addition to this, economists worry about the enormous cost of the various infrastructure projects to accommodate the new urbanites, estimated at around USD 600 billion a year. This is not taking into account the later costs of sustaining ageing migrants in the cities and providing education for the young and healthcare for the frail.~~Justin Jin travelled through some of these new cities, meeting people who have been caught up in China's latest social upheaval.

 

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