New China Cities: Shoddy Homes, Broken Hope


Three years ago, the Shanghai World Expo featured this newly built town as a
model for how China would move from being a land of farms to a land of cities.
In a dazzling pavilion visited by more than a million people, visitors learned
how farmers were being given a new life through a fair-and-square deal that did
not cost them anything.

in this series are looking at how China’s government-driven effort to push the
population to towns and cities is reshaping a nation that for millenniums has
been defined by its rural life.

Today, Huaming may be an example of another transformation: the
ghettoization of China’s new towns.

Signs of social dysfunction abound. Young people, who while away their days
in Internet cafes or pool halls, say that only a small fraction of them have
jobs. The elderly are forced to take menial work to make ends meet.
Neighborhood and family structures have been damaged.

Most worrying are the suicides, which local residents say have become an
all-too-familiar sign of despair.

As China pushes ahead with government-led urbanization, a program expected
to be endorsed at a Communist Party Central Committee meeting that began
Saturday, many worry that the scores of new housing developments here may face
the same plight as postwar housing projects in Western countries. Meant to
solve one problem, they may be creating a new set of troubles that could plague
Chinese cities for generations.

“We’re talking hundreds of millions of people who are moving into these
places, but the standard of living for these relocatees has actually dropped,”
said Lynette Ong, a University of Toronto political scientist who has studied
the resettlement areas. “On top of that is the quality of the buildings — there
was a lot of corruption, and they skimped on materials.”

Huaming is far from being a dangerous slum. It has no gangs, drug use or
street violence. Nearly half the town is given over to green space. Trees line
the streets that lead to elementary, middle and high schools. 

But the new homes have cracked walls, leaking windows and elevators with
rusted out floors. For farmers who were asked to surrender their ancestral
lands for an apartment, the deterioration adds to a sense of having been

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