Taking Flight From Polluted Chinese Cities

As Chinese cities continue to expand at an unprecedented rate, Mark McDonald writes that foreigners and locals alike have grown weary of  the urban grind. From The International Herald Tribune’s Rendezvous blog:

Charlie Custer, a filmmaker and blogger, is back in the United States. Left China. Couldn’t take it any more. Bad air. Unsafe food. And there was a nasty-scary spat with a government journalist.

Mark Kitto, a Welshman and a resident of China for 16 years, he’s going, too. “I won’t be rushing back either,” he says. “I have fallen out of love, woken from my China Dream.”

The artist Ai Weiwei cannot leave. The authorities won’t let him. After his studio was demolished in Shanghai, he relocated to Beijing, which he calls “a city of violence.”

“You will see migrants’ schools closed,” he said of Beijing in a Newsweek essay last year. “You will see hospitals where they give patients stitches — and when they find the patients don’t have any money, they pull the stitches out. It’s a city of violence.

McDonald’s piece references a new interview with Ai Wei Wei, from Foreign Policy’s Cities Issue, in which the dissident artist tells Jonathan Landreth that he still views Beijing as a “constant nightmare”:

No. Beijing’s greatest problem is that it never belongs to its people. Though it’s a city of more than 10 million, people living here are like people living in a hotel.

There are some small changes in recent years, but not many. First of all, Beijing is a city of immigration. When it was liberated in 1949, the area of the city was equal to the area of construction built for the Beijing Olympics. Every year, the area of Beijing in 1949 has been added to the city again. In the past 10 to 20 years, Beijing has expanded 10 times on its size in 1949. They come from everywhere seeking opportunity because it’s the capital and it controls all the resources. Every day 1,000 cars are sold in Beijing, a line of cars eight kilometers from front to back.

It’s growing at this rate, but why? Does Beijing have beautiful scenery? Does it have lakes and mountains? No. Every document, every order, comes from this city, and it presents enormous opportunities in land, roads, energy. You see good roads and good parks, and there are some changes. But what sustains them? The tax revenues of the authoritarian state. Its bureaucracy and capital make it like a monster, consuming everybody.

Custer, meanwhile, fired back to clarify why he left China and dispel any suggestion that his tiff with CCTV host Yang Rui influenced his decision:

So let’s talk about that: was our decision to leave motivated at all by the Yang Rui incident? No. Since my wife was unable to get a tourist visa, we had to apply for a US immigration visa. Anyone familiar with that process can tell you that it would be utterly impossible to get one in the two months between when the Yang Rui crap started and when we left China.

The folks at China Daily Show wrote their own “Why I’m Leaving China” post:

Look… we need to talk. About us.

When we first met, it was great. You were a developing nation, on the cusp of greatness, full of opportunity, innocence and frankly batshit behavior. I was a 24-year-old college graduate who couldn’t get a job/ recently redundant 36-year-old staring bleakly into the future/ newly divorced sex-tourist only 52 years young.

And now? Now, you’re a bellicose superpower with a victimhood complex and a whole bunch of incipient, growing social problems. And me? I’m a 29-year-old college graduate who still can’t get a job/ China expert/ old guy with arthritis and no pension plan.

Hey, hey – don’t cry… come on. Let’s not make a scene

August 16, 2012 9:13 PM
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Categories: Environment, Society