China’s progress comes at a cost

  • Saturday, June 3, 2006 9:00pm
  • Opinion

Editor’s note – Jannelle Loewen of Bothell recently returned from China, where she spent seven months as a contracted teacher employed by Witt University of New Zealand.

By Jannelle Loewen

My very first impression upon arriving in Shanghai on my way to teach high school English and art in a high school in Ma’anshan (150 miles inland) was one of complete awe over the massive evidence of industrial and commercial expansion in and around Shanghai, and the eastern coastal region of China.

We drove past miles and miles of new construction of manufacturing plants and dreary 15-story apartment buildings. There were construction cranes everywhere we looked and workers riding on their bicycles to their jobs all hours of the day and night.

All along the coastal plain of eastern China, bulldozers are knocking down homes and farms to make way for new factories.

There is a scary mix of new cars with very new first-time drivers competing with flat bed trucks filled with pigs, motorized rickshaws and thousand of bicycles. The freeways (yes, they have them in China, too) are filled with ubiquitous blue buses and trucks and there is a toll booth about every 10 miles. One must not only pay a toll, but show a permit, too.

There exists in this region the perfect example of China’s huge burst of industrial growth. Everyone knows about the famous Three Gorges dam built on the Yangtze River (capable of generating 20 times the electricity of Hoover Dam). But this is just the most famous example of how China’s engineer-politicians are pushing their country into the forefront of the world’s economy.

There is a social price being paid.

I experienced stomach-turning water pollution in every waterway in the area where I lived and taught. They consisted of black, bubbling water, which reeked of methane. I almost never saw a blue sky in the seven months I was there. The sun was red, the moon was brown. And there is a serious problem of families being removed from traditional farms to make way for the construction of new factories.

All of this is taking place against a backdrop of major upward mobility of a new Chinese middle class (a few of whom actually own a car).

The students I taught in high school go to school virtually all day long, and all year long. They are uninformed about political and social issues in America and intensely curious of foreigners (such as imported English-speaking teachers, like me).

Americans generally are not popular in China. I didn’t even try to defend our international activities. It would have led to very unpleasant conversations and I was not in China to defend American policies.

I returned home with new and different opinions about China, its growth, its people and where it is headed. I was shown every courtesy and treated with great respect. China is very dependent upon trade with the United States and is barging forward into today’s political and commercial world.

China is for real. I have seen that, first-hand.

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