Erenlai - Displaying items by tag: urbanization
Thursday, 21 April 2011 16:09

The Cultural Inheritance Behind Illegal Architecture

Amongst the participants of the opening of the Illegal Architecture exhibition held in Ximen in March of this year, was mainland Chinese architect and artist Wang Shu. Perhaps aptly, given the topic of the exhibition, there was a construction crew digging up the road right beside the exhibition's marquee. Despite the repressive authoritarian thrum of council diggers and drills, Wang Shu took time out from competing with the noise to answer a few questions from the eRenlai team about illegal architecture and its role as a voice of civil society in Taipei:

Alternative (for readers in China)

Interview by Ida Wang, Nicholas Coulson and Conor Stuart, Video Editing and Subtitles by Conor Stuart.


Wang Shu's installation on the roof of the exhibition centre, The award winning "The Decay of A Dome"

 


Sunday, 31 October 2010 00:00

Next stop on the Denim Express … Struggletown

On a recent long distance train trip in China, a budding entrepreneur and proud patriot asked me if my country had any factories.

“Sure”, I said, “we’ve got a few, but not as many as China does”.

 

“That’s right!” he quickly retorted.

 

“Because of OUR factories YOU have a good lifestyle and WE have a lot of hardship!”

 

He expressed these views very forthrightly and had no doubt about whose favour the Chinese balance of trade was in.  Perhaps my new friend’s family had felt some strain from China’s rapid industrialisation.  After all, he was making a 15 hour train journey to return home to his young family after working in Beijing.

 

Last Train Home screened at the 7th Taiwan International Documentary Festival in Taichung and gave me a new perspective on my earlier encounter on the train.  The cinema was almost full and arriving late, I had to find a seat in the front row.  Seated behind me were a bunch of 10 year olds, probably attending as part of a school excursion.  To begin with they were merrily chatting away, no doubt wishing they were watching a cartoon, and oblivious to the projections of the grim cityscapes of China’s south-eastern megacities.  But it didn’t take too long for them to be drawn into the story, wide-eyed and silently absorbed by the unfolding tragedy.

 

Presenting the tale of the Zhang family – parents toiling in a jeans factory in Guangdong, kids raised by their grandparents in rural Sichuan – Last Train Home is a bleak look at life in modern China.  As the story develops over 6 years, we see the characters evolve against the dual backdrops of the urban and the rural: sewing machines and tiny bedrooms alternating with cornfields and crumbling and damp farmhouses.

 

The story is very engaging, despite some of the dialogue appearing a bit too staged.  Flashes of brutality alternate with misguided optimism, all the while dreams are torn apart and the scraps reshaped, like denim off-cuts salvaged from the factory floor and haphazardly stitched together into something new.

 

The cinematography is artful throughout, generating a strong sense of place. The scenes at Guangzhou train station during the Chinse New Year are particularly powerful. We see hordes of travellers stranded as the rail grid is thrown into turmoil by inclement weather, progressively getting anxious as the narrow window of time they have to return to their hometowns grows ever smaller.  The claustrophobia of the crammed station and tension of the travellers as they jostle for space is palpable.

 

Last Train Home is a gruelling look at the flipside of China’s year on year 10% economic growth.  The Zhang family are just some of the many millions manning the machines that drive China’s economic juggernaut.  At times harrowing, this is a film that will appeal to anyone seeking an alternative perspective on China’s economic miracle.


Monday, 03 August 2009 00:00

China’s shrinking arable land?


 
The crisis in natural resources affecting mankind is multifaceted, and it’s not always easy to evaluate the acuteness of the phenomena. China’s shrinking arable land offers a perspective on the way such challenges can be analyzed and assessed. It shows that problems are real but should not be exaggerated. Rather than relying on general statistics it is always good to look at the data and trends in more detail. In a nutshell, China’s land problem is a real one, but land resources are still available and some changes in land use have been commendable. However, the needs of the country will probably put additional pressure on world markets.
 
 

The Maoist period had seen much pasture and forest devoted to agricultural production. Conversely, the years from 1979 to 1985 constitute a period of rapid deterioration in terms of available arable land. In 1981, 1984 and 1985, China suffered an annual loss of more than a million hectares. The next five years saw this trend reversed and in 1990 more new land was brought into cultivation than was lost. Thereafter, however, conditions deteriorated once more. Most cultivated land that disappeared because of industrial, urban and infrastructural development was fertile land on the periphery of urban centers. On the other hand, there still exists a considerable amount of wasteland, especially in the southeast and central eastern regions, unused as a result of mining or industrial activities. Some of this could still be restored for agricultural use.

It is often said that China’s arable land might drop below the red line of 120 million hectares in a few years time due to rampant illegal use. This might be true but is not proven. Looking at statistics production by production, one sees some sown areas growing in size and others diminishing, in an inconsistent pattern. Also, there is progress recorded in irrigation and water-saving irrigation systems.

Some scholars assert that the situation is not as bad as often described. The official total of China’s farmland, they say, is about 50 per cent lower than the real figure. Moreover, they argue that the decline has been the result mostly of desirable land use changes rather than of disappearance of farmland in favour of new cities, industries and transportation links.

China has a long history of underreporting its grain production area, one of the difficulties lying in the diversity of local criterion used for area measurement. Other reasons for underreporting are linked to taxation issues and the need to keep a “space’ for reporting big rises in production gain when asked to do so by higher levels of government.

There is still available farmland. Also, China’s average grain yields are still below the South Korean and Japanese rates, giving the country room for improvement. On the other hand, figures of the losses incurred during the last thirty years may actually underestimate the real loss. Reasons for the loss must be assessed carefully. The combined total of urban and rural construction has been responsible for less than one-fifth of China’s recent farmland loss. Another fifth of the total loss was the result of conversion to orchards, reflecting the increased demand for fruit.

In any case, the most problematic losses occur in areas with inadequate production capacity and in suburban coastal areas where the most productive agricultural land is converted to other uses. After careful, cautious analysis, one may conclude that in the future, grain imports from China are highly likely. For the time being, looking at the situation of world markets, there should be little problem with the country eventually doubling or tripling, its current grain imports. This however could change within the next few years. For sure, no catastrophic scenario is likely, but China’s farmland problem must be seen in an ever-changing global context.


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