February 11, 2013
China looms large over Australia's horizons because its industrialization requires Australia's minerals. Yet we rarely hear much about the process of the state led industrialization in China itself after the market- oriented industrial reforms in the mid-1980s. China is the world’s manufacturing power house and its economy has come through two major global crises in the past four years.
We do know about the “great firewall of China”, the cheap mass labor resulting from the migration of the population from the country side to the cities, low-cost manufacturing, economic and income growth driven by exports of consumer goods to Europe and the US, and China useing a huge amount of coal based energy and both energy use and emissions are increasing rapidly. Despite this China is see as the not yet---not yet becoming like the West: liberal, open, modern, and free but doomed to fail.
Given the rapid de-ruralization and urbanization in China what happens to the rural people migrating to the cities in search of work when they partake of urban life? What kind of modernity is it for them? We know that those who live in modern tower blocks must put up with clogged roads, polluted skies and cityscapes of unremitting ugliness.
Due to the rapid growth of its cities, China's middle class is growing—but so is its urban poor. Tom Miller says that many:
live in cities' vast underground basements, renting unventilated rooms and sleeping in shifts so more people can share a single bed. Still others live in pre-fab dormitories on factory grounds or near workplaces, or camp out in tents near construction sites.
He adds that these rural workers who have no work skills transferrable to urban life:
If I’m a farmer ... I’m being put into a new tower block, where there’s nowhere I can keep any hens, and I have no chance of getting a job. I have no urban skills. What this is actually doing is creating a huge urban underclass of people who can’t function in the society.
China’s household registration system (or hukou), which legally ties migrant workers to their rural home and bars them from receiving most urban benefits, means that more than 250 million migrant workers lead second-class lives in the city, with little access to subsidized schooling or health care.