WHEN A BILLION CHINESE JUMP—Chapters 1 to 8. CHAIRMAN MAO AND THE CHINESE PROVINCE OF HENAN
This book has such an intriguing title that everyone wonders what inspired it. Here is the explanation : When the author, Jonathan Watts, was a child, he was fascinated by numbers, especially big ones like 1 billion, the population of China at the time. When he asked an adult to explain it, he got this answer : “If everyone in China jumps at the same time, it will shake the earth off its axis and kill us all” !!!
Watts did not think about this image again until he moved to Beijing thirty years later in 2003 and saw the demolition of large parts of Old Beijing and massive new construction—-largely because China was preparing for the 2008 Olympics. After he had experienced two bouts of pneumonia from breathing the polluted air, it became clear to him that because of the speed at which China was changing, and the enormous numbers of people involved in the change, “China was the focal point of the world’s environmental crisis. The decisions made in (China’s capital) Beijing, more than anywhere else, would determine whether humanity thrived or perished.” He traveled more than 100,000 miles through China as the Guardian’s Asia environment specialist to record the effects of China “jumping”.
“When A Billion Chinese Jump” is primarily an environmental book about China, now the worst polluter in the world.
How did China get into its environmental mess?
Watts’ excellent book provides the answers to how China got itself into the status of an “environmental catastrophe”. His description of Henan, China’s dirtiest, poorest and most crowded province is particularly revealing. Henan, he says, encapsulates what is happening all over China as well as in other parts of the world. Watts says it is only in the last 2 decades that Chinese environmentalists have come to see population as a major cause of their nation’s problems. Henan is the size of two Scotlands, but has a population that grew from 49 to 100 million since the 1950’s. Henan is credited as the cradle of China’s majority Han civilization. By the northern Song Dynasty (960 to 1127) , the city of Kaifeng in Henan province had a population of 2 million and was probably the biggest city in the world. Frequent famines there suggested a lack of balance between food production and population. In the 1950’s, Henan was celebrated for its clear waters, abundant waters and a rich culture. Everything has changed since then.
Mao was a key player in the massive change. He believed that more people meant more power and more ability to solve problems. His credo was “With Many People, Strength is Great”. He paid little heed to biological limits or natural balance. (In fact, as others he reported, Mao regarded Nature as an enemy.)
Henan was the site of the first people’s commune and China’s boldest agricultural experiments. No province went further in applying Soviet-style techniques of close-planting and deep plowing, or in falsely claiming success. A Chinese slogan of the time was “Learn from Henan. Catch up with Henan.” The reality was that a famine in 1960 killed 8 million people in Henan alone. Historians now estimate between 20 and 40 million people starved to death in all of China. In addition, the reckless pace of hydrological engineering (110 dams in 1 year, many of which collapsed) resulted in the deaths of many hundreds of thousands of people. In 1975, the worst dam disaster in China’s history killed around 240,000 people in Henan. This and other desperation caused more people to migrate from there than from anywhere else in China.
To get jobs for its people, gov’t officials made deals with industries to locate in Henan. But the industries produced enormous amounts of pollution. Watts partly blames dirty, irresponsible industries from rich countries for what happened in Henan and other parts of China. In an effort to reverse the pollution, the Chinese gov’t in 1995, enacted the country’s first river environment protection law to clean up the Huai River which flows through Henan. Some local politicians spoke boldly, but others refused to lose the jobs in the factories and allowed the polluting to continue.
But correction did not come until 2004 when the leaders of the 4 provinces along the Huai River agreed to new controls for wastewater. They shut down dozens of factories. They drilled 700 new wells into super-deep aquifers. Watts visited the Huai later and said that the Huai no longer stank, and was no longer black. The new problem in China is water shortages. Deep aquifers are a temporary solution. Like oil, they are non-renewable. Tapping them has led to subsidence of the land above, and if the wells are close to the sea, brackish water.
Yan Lianke, Henan’s most famous writer, has written many books that are critical of what has occurred in China. Yan said that in the past, farmers owned the land and felt a tenderness for it. Now, they have only usage rights and often exploit it. Most of the trees in his home village have been cut down. In the rush to become rich, a great health scandal happened there. People donated their blood because they could make more money ($6 per day) doing that than by farming. Unhygenic practices were used, plasma was extracted from the blood in dirty containers and the remainder (not always the contributors’ own) was pumped back into their bodies. Some donated blood 4 times a day. Many became sick with AIDS.
