China’s Instant Cities – Peter Hessler
In National Geographic, Peter Hessler writes about Wenzhou and the factory towns that are springing up nearby to feed the region’s entrepreneurial boom. The article also includes a slideshow by Mark Leong:
The Wenzhou airport bookstore stocks a volume titled, Actually, You Don’t Understand the Wenzhou People. It shares a shelf with The Feared Wenzhou People, The Collected Secrets of How Wenzhou People Make Money, and The Jews of the East: The Commercial Stories of Fifty Wenzhou Businessmen. For the Chinese, this part of Zhejiang Province has become a source of fascination, and the local press contributes to the legend. Recently, Wenzhou’s Fortune Weekly conducted a survey of local millionaires. One question was: If forced to choose between your business and your family, which would it be? Of the respondents, 60 percent chose business, and 20 percent chose family. The other 20 percent couldn’t make up their minds.
…For the past three decades, China’s economy has averaged nearly 10 percent annual growth. The economy is fueled by the largest migration the world has ever seen: An estimated 140 million rural Chinese have already left their homes, and another 45 million are expected to join the urban workforce in the next five years. Most have gone to factory towns along the coast, but in recent years migrants have been drawn increasingly to cities in the interior, where there’s less competition for jobs.
Such cities must expand and attract industry on their own, because the central government no longer provides the funding and guidance of the old planned economy. One common strategy is to establish a factory zone: Clear out land, sell it at reduced rates, and give investors tax breaks. In 2002, Lishui began construction of a factory zone, which consists of a 5.6-square-mile (14.5 square kilometers) plot to the south of the city proper. By 2006, nearly 200 plants had started production, attracting 30,000 migrant workers. [Full text, via Kaiser Kuo’s Ich Bin Ein Beijinger blog]