Chinese Success Story Chokes on Its Own Growth

– The economic miracles which are China and India are filled with people who, quite reasonably, would like to translate their new economic successes into living lives like Americans do.   Lots of consuming, eating meat, wasting power – all the things we take for granted in the US.

– The bummer is, the world hasn’t enough resources to allow a billion or more more people to live lives like we do – there simply isn’t enough ‘stuff’ to go around.  And this isn’t going to be easy to explain to them – indeed, no one wants to listen.  “You got to drink from the fountain of plenty – now it’s our turn!”

It’s just another reason why I’m not particularly hopeful about how things are trending. 


SHENZHEN, China — When Zhang Feifei lost her job in this booming Chinese factory town, she was not terribly concerned. Jobs had always been plentiful in Shenzhen’s flourishing economy.

Then Ms. Zhang, a 20-year-old migrant laborer, lost her identity card and was shocked to find that no factory would hire her without a bribe that she could not afford. Desperate for money, she ended up working in a grimy two-room massage parlor in a congested alley here, where she has sex with four or five men each day.

“I was terrified at first, and I was really embarrassed not even knowing how to use a condom,” said the soft-spoken young woman, casting her eyes downward as she spoke. “I didn’t have any choice, though. Little by little, you have to get used to it.”

Few cities anywhere have created wealth faster than Shenzhen, but the costs of its phenomenal success stare out from every corner: environmental destruction, soaring crime rates and the disillusionment and degradation of its vast force of migrant workers, Ms. Zhang among them.

Shenzhen was a sleepy fishing village in the Pearl River delta, next to Hong Kong, when it was decreed a special economic zone in 1980 by the paramount leader Deng Xiaoping. Since then, the city has grown at an annual rate of 28 percent, though it slowed to 15 percent in 2005.

Shenzhen owed its success to a simple formula of cheap land, eager, compliant labor and lax environmental rules that attracted legions of foreign investors who built export-based manufacturing industries. With 7 million migrant workers in an overall population of about 12 million — compared with Shanghai’s 2 to 3 million migrants out of a population of 18 million — Shenzhen became the literal and symbolic heart of the Chinese economic miracle.

Now, to other cities in China, Shenzhen has begun to look less like a model than an ominous warning of the limitations of a growth-above-all approach.


– this story is in the NY Times which requests an ID and password to login.   Getting these is a one-time free deal and well worth it.

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