(Sorry, you’ll need to open a few links to make sense of this post.)
Chongqing, which is the biggest city in western China, is very hilly. Thus 30,000 “stick men” make a living there carrying goods on the end of long poles:
Like most rural workers in big cities, Gui Laiyun sleeps in a basic 80-square-meter apartment, which he shares with about 50 other men. The beds here are made from wooden boards and rusty scaffolding. Rent is just 1.5 yuan a day.
For you Americans, that’s 22 cents a day for 1.6 square meters, or 17 square feet, of living space. That means about 6 men in a 10 by 10 foot room, as you can see from the picture in this link.
There are more Chinese people living in tiny places then there are people in America. It’s a good example of what Franklin Roosevelt referred to as “one third of a nation ill-housed,” although of course it is more than 1/3rd.
We normally think of the urban Chinese as the more affluent and the rural Chinese as being relatively poor. That’s true on average, but there are far more exceptions than you’d think. I suppose nobody’s surprised to see examples of poor migrant workers in the cities, but consider this example:
these are farmers houses that stretch for about 100 miles between Hangzhou and Shanghai. If youve seen
them in person the sheer scale of the devlopment is amazing, it basically looks like one vast urban suburb rather than
countryside. It took me over 2 hrs to get through it by train.
All the houses have steep roofs, turrets, towers and even onion domes, by the thousand. Its one of the most amazing ‘urban’
things Ive seen – seriously if anyones in Shanghai, take the train to Hangzhou and look out of your right window…
Theyre all built for free by the progressive local councils:
To see what he is talking about you need to open this link and scroll down to post#49. Then look at the pictures. One of them nearly blew me away. BTW, I have doubts about the accuracy of the statement that all those houses are “built for free.” I don’t even know what that means. But I did the Shanghai to Hangzhou drive in 2001, and I could see the beginnings of this amazing (appalling?) landscape beginning to take shape. As you look at the pictures toward the bottom of post #49, keep in mind you are looking at rural China.
But it gets even weirder. If you scroll down to post #55 of the same link you will see a Jetson-style rendering of a proposed “farmers apartment” building that is nearly the size of the Empire State building—proposed for a site in rural China. You’re probably thinking “Sure, the Chinese love those gee-wiz drawings, but how many actually get built? If you open up this link (post #255), you’ll see that the project is already mostly built. Question: Is there anywhere else in the world where a 1076-foot skyscraper would be built for “farmers” and located not in a city, but in the “countryside?”
Yes, I understand that Huaxi is the richest village in China, and is hardly typical. But I also think that there is far more wealth being accumulated in the rural parts of eastern China than many people realize.
When I used to hear about 800 million “rural Chinese” I pictured dusty little villages in western China. I may need to re-adjust my mental images.
What does this all mean? I have no idea. I’m sure you guys will inform me in the comment section. The only thing I am willing to predict is that if Tyler Cowen ever does a post on this, the term ‘Austrian’ will appear at least once.
Question for China experts: Do most Chinese still have to put 30% down on mortgages? If so, they just might avoid the worst of our sub-prime madness. If not . . . well I’d rather not think about that possibility.
PS. Interested readers can scroll up from post #255 to #244, which has a plausible sounding explanation of what is going on there.