Yan believed the land was also sick. “The land gets tired too. But there is no attempt to relieve its burden. Every time I go back home, another patch of ground has been cultivated…..The land must be exhausted.”
Watts provides the bigger demographic picture for all of China. Until around 1650, China’s population fluctuated between 50 and 200 million. Confucianism encouraged propagation. The philosopher Mencius (Meng-Tze, b. 371 or 372 B.C., a disciple of the grandson of Confucius ) believed having no children was one of the “three most impious acts”. But there is evidence that family-planning policies were used in ancient times in the form of birth-spacing decrees. However during the Manchu dynasty from 1644 on, the tax system was changed to encourage births. Peace and high-yielding crops resulted in the population tripling between 1700 and 1850, when it passed 400 million. Malthus was wrong to say that China did nothing to avoid a burdensome population. In the mid 19th century, the mandarin Wang Shiduo recommended the death penalty for men who got married under age 25 and women under 20, and suggested tax incentives for infanticide.
Population growth flattened up to 1950, but jagged upward in the Mao era. When the first census in decades was taken in 1953, the gov’t was astonished to learn that the population had surged to 583 million, more than 100 million beyond expectations. Demographer Ma Yinchu warned that overpopulation was jeopardizing the country’s development. A family planning policy was tentatively introduced, the marriage age was raised and a condom factory built. Mao intervened, criticized Ma and encouraged people to have big families. In 1971, Premier Zhou Enlai introduced population targets similar to those for grain or steel. Couples were told to marry later, limited to 2 or 3 children, and required to wait 3 to 4 years between births. In 1979, the gov’t introduced even more stringent measures : commonly but misleadingly known as the “one-child policy”. Between 1971 and 2001, doctors carried out 151 million sterilizations and 264 million abortions. Without this policy, the gov’t estimates that China would have an extra 300 million people, per capita GDP would be about a quarter lower, and the country would drain even more of the world’s resources.”
Still, by 2030, China will have a population of 1.5 billion.
The following is a summary of “When A Billion Chinese Jump” , Chapters 1 to 8. For Chapters 10 to 16 (the remainder of the book), see http://immigrationwatchcanada.org/2011/10/07/oct-7-2011-chinas-deputy-environment-minister-parasites-head-for-canada/
Chapter 1 : Watts begins his journey in China’s western province of Yunnan, an area so remote that it was left untouched when many other areas of China industrialized. Yunnan had been romanticized by James Hilton in his book “Lost Horizon” which had given the name Shangri-La to an area of Yunnan. In 2001, China recognized the tourism profits it could make there from the utopian reputation the area had acquired from Hilton’s book and a Hollywood movie. China was also interested in Yunnan’s untapped forests and other resources. Ironically, “The Land of Peach Blossom” a Chinese story written around 300 AD, had told of a similar paradise hidden in the mountains of western China. Two philosophies had competed for supremacy in China : Confucianism and Taoism. Confucianism focused more on satisfying the needs of humans in creating its utopia while Taoism envisaged a utopia which revered Nature. Confucianism has won the war. Up to 1990, Yunnan contained many of nature’s last great holdouts against human development. It contains 4% of China’s land, but is home to more than half of the country’s vertebrates, higher plant species and orchids as well as 72% of the country’s endangered animals.” Since then, large tracts of old forest have been clear-cut. Huge hydro projects involving the flooding of many settlements are planned.
