Amid Disaster, China Races Onward

In the Chicago Tribune, Evan Osnos writes about China’s two worlds: the rapidly developing urban centers and the countryside, which is still lagging behind and which is bearing the bulk of the earthquake’s destruction:

The remarkable thing about the two worlds unfolding in China this week is how they exist in parallel, a case study in a nation divided between its past and its present.

One of the subtexts to the earthquake is that it hit China’s rural heartland, the high hills of Sichuan province, which are a galaxy away from the city. Many villages are still built out of stone and wood and clay, while many others have upgraded to light construction–concrete, white-tile exteriors, sheets of blue glass–or, if they have a bit more money, countryside versions of city apartment blocks. None of them are very permanent and their residents complain that in the best of circumstances their hard-won new homes don’t stand the test of time.

Who knows whether buildings in the city ever would have survived any better–indeed, it is one of the unspoken blessings that this quake did not hit one of China’s megacities–but the fact is that the massive death toll unfolding in the countryside produced the unmistakable and tragic scenes of the developing world. Meanwhile, just 30 miles down a ribbon of freshly-laid highway, the new China is continuing on with remarkable normalcy.

May 16, 2008 9:22 PM
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Categories: Economy, Society