China’s Economic Growth and Disparity in Society

The People’s Republic of China has the second largest economy in the world following the United States when measured against GDP and purchasing power. It has experienced growth rates of over 10% per annum over the last 30 years yet there are still people living in poverty and squalor. So as this super power continues to grow, will it leave those who have already fallen behind, or will it ensure nationwide development of industry?

The vast majority of China’s cities (particularly those that are best known e.g. Beijing Shanghai and Hong Kong) are situated on or near the coast. In comparison to this, the western half of China only has a couple of major cities and none of which are well known. This immediately suggests that China is split into distinctive industrialized and rural areas, which themselves have a knock on effect on society and the economy. An obvious effect of having areas of industrialized land is that there are large quantities and ranges of jobs, which goes someway to explain the impressive economic growth China has experienced. Furthermore, industrialization moves China through the Clark-Fisher model from pre-industrial primary sector jobs such as farming and fishing to industrial tertiary and quaternary sector jobs such as computing, design and manufacture. This has allowed China to develop new technologies and better old manufacturing processes causing China to become one of the world’s economic powerhouses and increasing the quality of life for many Chinese people.

Whilst there has been mass industrialization in the east, what about the west? It is not hard to imagine the allures of big city life, a job that isn’t as labour intensive as farming and a good education and so there has been mass rural-urban migration. The urban population of China has massively increased whereas the rural population of China has seen a steady decrease since 1990. Much like Polish migration to the UK since 2004, many Chinese have been looking for a better quality of life in what appears to be areas of great opportunities. However, this mass migration has had sincere consequences in both the rural and urban areas. In rural areas, a mass exodus of young, working-age people have left farms and other primary sectors severely under-staffed. In addition to this, there have been social consequences. The first is that the ‘old ways’ are lost as the youth lose interest in tradition and look towards new technologies and jobs to sustain their interests. Also, those who leave are often young offspring looking for a better life in the city. This has left many old age pensioners without support and having to fend for themselves. With China’s ageing population this is causing severe issues in the countryside particularly where there has been very little industrialization and where rural life is still incredibly traditional.

In urban areas, the effect of this migration has been over-crowding, a strain on that city’s resources and many unemployed. As more and more people move to the city and demand raises so too does cost. As, in many cases, the city authorities cannot build enough houses to support the influx of people resulting in over-crowding and people living in squalor. This can also lead to exploitation of the migrants from employers and gangs as without a place to live they become incredibly susceptible to illness, disease and possibly death. Furthermore, if factories need to lay off people to due to increased use of robots or because of the economic downturn many hundreds of people become unemployed. In addition, if there are more migrants than there are jobs there is increased competition, so lower wages and even more unemployed or homeless. These people often don’t have the means to return to their homes in the countryside and so live out their lives in poverty. Finally, simple things such as clean water and electricity become difficult to ensure to the people as the cities resources struggle to cope with the vast increase in people who live in the city. This can affect quality of life and damage China’s reputation to the outside world.

All in all, China’s economic growth has been incredibly successful and impressive. However, for China to not grow into a country of ‘haves’ and ‘have-nots’ then the new Communist Government needs to consider the disparity in growth and the effect this has had on both rural and urban areas as well as what it can do to industrialize other areas of China to keep a good quality of life for its people.

Contributed by Hamish Brechin

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