Chapter 2 focuses on Tibet which borders on and is just north and west of Yunnan. The Chinese have used the fable of “The Foolish Old Man who Moved Mountains” (in which an old man and his sons try to move two mountains so that the old man can have a better view), to inspire others who face enormous struggles with Nature. God is so impressed with the persistence of the old man that he sends two angels to lift the mountains. The Chinese are taught that humans “can achieve anything with determination, time, and sufficient male offspring”, particularly in Tibet where Nature presents such enormous and seemingly impossible challenges. Mao, the modern mountain man, loved the story and reinterpreted it to justify a war on nature and China’s colonial enemies : imperialism and feudalism. The Chinese army took control of Tibet in 1950 and completed a road from China into Tibet in 1954. In the early 1980’s, China de-regulated the size of herds that nomads could keep on Tibet’s mountains. This resulted in overgrazing and turned the area into a desert. Not long after, China tried to reverse the damage they had done by taking many of the Tibetan herders off the grasslands and resettling them. The new desert made the former grasslands unable to absorb moisture, so they began to radiate heat. The mountains of Tibet have warmed more than any other area of China. This is causing Tibet’s 37,000 glaciers to melt. Tibet has the third largest body of ice outside the Arctic and Antarctic. In other words, the building of a railway from China into Tibet may have reduced shipping costs by 75%, but it has resulted in other huge problems. One of the most dangerous potential problems is that development may cause the permafrost, on which the world’s highest railway sits, to warm up and potentially melt, causing huge amounts of methane (50 times more damaging than carbon dioxide) to enter the atmosphere. During the Beijing Olympics, China used a fake photo of an endangered Tibetan animal called the chiru (similar to an antelope) running beside the train going into Tibet. This was supposed to symbolize Nature and Chinese progress existing side by side, but that has not happened in Tibet or other parts of China. As part of China’s “Go West” policy, China has flooded Tibet with Chinese migrants. This caused the riots of 2008 in Lhasa.
In Chapter 3, Watts journeys to Sichuan, east of Tibet but north of Yunan. He remarks that Chinese emperors, under the “Mandate of Heaven”, have been judged by their ability to control both people and water. His purpose is to examine what China has done to its water resources. China has 87,000 dams. He looks at one of China’s newest dams, the huge Zipingpu dam which is 50% taller than the Three Gorges dam. Zipingpu is above the city of Dujiangyan (population 600,000)and was constructed on top of a huge geological fault. Some Chinese scientists speculate that Zipingpu’s enormous reservoir may have caused the destructive earthquake of 2008. In their view, the weight of the reservoir was like a giant jumping on a cracked surface. Watts compares Zipingpu with the irrigation and flood control system built in 256 BC near Dujiangyan. It is the antithesis of a dam. Its levees, weirs and channels allow the Min River, a tributary of the Yangtze (40 % of China’s water) to be harvested and diverted towards the neighbouring 6000 sq. km. of farm land. Its channels have almost no effect on the migration of fish and other species. Regarded as a marvel of Taoist eco-engineering, it was barely affected by the earthquake and is recognized by the UN as a World Heritage site. Mao planned to flood the ancient waterworks in the 1960’s, but the chaos of his Cultural Revolution spared it. The Three Gorges project has spawned huge controversy even within China. In fact, neither China’s President Hu Jintao, a hydro engineer and originator of China’s “Scientific Development” policy nor the geologist Premier Wen Jiabao, attended the dam’s completion ceremony in 2006. Watts refers to them as President Water and Premier Earth. Environmentalist Dai Qing, who was imprisoned for publishing criticism of the Three Gorges Project, told Watts that China had a long history of building dangerous dams and covering up the consequences. Dam construction surged in the 1950’s. Initially, there was a debate between the Confucian dam builders and the Taoists, but the Confucians won and Mao sided with them. Many dams were poorly built, inadequately checked and collapsed with deadly consequences. The first big dam to go was Fushan which lasted just 4 months before bursting and drowning 10,000 people downstream. By 1980, 2796 dams had failed with a combined death toll of 240,000. Dai was told by an expert that the sloppy construction has still not been cleaned up. Mao’s biggest project, the South-North Water Diversion Project which would take water from the Yangtze to the dry lands north of the Yellow River, is still underway, although plagued by many problems. It is like diverting water from the Mississippi River into the Colorado. Clean hydroelectric energy turns dirty very quickly. The dams attract dirty energy-consuming factories. Dams like the Three Gorges spawn other dams to clean up their messes. Local gov’ts encourage chemical and smelting plants to move near the dams. The dams can supply electricity only during the wet season, so coal-fired plants are built near the dams to supply energy during electricity shortages. Coal mines are then opened up to feed the coal plants. In addition, there are few more glaring examples of how rich countries outsource pollution to China. Authorities have announced plans for 20 new plants on the upper Yangtze and its tributaries, many of them close to fault lines.
