Sandy's Ramblings

Sunday, December 10, 2006


Greetings, it has been a while. It usually is a while, so nothing new. I've just been out to the shop to try to buy some bread and failed miserably - two shops (both usual stockers of the luxury product) but neither had any "bread" as we know it. They had coconut bread, meat bread and fruit bread, not not just bread. Settled for some croissants in the end. Anyways, while I was out walking I got thinking about China and its manpower and how they work it. Didn't think much, it wasn't far to walk, so this isn't a particularly in-depth post. My apologies in advance.

China has 1.3 billion people. China is a big country. China's population is primarily based in the north-east (the regions around and between Beijing and Shanghai). This means that, when you consider the relative lack of people in areas like Tibet and Xinjiang (the silk-road western China which is really more Arabic, Uighur to be precise) and even in the south (apart from Guangzhou which is the zone around Hong Kong which has received an industrial boom because of Hong Kong's expansion across the "border" into the world of available land and cheap labour) you realise just how densely populated this north-eastern region is in reality.

It's an exercise in trivial interest that most of you can probably name the vast majority of the world's major cities - let's say cities that have more than 10 million inhabitants. I'm using figures that include the so-called 'metropolitan' area of the city - that being the surrounding suburbs since I feel that this really is part of the city and gives a more accurate account. Let's have a look here at the top 20 and see how many of these you do or don't know...

(this comes from

1. Tokyo, Japan - 28,025,000
2. Mexico City, Mexico - 18,131,000
3. Mumbai, India - 18,042,000
4. Sáo Paulo, Brazil - 17, 711,000
5. New York City, USA - 16,626,000
6. Shanghai, China - 14,173,000
7. Lagos, Nigeria - 13,488,000
8. Los Angeles, USA - 13,129,000
9. Calcutta, India - 12,900,000
10. Buenos Aires, Argentina - 12,431,000

11. Seóul, South Korea - 12,215,000
12. Beijing, China - 12,033,000
13. Karachi, Pakistan - 11,774,000
14. Delhi, India - 11,680,000
15. Dhaka, Bangladesh - 10,979,000
16. Manila, Philippines - 10,818,000
17. Cairo, Egypt - 10,772,000
18. Õsaka, Japan - 10,609,000
19. Rio de Janeiro, Brazil - 10,556,000
20. Tianjin, China - 10,239,000

Well, the top 10 are all pretty famous cities - for the geographically challenged Mumbai is the modern name for 'Bombay'. Notice how Shanghai is the ONLY Chinese city in there. Moving on, the next 10 are all famous too with the exception of Tianjin, China's 3rd largest city. It still has over 10 million people but most people have never heard of it! I hadn't before I came here. I could copy more of that list into here but I won't - if you don't believe me go look for yourself.

The following 10 cities include not a single Chinese city, but do include Paris, London and Chicago. The next group (from 31st to 40th) contain no less than 5 Chinese cities - Hangzhou, Hong Kong, Shenyang, Changchun and Harbin. The next set of 10 includes 4 Chinese cities and the next group just 1. There are 5 more Chinese cities in the list before we hit the 100th largest which is Fortaleza in Brazil and has just over 3 million. If I counted correctly, that's 18 Chinese cities in the top 100. That's quite a lot if you think about it, but at an average of, say, 6 million inhabitants that gives up 18 * 6 =108 million people. There are sill about 1.2 billion unaccounted for. These are either rural folk or the millions of migrant workers (I doubt they're included in these figures).

How, as a government, do you deal with this? You're experiencing a crazy industrial revolution of your own and you have so many people to deal with, somehow you need to keep them busy and happy. Enter communism. Communism has worked wonders here (in my opinion) and apart from a few fairly major mishaps (Cultural Revolution being #1), it has been a successful system. The advent now of capitalism is having a marked and dramatic effect on the country and can only be said to be for the worst. It's like they're trying their damnedest to catch up with the west and are desperately trying to make all the same mistakes.

There is not a highway nor byway, causeway nor street that holds 2-way traffic (I still haven't found a one-way street here... if you exclude the alleys which are strictly not streets anyway) that isn't undergoing construction right at this moment. This statement is always true, if they're not demolishing that building today, they're doing the one next door perhaps, or maybe across the street. Either way, something is always being destroyed and another (re)built. If you stop and watch the Chinese build (or do just about any labour outside of the service industry) it is a marvel to behold. They use the idea that if you stick 10 people in to do the job of 1 then it'll get done quickly. And it works. With their manpower available, it makes sense - creates loads of jobs and keeps people happy. The communist party even puts of billboards around town telling you all about how they've done great things for you.

It seems to work - the people are not bothered by the many things that us fickle westerners disapprove of - things like a lack of sanitation, hygiene and table manners - and just accept their lot and move on. People are remarkably accepting of their lot and just get on with it. People do not complain (to my great chagrin) when things don't work... case in point - the television feed for our apartment block died a couple of months ago, not completely dead but unwatchably staticky. It took several weeks (almost 2 months) for it to get fixed. When we eventually contacted our landlord about it the problem was fixed with surprising expediency - makes me wonder if perhaps we were the first to complain. Strange that if it's true - we don't really watch the tv since it is almost all in Chinese, but the Chinese do watch it a lot.

This, I believe, is where capitalism is going to really hurt China - and might have a lot to do with China's reluctance to open up to the rest of the world outside of providing cheap products (and hence giving them the opportunity to create vast swathes of jobs). Once people start thinking western-style, ie the quantity of money in my pocket dictates the quality of lifestyle I can live, and there really is no upper limit, people are going to start getting pissed. If you, and previous generations, are accustomed to everyone being on much the same footing and then suddenly you start seeing a select few (with good connections, of course) suddenly moving so far up in the world, what do you think? Is it going to go the way of Africa with madly corrupt officials (already a big problem here) who feel that being in power gives them the right to enrich themselves above all else, or will the communist party manage to hold the fort? The party is apparently trying to crackdown heavily on corrupt officials, but it's hard to know since so much happens behind
literally closed doors. Could there be a revolt and possibly even a revolution? I find it hard to believe with the military and police presence, but you never know. People are shit-scared of the police, and with good reason.

What would happen if the people got up and stood up for (what the west deems as) their rights? What if the communist party was overthrown? Surely what would happen then would be some of the inordinately wealthy gang running for office and promising what the people are beginning to think they want: money, US-style freedom, material goods, cheap and unhealthy food, etc. This is all easily promised but would be impossible to deliver on in China. But I reckon that if it were promised the people would jump at it, and to their peril. How you can govern a nation like this with capitalism?

Viva the communists I say.


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