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National Geographic’s award-nominated feature on China’s “instant cities” is online. It’s a fascinating feature about the massive coastal manufacturing towns that now house 140 million people who’ve moved from the countryside as part of the largest migration in human history. It’s split across eight screens, and there’s at least one jaw-dropper per screen.

From the airport, driving south along the coast, I started with hinges—a stretch of road where the vast majority of billboards advertised every possible variation of the piece of metal used to swing a door. A mile later, the ads shifted to electric plugs and adapters. Then I reached a neighborhood of electric switches, followed by fluorescent lightbulbs, then faucets.
Deeper in the province, the shrines became more elaborate. At Qiaotou, I stopped to admire the 20-foot-high (six meters) silver statue of a button with wings that had been erected by the town elders. Qiaotou’s population is only 64,000, but 380 local factories produce more than 70 percent of the buttons for clothes made in China. In Wuyi, I asked some bystanders what the local product was. A man reached into his pocket and pulled out three playing cards—queens, all of them. The city manufactures more than one billion decks a year. Datang township makes one-third of the world’s socks. Songxia produces 350 million umbrellas every year. Table tennis paddles come from Shangguan; Fenshui turns out pens; Xiaxie does jungle gyms. Forty percent of the world’s neckties are made in Shengzhou.

Everything is sold in a town called Yiwu. For the Zhejiang pilgrim, that’s the promised land—Yiwu’s slogan is “a sea of commodities, a paradise for shoppers.” Yiwu is in the middle of nowhere, a hundred miles (160 kilometers) from the coast, but traders come from all over the world to buy goods in bulk. There’s a scarf district, a plastic bag market, an avenue where every shop sells elastic. If you’re burned out on buttons, take a stroll down Binwang Zipper Professional Street. The China Yiwu International Trade City, a local mall, has more than 30,000 stalls—if you spend one minute at each shop, eight hours a day, you’ll leave two months later. Yiwu attracts so many Middle Eastern traders that one neighborhood has become home to 23 large Arabic restaurants, as well as a Lebanese bakery. I ate dinner at Arbeer, a Kurdish joint, with a trader from northern Iraq.

 China’s Instant Cities; A Jaw-Dropping National Geographic Feature

Following a brother to Lishui, Wang Hai brings his mother and his brother’s wife and kids from Guizhou Province, a 30-hour train ride away.

 China’s Instant Cities; A Jaw-Dropping National Geographic Feature

Nightlife in Lishui’s new factory zone happens in the streets, where carnivals, karaoke contests, and, on this evening, free kung fu movies entertain workers. Some 30,000 migrants have poured in during the past few years, many living in worker dormitories.

China’s Instant Cities; A Jaw-Dropping National Geographic Feature

One of the many major infrastructure projects, the Zijin Bridge over the Ou River, will link Lishui to a new highway and factories.

China’s Instant Cities; A Jaw-Dropping National Geographic Feature

In their sparkling whites, Xu Rongqing and his bride, Tu Junxia, pose for wedding photos on the bank of the Ou River, unperturbed by townspeople washing their clothes. Both city and country ways keep blending in Lishui as the growing city continues its rapid changes.

China’s Instant Cities; A Jaw-Dropping National Geographic Feature

Before a full congregation, a convert is baptized at the Huangnishan Protestant Church in Lishui. A number of rural newcomers to Lishui have sought out the community of state-approved Christian churches. Only in the past few years has China’s communist government allowed more open religious worship. An estimated 40 million Chinese (3 percent of the population) are Christian, a rapidly growing faith in a country that is officially atheist.

 China’s Instant Cities; A Jaw-Dropping National Geographic Feature

White Cloud Garden, a plot of Western-style villas, rises on the backs of 40-cents-an-hour laborers hauling concrete. Homes sell for up to half a million dollars, affordable for the city’s elite of factory managers, top bureaucrats, and land developers.

 

Amazing.

LINK

via Boing Boing

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