In Chapter 4, Watts continues his look at rivers, this time examining the Lower Yangtze in Hubei Province. He describes the fate of the baiji, a dolphin of the Yangtze, which has lived there for thousands of years and was revered in ancient Chinese literature, in one case being referred to as the goddess of the Yangtze. The Yangtze supports 1 in 20 of all humanity and 40% of China’s economy. There is barely any room left for any other species. In the 1950’s, there were 6000 baiji in the Yangtze. The last confirmed sighting was in 2002. Chinese scientists have been reluctant to talk about the decline of nature because that is equal to criticizing the Chinese gov’t. Wang Ding : “The baiji is a flagship. If the Yangtze cannot support the baiji, it cannot support us.” It was planned to capture some baiji and re-locate them to Tian-e-Zhou, a large game reserve. Chinese and western conservation philosophies conflict. The Chinese believe in isolating endangered species in artificial reserves and protecting them there in order to allow humans to do what they want in the rest of the country. The west believes in setting aside large tracts and letting endangered species live in their native habitat. Half of the species in the northern hemisphere are located in China, particularly in its remote areas. 2531 areas have been set aside as natural reserves in China.
Many environmentalists —domestic and foreign—believe Chinese culture is skewed against the wild. Nature has been valued for its utility and scope for consumption. The deserts and mountains of the far west have been described as “elie” which could be translated as “vile” or of “low quality”. The word of wilderness is “huangdi” also means “wasteland”. In the west, the systematic study of nature did not hit full stride until industrialization. The study of nature is over 400 years old in China and was documented in Li Shizen’s (1518-1593) premier pharmacopoeia for Chinese traditional medicine which listed more than 1800 treatments. Applied in his time, his treatments had minimal effect on nature. Now, they are a death sentence. Li’s teachings have led to the establishment of commercial breeding centres for several rare animals, but most are battery farms situated near markets for traditional medicine and exotic food. Wildlife has been caught in a pincer between traditional medicine and modern development. When the gov’t banned the tiger trade in 1993, the park could no longer sell tiger parts. Its largest source of income had disappeared and it teeters on bankruptcy.
The gov’t protects China’s traditions better than it protects its wildlife. The Health Ministry defends Dr. Li’s ancient prescriptions. Only vague mention is made of habitat protection. Experts say conservation is failing in China. Reason : lack of love for nature and animals, except in regard to how they could be consumed. There are some encouraging signs. Even President Hu Jintao has made the creation of an “eco-civilization” a goal of his “Scientific Development” program. The tragic story of the baiji never made it to the front pages. Growth had a price. The development model —pioneered in the UK, then Europe, North America and Japan—was to get rich first, clean up later. Sometimes in the case of the baiji, the fix came too late. The drivers of development could be found on the fast-evolving coast of the south-east. “perhaps at my next destination, Guangdong Province, I would discover how the export of blame, waste and responsibility had become one of the dirtiest businesses of globalization.” (P.80)
In Chapter 5, Watts travels to Guangdong Province which borders Hong Kong. Guangdong province has taken much of the garbage (recycled material) of the industrialized world. People there sift through it and re-sell what can be re-sold. The result has been that Guangdong has become polluted by the toxins released when the recycled material/garbage is re-used and made into something else. Most of the places that took the recycled material in China were small businesses which made little profit on the work they did. In Malthus’ “Essay on the Principle of Population”, he predicted correctly that the rise of Chinese manufacturing would lead to a trade imbalance (that is, Britain would owe far more to China than China to Britain) because Britain would have little to offer in return. The gap, Malthus said, would have to be made up with “luxuries collected from around the world”. The luxury was opium which Britain sold in China. Between 1819 and 1839, the sale of opium increased 5 times. The Chinese gov’t tried to stop this but the British sent gunboats to force the Chinese to let the practice continue. The item used to close the gap today is garbage. It is cheaper to send London’s garbage to Guangdong than to Manchester. Adam Smith would probably have considered this business as usual. In the 18th century, he described how China’s poor were so wretched they ate rubbish: “They are eager to fish up the nastiest garbage thrown overboard from any European ship. Problem : the rubbish shipments put irresponsible distance between consumption and its consequences.”
