On the long flight back from China to New Zealand recently, one of the films I watched was Elysium. The sci-fi thriller probably won’t make my top-10 list, but some of the content felt disturbingly close to home.
Although earth in Elysium was depicted as a polluted and overpopulated Los Angeles in 2154, it had elements of the way China is going right now, as the air and water pollution seem to be getting worse every year. The luxurious space habitat that the earthlings wanted to escape to, reminded me a little bit of New Zealand – although with slightly better looking inhabitants and a far superior health system.
Most people have heard of Shanghai and Beijing, but I bet there’d be very few Westerners who could name 50% of the 113 cities with more people than San Francisco’s metro area. Every month in China, there is a city the size of Brisbane added to the landscape. On the Yangtze River alone, 18 cities have more people than New Zealand.
What’s remarkable, is the number of China’s mega-cities that most people have never heard of. Consumers in those cities are becoming increasingly wealthy, and their tastes are going to increasingly influence the whole world. To bring some perspective to the scale of China’s cities, my marketing and research agency, China Skinny, has created a simple tool, The City-Nator, where you can enter your city, or a population over 1 million and see how many Chinese cities have more people. It’s quite fun, try it out at chinaskinny.com/tools/city-nator.
Below is a little infograph to warm up…
See how your city compares to Chinese cities, try out the City-Nator
It’s one of my favourite things about living in China – the constant contrasts at every turn. There’s the well known scenes: snot-green Lamborghinis zipping past peasants dragging stacks of wood, ultra-modern skyscrapers acting as a backdrop to crumbling lane houses where multiple families share a tap.
If you were born in China post the 1979 One-Child-Policy, you’d better hope you’re a karaoke crooner or have a lot of cash. Getting a wife in China is becoming increasingly difficult.
If you’re one of those boys who does find your Chinese bride and grows old with her talking about sunsets on the Nile River, you’re one of the lucky ones. Tens of millions will be without. Yep, for every 100 boys born in China these days, there’re only 81 Chinese girls to woo. And with those ratios, it just pushes the stakes up.
I’ve lived beside four rivers in my life. As a youngster, Wellington’s mighty Hutt River was my favourite spot for sitting in inner tubes and doing ‘bombs’ into. Then there was Dublin’s River Liffey, the resting place of more pint glasses than any other river in the world. Preparing for our paddle down the Blue Nile, I lived in Khartoum, Sudan where the Blue Nile and White Nile meet. It was there I caught the bug for the world’s longest river.
Since moving to Shanghai on banks of the Yangtze River Delta, my fascination with rivers hasn’t tempered and I’ve become curious about how two of the world’s greatest rivers compare.
Just as the Beijing Health Bureau broke the news that the Beijing rat population has increased 15% in the past year, we started hearing noises in the night. Disappearing food and rat poop confirmed that we had a resident rodent.
Now we’re no strangers to rats. Just two years ago we were stalked by our fury foe back in Wellington. Then last year we went on a pilgrimage to the rat-ridden Karni Mata Temple in Rajasthan, India. Yet no matter how many run-ins you have with the genus Rattus, you will never get used to them.
I’ve never been a fan of shopping malls, that was before I went to Yiwu China Commodity City.
Yiwu City, about two hours by fast train from Shanghai, has the largest small commodity market in the world. In laymen’s terms that’s a massive mall where you buy large quantities of all the Chinese-made stuff you see in shops and markets all over the world.
And massive it is. 4.3 million square metres of floor space containing 62,000 booths representing factories and suppliers producing everything from 2011 Rugby World Cup balls to Hello Kitty socks.
When I was a youngster, China really scared me. I’d been told if everyone in China all jumped at the same time, the whole world would wobble. Although there hasn’t been a coordinated hop, China is without doubt, shaking up the balance of the world.
Curiosity has drawn Ellen and me to get in amongst China during this fascinating time in history. I was lucky enough to be working for an Internet company in North America during the dot-com boom, Ireland when the Celtic Tiger was roaring and New Zealand when microwave ovens were introduced, but nowhere has the rate of change been more apparent than in the Middle Kingdom. This is the biggest boom in history.
The rate of change for almost everything in China is staggering; incomes (almost 300% since 2000), car sales (32% last year), the market for art (25% last year), number of billionaires (57% last year). Even more impressive is the scale of it all – the rates are measured across 1.3 billion people! And although developing countries have a low starting point to measure growth from, significant tracts of China are long past the ‘developing’ stage. Shanghai, for example, now has a higher average GDP than parts of southern Europe.