An essay on a small-town living in modern China
This sounds very much like my wife's (smaller but probably about as prosperous) hometown in Hubei.
To whit, this is what I posted elsewhere while there this summer:
"We’re back in China for our first visit to my wife’s hometown since travel became somewhat feasible again.
It’s extraordinarily clear that there is appetite in this rural county center of 250,000 for the good things in life, and the private sector is endeavoring to provide. More and better shopping centers, nicer restaurants with a wider variety of cuisines including some decent stabs at Japanese, Dim Sum, French, and real pizza, much improved (too much, there’s not enough demand) housing stock, better roads, EVs and the accompanying infrastructure, some cool amusement centers and larger movie theaters…
But. The main hospital is still overwhelmed, the others rudimentary, the schools are bad-to-mediocre, elderly folks are still working well into their late 70’s because their old-age pensions are terrible, my wife’s surviving grandparents’ retirement home is… unfortunate. And as such, the churn in restaurants is terrible, lots of durable goods and clothing stores were shuttered, and there was very little market for services that might employ college graduates, thus my wife’s cousins are *to a person* all in Wuhan.
None of this can be fixed without the state pivoting to spend resources on improving quality-of-life and allowing people the sense of security of basic necessities that will let them spend money, including on professionals like retirement advisors, specialist doctors, marketing people for their businesses, accountants to check their tax burden, even interior decorators. It simply *cannot* keep plowing money into fixed asset investment and subsidizing exports and international competitiveness if it’s to regain a sustainable growth path.
What I’ve come to realize is, because of its prominence in manufacturing, the infrastructure boom, and the generally low wage level for unskilled labor, the Chinese middle class enjoys an absolute *abundance* of the outward material goods which developed world denizens take for granted. They can afford to buy almost every *thing* that a typical middle-class American family has… phone, car, washing machine and dryer, computers, books, smart TVs… and most of the basic services: restaurants, travel and hotels, professional contractors…
But unless they save to meet the need, they lack steady, consistent access to most of the advanced services which really set apart quality of life in the developed world; medical care, public schooling, professional services. and without those, and with housing being as screwed up a market as it is, they have to spend an immense share of income self-insuring their future medical and retirement needs *and* their children’s place in the middle class."
There's a lot of potential to improve quality of life and even per capita incomes even though growth will slow, if the Party can get behind a program of reducing public sector investments in favor of consumption support and social insurances, in a sense transitioning to investing in the people instead of investing in more stuff.
But the Party equally obviously has no appetite for that, and so we'll continue to see the birthrate drop and places like Baoji or my wife's hometown hollow out, the elderly suffer insufficient care in retirement, kids struggle to access education and economic opportunity, and China's foreign relations with its trade partners be subject to unnecessary friction as it focuses on "competitiveness" instead of "standard of living."
Sounds just a place that is similar to many American midwest cities.
An excellent sketch of the view from a small, isolated town. Good on-the-scene reporting
I liked this quote:
"Only occasionally does censorship mean fierce resistance and rapid erasure; most of the time it just gets quieter. People don’t talk when there’s nothing to talk about."
This is super well written
One of China’s poorer provinces??
Better to discuss positive developments of China instead venturing to the darkside. We all need positive energy during this time of tribulation.
Yes, concur with Art, sounds a lot like here in the USA.
With China's challenging demographics and the birth rate shrinking, cities like Baoji will become oases of potential talent that will be necessary for China's continuing development. The regional inequalities reported here continue to put countryside kids at a disadvantage but demographics and the necessary mindset changes to deal with global roasting make this neglect a luxury no nation can afford.