The solution, cutting down on consumption, was rejected because it would hurt economic growth. Rich countries forbade dumping, but shipments of non-hazardous waste could be “recycled” to China. This allowed rich nations to deceive themselves into thinking that they were cleaning up even though little or no effort was made to ensure that the shipped material was dealt with properly at the other end. In effect, much of it was swept under a Guangdong carpet. Guangdong people have an expression which sums up their attitude : “shanghao huangdiyuan” which means “the mountains are high and the emperor far away”. Guiyu is the world’s computer graveyard. These products are poisoning Guiyu and many other places. Efforts to make manufacturers share responsibility with retailers, consumers and gov’ts for the lifespan of their products have had only partial success. Federal enforcement of weak environmental regulations is also weak. Former leader Deng Xiaoping said the rest of China should imitate Guangdong.
Guangdong manufacturers are contractually obligated not to reveal who they make products for because the value of brands could be destroyed if consumers are informed about factory conditions. The province has become the counterfeiting centre of China. Guangdong is also the hub for the trade in endangered species. Many endangered species were once protected by their high price, but with China’s rise in wealth, many are being mass-consumed into extinction. The trade was exposed in May 2006 when a boat carrying large numbers of endangered species had engine failure off the Guangdong coast. Local markets have accidentally become biochemical laboratories. SARS and avian flu are thought to have originated here. Guangdong is also where new modes of behaviour are tried out. It is the home of sexual activist, Li Li, who became China’s best-known sex-blogger and the first to podcast her lovemaking. It is also the hub of the world’s adult toy business. Prostitution is a far bigger part of the sex business. Many rich Hong Kong men have second wives in Shenzhen. International manufacturers shift their dirtiest production to China. Guangdong is selling itself as a haven for carbon cheats and waste-regulation dodgers. One of the reasons China has overtaken the US as a greenhouse gas emitter is that between 15 and 40% of of the country’s carbon dioxide production is attributable to the production of exports. Half of Guangdong’s factories are partly or wholly owned by foreigners. It has one of the worst acid-rain records in China. The Pearl River which flows through Guangdong is extremely polluted. However, the provincial gov’t is trying to escape the label of the global economy’s toilet bowl. It is trying to cut air and water pollution. It has moved its most polluting industries inland. Nanhai was a recycling area that was shut down by the gov’t and moved inland to Shijing. Watts pretended to be a western businessman looking for a place to sell his overseas rubbish. He was treated with suspicion, particularly by the recycler refugees from Nanhai. The Guangdong recyclers are treated as if they created the world’s mess.
In Chapter 6, Watts goes to Jiangsu and Zhejiang. Jiangsu is the wealthiest province in China. Watts visited it and was taken by a communist party official to Huaxi, the province’s model village. It used to be a village of farmers, but it had developed into a village with one of the highest per capita incomes in China, 20 times the national average. It was run by the Wu family who were very disciplined and who expected the same from everyone else. Wu stated that the village’s aim was to make all of China rich. Wu had begun as a swineherd, rose quickly through the Communist Party ranks to become village chief and established Huaxi’s first commune in 1961. Wu was tried during the Cultural Revolution for being a Capitalist Roader because he had established a hardware factory in his village. He was convicted and his sons were beaten. In the early reform period of the 1980’s, Wu started a pesticide factory. Wu next moved into aluminum smelting and steel production. Chinese bought steel making equipment in Europe and elsewhere and moved it to China. This was reported as a transfer of factories to China, but it was also a transfer of pollution to China.
The coastal belt from Jiangsu down to Guangdong had become the workshop of the world. Even the bus drivers were in on making as much money as possible. The driver made many stops in order to make deliveries and pick-ups. Watts arrived in Yiwu, the world’s biggest commodity trading centre. Yiwu was often described as the modern equivalent of the bazaars on the old Silk Road. But Yiwu was more like the planet’s dollar store. Yiwu enshrined the modern global values of mass production, mass consumption and low quality. Many places were called village, but they were much bigger than many European towns and were heavily industrialized. The residents were still called farmers, but most worked in factories. One town, Qiaotou, was a manufacturer of buttons and zippers. Industrialization came with pollution of the air, water and ground. The coastal provinces became notorious for “cancer villages”. Protests arose over the seizure of farmland, but fear of toxins was another factor.
Huankantou riots were an interesting look at the reaction of villagers to chemical plants which were destroying everything in their village. Authorities moved in, arrested the ringleaders and sentenced them to prison.
