Note: see slide show at below. Adjust your screen size to see it as you please.
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Live from the streets of China, Jeff
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The inspiration for this article/podcast was the announcement that Shenzhen’s economy eclipsed Hong Kong’s in 2018 (http://www.chinabankingnews.com/2019/03/03/shenzhens-economy-eclipses-hong-kongs/). This was in exchange rate terms. If Purchasing Power Parities (PPP) were used, which really compares apples to apples, I’m sure it happened several years ago. In PPP, China surpassed the US in 2014, something I already reported on (https://chinarising.puntopress.com/2018/06/11/psst-dont-tell-anyone-but-china-has-the-worlds-biggest-economy-china-rising-radio-sinoland-180612/). Then again, since I’m in Guangdong Province, maybe I should say, Compare durians to durians!
Every time I leave Shenzhen to go to Hong Kong, I always turn around towards the former, wave and say, Goodbye 21st century! and then face the latter saying, Hello 20th century! This difference is that stark.
I wrote a lot about the history of Hong Kong in The China Trilogy (see below) and reflected on how it compared to China, 1990-1997, when we lived and worked here the first time, then for the second time starting 2010 until now. I also visited Shenzhen back then. Wow! What a difference.
For us, 1990s Hong Kong was a crass Western paradise of materialism and consumption, compared to Mainland China. China’s consumer goods markets were still developing and rather meager at the time. Going to Hong Kong meant shopping. Back then, Beijing only had two 1970s-era subway lines and the roads were still seriously lacking. There were no super highways back then. Hong Kong’s subway and roads seemed ultra-modern by comparison.
Now, Hong Kong looks and feels tired and worn out compared to China and Shenzhen. Development and public services are lacking. When we went back to Hong Kong the first time in 2016, after moving to Shenzhen from Beijing, I was gob smacked. It was like entering a time capsule that had not been opened in 20 years. It was shocking, really, even depressing how little it had changed. Improved didn’t even enter into my vocabulary. Instead, infrastructure is degrading and not keeping up with the people’s needs. The only notable improvement that really benefits the people is the new Hong Kong Airport, which is very nice.
Since it is ruthlessly capitalist, profit for its elite owners comes first, citizens are secondary. The Hong Kong municipal museum costs money to get into, whereas in China, metropolitan and provincial museums have been free everywhere I have traveled. Once inside Hong Kong’s, many, if not most of the displays are sponsored by corporations and rich elites. So instead of a cohesive historical vision, it’s a mishmash of each donor’s pet projects. Brutal British colonialism, occupation and Hong Kong being made the illegal drug capital of the world, 1839-1949 are all breathlessly glossed over.
Shenzhen runs circles around Hong Kong in terms of public services, infrastructure, quality of life, amenities and eye appeal. Yes, there is Lantau Island in Hong Kong, which is a wonderful nature park, and some of Hong Kong Island is dedicated to green areas, but Kowloon in the mainland part is a concrete jungle. North of that, the New Territories (NT) were never developed properly, since with its capitalist make-money-NOW-or-forget-it culture of greed, the ten families that own Hong Kong lock stock and barrel, left it to languish. Unless you live near one of the stations, you need a car to live in NT or be prepared to walk a long way to only two metro lines, one heading to Shenzhen.
Given the fact that it has around 12-15 million inhabitants (unofficially up to 20 million, but I doubt it), Shenzhen has very few traffic jams, because it is so well designed by China’s savvy urban planners. Flower gardens grace thousands of tree lined streets and even bedeck pedestrian overpasses and cloverleaf exchanges. The city is 925km2 and 45% of the central metropolitan area is covered in plants and trees. We are overrun with public parks, green and pristine, all – that I know of – free to enter. Just across the street from our apartment is Tanglang Mountain Park, ten square kilometers of wilderness, with a broad paved road going to its 450-meter top, as well as nice paths and staircases coursing through its dense forests.
By 2017, Shenzhen had 942 public parks, totaling 22,000 hectares (220km2), with 1,000 planned by next year. In fact, in 2020, Shenzhen will have bragging rights as a One-Thousand-Park city. Let that concept sink a while. The numbers must be much higher now, but I found 2014 stats with 2,400km of park walking paths and 475km of scenic forest trails in 889 public parks, along with 475km of tree belts around town.
Shenzhen has 16,000 electric buses (https://chinarising.puntopress.com/2017/09/28/empire-is-1-in-everything-including-public-bus-systems-right-china-rising-radio-sinoland-170928/), around 1,000 bus lines, 60,000-80,000 taxis, a fabulous street and road system, six huge railroad stations, eight extensive metro lines, with several more being built simultaneously, and a ferry/cruise liner port designed to look like a manta ray jumping into the ocean (https://chinarising.puntopress.com/2017/10/25/how-can-western-capitalism-beat-this-thats-the-rub-it-cant-china-rising-radio-sinoland-171022/).
To see for yourself, below is a slide show of my visit to circular Diwang Tower Museum. It stands 384 meters tall. One interesting display there was a wax figure setting of Deng Xiaoping and Margaret Thatcher, showing their negotiations together to return Hong Kong to the People’s Republic. Deng definitely got the better deal. In any case, everything you see did not exist before 1978. Nothing except farmland, a small traditional fishing port and a few thousand people. No capitalist economy could ever dream of developing a city like Shenzhen from the ground up, planned and projected by the government. Only a communist-socialist country like China can.
Why and How China works: With a Mirror to Our Own History
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