Provinces along the coast tried to clean up, but their efforts were weak. The federal gov’t tried to introduce a Green GDP, a policy which tried to factor long-term environmental costs into calculations of economic growth. It was a hugely ambitious plan that could have set a precedent worldwide. When officials later realized that this would negate growth in their accounts, they torpedoed the scheme. Like Europe and the US, South Korea and Japan improved air and water quality by investing heavily in clean and efficient technologies, by moving their dirtiest industries overseas to China and by expanding their markets to provide alternative jobs. China cannot easily do the same.
In 2007, the World Bank estimated the annual cost of pollution in China at 5.8% of its GDP. Take that away from the official figures and the miracle of Chinese growth shrinks to a level similar to that of Europe or the US. This estimate was conservative. The costs of erosion, desertification, soil decline and environmental degradation raises the figure to 8-12% of GDP, which would push China’s economy into reverse gear. The youngest Wu planned more of the same for his village, but with much more emphasis on the environment. He even planned to build a structure taller than the Empire State Building by 2021. Huaxi had swallowed 26 surrounding villages and its population had risen to 60,000. Watts was given a tour of the village on his last day there. It contained many new houses which varied in size and quality. It had its theme park which contained imitations of important world buildings. The residents emphasized material wealth.
in Chapter 7, Watts examines the province and city of Chongqing. Cities like Chongqing are examples of the great shift that is occurring everywhere from people living in the country to people living in the city. Until 2008, half the world’s population lived in both. Chongqing is home to 31 million people. The poor district is home to the city’s most distinctive and traditional population—-the bangnang army, an army of 100,000 porters . Watts meets Yu Lebo, a porter who lived with his wife in a small apartment which they shared with 3 other couples. They had 2 children whom they had left behind in their village with relatives. Yu made $3 per day for 12 hours work. His wife also had a job. They used most of their money to pay for their food and rent, but had something left over to send to their children for clothes and books. Education and health care, once free under Mao, were the biggest expenses of most rural people. Average incomes in the city were 3 times those in the country. In Mao’s time, the gov’t tried to halt and reverse the movement of people to the cities. By 1980, only 100 million Chinese lived in cities. In the next 10 years under Deng Xiaoping, 400 million people moved from the country to the cities. Britain has 5 urban centres of more than 1 million people. China has more than 120. In moving, people were re-shaping their country’s identity and its relationship to the environment. For 3000 years, china had been a country of farmers. This was happening because the country had embarked on a plan to address the inequality between the rich eastern coastline and the poor western interior through a “Go West” strategy.
Watts visits the city limits where he meets Yin Mingshan, the boss of a factory. Yin was a combination of Josiah Wedgewood and Henry Ford and the Cadbury brothers. Between 1986 and 2000, about 1.2 million hectares of arable land were converted into built-up areas, mostly small towns of 5000 to 10,000 people. Initially, the development of these smaller towns threatened the food security of China: it believes it must have 120 million hectares of farmland to ensure food security. To achieve this, it decided to concentrate more of its population in megacities and to build skyscrapers in order to protect the country’s farmland. China and the west are moving in opposite directions. China is polluting more and becoming more inefficient. China plans to have a belt of supercities from Shanghai to Wuhan. Chongqing was trying to set an example of how a city could grow big and remain clean. Its mayor was formerly the mayor of Dalian which he had greened. He planned to turn Chongqing into a forest city. Cleanup remained a low priority compared with economic growth. Chongqing’s rubbish is turning into a big problem. Its dump was filling up and its wastewater plants and those of other cities were producing pollution that was making its way to the Three Gorges Dam.
The story of Chongqing was repeated all over china : move farmers into the city and their consumption increased threefold and their emissions surged with their junk. By 2020, when the gov’t aims to create a xiaokang shei (moderately prosperous society), the volume of urban garbage in China is expected to reach 400 million tons, equivalent to the figure for the entire world in 1997. The loss of heritage architecture was a big problem. The similarity of China’s cities was a legacy of Stalinist state planning and a sign that aesthetics and heritage preservation were low priorities. During the Mao era, much of the nation’s building stock was thrown up according to a handful of designs. The economic reform period was barely any better. Watts was introduced to Chongqing’s new rich : all were in their 20’s, foreign-educated, and well-connected :”No businessman can thrive unless they have contacts in the communist party or the underworld. He Qing : “Inequality and environmental destruction are the two biggest problems facing China.” He wanted to establish a new wind-energy company that would employ migrants to build a cleaner city using German technology. Some economists believe China is approaching the Lewis turning point, at which demand for labour outstrips supply.
In Chapter 8, Watts travels to Shanghai. Barbara Millicent Roberts was a US supermodel who became the model for Barbie dolls and the products that Barbie had around her. Barbie’s lifestyle was sought after by many Americans and it began to be imitated in the early 1990’s in China. In 2009, Barbie was given a home in Shanghai in a six-storey doll’s house. Single women now pursue the unsustainable, energy-intensive Barbie lifestyle. for over half a century. Barbie has been the ecological equivalent of a weapon of mass destruction. If little girls in China grew up wanting to shop, eat and travel like Barbie, the planet’s prognosis would shift from touchand-go to terminal. International salesmen descended on Shangai to sell the American consumer lifestyle. Shanghai used some of its wealth to clean itself and was often cited as a model in China. Kentucky Fried Chicken now has 2000 outlets in China and is the largest foreign restaurant chain there. McDonald’s has 800 branches. All the big retailers are there. A surge in obesity, diabetes and heart disease has followed. About 15% of Chinese are now overweight. Chinese famines historically made Chinese slim. But people were proud to be plump (having a “General’s Belly”) because it showed the person was prosperous. Shanghai’s bright cosmetic exterior has been achieved at the expense of the places that provide its resources and deal with its waste.
Shanghai’s Bund used to be home to the regional headquarters of many European powers. After the 1949 revolution, the imperialists were kicked out and the communist party used the old buildings as offices. Since then, the Bund has become a centre for empires such as domestic brokerages, shipping firms , foreign retailers and restaurant franchises. Watts’ guide through the Bund was Emily, a middle class single woman who had been raised with a western doll and all the ambitions that accompanied it. She made 20,000 yuan a month, a good middle class salary. Emily took Watts to a bar whose clientele was mostly male foreigners and their Chinese girlfriends. Chinese men did not like to be with foreigners, so they frequented other bars. Prostitutes and drug dealers abounded. The area looked like Tokyo of the late 1980’s with its sex industry. Emily introduces Watts to Cindy Tai, the head of a thriving marketing agency. Cindy described her childhood where she had a doll like the one Emily had and whose eyes she painted blue and gave blonde hair to because westerners were rich and Chinese were poor. The Red guards confiscated her doll in the Cultural Revolution. When Watts tells her he was writing a book about the environment, she said that her dream was to own an organic farm and raise fruit and animals—but also have a helicopter to avoid the traffic in Shanghai. Her idea of environmentalism seemed to be choosing what was healthy for her rather than for the planet. She was conflicted———She had a French husband and a home in Cannes. She owned several expensive cars and invited Watts to attend a Porsche owners’ party.
Consumption was increasingly equated in China with power and prestige. It was not always so. During the Mao era, frugality was a necessity as well as a virtue. More and more shopping malls are being built but many of them are ghost malls—-no one can afford to shop there. Lester Brown : “Chinese consumption shows the need to re-construct the world economy. But the opposite was happening. Global corporations and the communist gov’t were together trying to make China the greatest shopper of them all. ” Kan Yue-Sai literally changed the face of China, or at least the female side of it. She is the Oprah Winfrey of China. She was born in China, brought up in the US. She rose to fame on both sides of the Pacific as a TV star, advertising pioneer and cosmetics queen. She was vain and in the vanity business. She said she was driven to “colorize” the gray China of the 1980’s. Yue-Sai was asked by the Chinese leadership to distract people from the events at Tiananmen Square. She started her business in Sshanghai at a time when many foreign competitors had just fled. She got the support of the wives of the Beijing leadership. She started consumerism. Ironically, she invented a Chinese doll to compete with Barbie, but it did not do well. She did not like the fact that Chinese were trying to be too western. Watts asked her if she had any regrets about the environmental effects of the consumerism she had promoted. She said she didn’t, but probably did. She mentions “the ungreening of it, the toxins, the plastic things.” “The American dream had not yet been realized, but it was drawing closer.” “On the coast and in Chongqing, I had now seen how trade, industry, urbanization and other forces of development were all geared towards endless expansion just as in the west.”