Thursday, July 15, 2010

Chinese cities you've never heard of, but should know - Part 4

This installment of "Chinese cities you've never heard of, but should know" isn't actually about a city. It's about Huaxi Village, a village one hundred miles north of Shanghai in Jiangsu Province.



Huaxi Village touts itself as the "Number 1 Village in China." Here is an article from the Guardian on why the village feels so proud:
China's road to riches could not be more boldly signposted than it is in Huaxi, officially the country's wealthiest village. Take the municipal government's stretch limousine across Textile Bridge, pass the smokestacks of the steelworks, speed alongside row after row of symmetrical pale-blue houses, skirt the 15-story pagoda hotel and then alight for a walk down the red-carpeted corridor of capital.

This concrete-covered passageway is a monument to the giddy material progress made by the commune since China's policymakers began mixing their ideological drinks 26 years ago.

None went as far as Huaxi in combining the strict political control of the ruling Communist party with the get-rich-quick economics of the market - and the results are being hailed as a model for the nation to follow.

To demonstrate how good that cocktail is supposed to make the locals feel, "Huaxi Road" is decorated with smiling pictures of every family in the village.

Each household's assets are listed in detail: size of the family, value of their property, average level of education, number of members of the Communist party, as well as how many cars, mobile phones, televisions, washing machines, computers, air-conditioning units, motorbikes, cameras, fridges and stereo systems they own.

At first sight, the figures seem to justify Huaxi's boast to be the "number one village in China". Since 1995, when Huaxi became the first commune in China to list shares on a stock exchange, local businesses, mostly in textiles and steel, have taken off. Their spectacular expansion has made even the national average growth rate of 9% a year seem laggardly. In 2003, the village reported the combined turnover of its companies at 10bn renminbi (about £640m). Last year, it hit 26bn - and by 2008 it is expected to double again.

This has turned residents - all still officially registered as peasants - into wealthy industrialists. Elsewhere in the country, the annual average disposable income of urban dwellers only recently passed $1,000 (about £530). In the countryside, the figure is two thirds lower. But Huaxi's residents get a yearly salary of $1,500, a bonus of $10,000 and dividends of $25,000.

Twenty years ago, most were farmers living in small, one-storey houses, who struggled to save the money to buy a bicycle. Now, they are shareholders with an average living space of more than 450 square metres and at least one family car.

Read On

This article is dated. It is from 2005. Five years is a long time anywhere. But it's a really long time in contemporary China. One important thing has occurred since this story was written; Huaxi Village has embarked upon building two of the tallest skyscrapers in the world.

From The Wall Street Journal:


In China, bigger is almost always better, even in small towns, and Huaxi, a formerly rural village in the eastern part of the country, is no exception.

Huaxi has long been heralded as a symbol of China’s successful transition from communism to capitalism. It calls itself “the No. 1 village in China” and boasts of being the country’s wealthiest village, with an annual per capita income of 80,000 yuan (about $12,000), according to Xinhua. Now, it appears that Huaxi has a new ambition: to become the “tallest village,” not just in China, but in the world.

Officials in the town are currently building a 74-story, 1,100 foot tower to house up to 2,000 residents, at a cost of 2.5 billion yuan ($370 million), the Guangzhou Daily reports (in Chinese here). Planned amenities include five clubhouses and “sky gardens,” 24-hour concierge services, 35 elevators and a revolving restaurant at the top of what’s slated to be the 15th-tallest building in the world. The tower, named “New Village in the Sky,” will be completed in June, but marks only the starting point of the village’s dreams. Next year, construction will commence on an even taller building, the 1,800-foot Huaxi Dragon Plaza (And for this plaza, the total investment will be around 6 billion yuan, and the government is to divide the total 6 billion yuan into 600 shares, with each share 10 million yuan).

Local party secretary Wu Xie’en, told the Guangzhou Daily that he hopes that the skyscrapers of Huaxi will become a major tourist attraction. He also cites a more pressing motive for building upwards: conservation of land resources. Huaxi’s rich residents have long favored sprawling mansions — up to 5,000 square feet in size, huge by Chinese standards– to house several generations under one roof, cutting into the supply of land available for industry and agriculture.

Read the entire article
The excellent blog, Chinasmack.com, translated a Chinese news report from earlier this year on the first skyscraper that is already being built. Here is a clip of that article:
Designed in accord with a 5-star hotel standard, with a construction area of 200,000 square meters, it can accommodate more than 2000 residents, with a dining capacity of 3000, and having the largest 360 degree revolving restaurant in Asia. Inside the building contain 35 elevators, with speeds of 10 meter per second, the fastest in the world, in addition to having the world’s most advanced monitoring and fire safety equipment.”

You must be having a hard time imagining that a “socialist new village” is building this soon-to-be completed luxury tower. In Jiangyin Huaxi village, this building with height ranked number 8 in China, and number 15 in the world will be completed in June of this year.

...

The tower has five sky gardens with five levels in accordance with the Five Elements of Gold, Wood, Water, Fire, and Earth as each level’s theme. Inside contain 35 elevators, with speeds of faster than 10 meters per second, among the top in the world. The form of the tower will be the shape of a “Three-footed tripod”, the center will top out with a 50-meter sphere, as if it is a dazzling pearl.

The tower is also named “The new village in the sky” with a special meaning attached. Wi Xie’en said, “People’s impressions of rural villages were always low-rise buildings, now we must make a breakthrough, even rural villages can break this old impression and create a village in the sky.”

After investigation, this tower originally was planned to cost RMB 1.5 billion, but from the looks of the current situation, after renovations and decorations, it will cost at least RMB 2.5 billion to complete.

Read the entire translation
I have no idea what to say about this hamlet on steroids.

The development going on in Huaxi Village is a good rorschach test for what one thinks of China's break-neck economy. Some will say that such seemingly wasteful and misallocated use of energy and resources will be the undoing of China ("Dubai times 1,000") while others will surely see it as China forging ahead (hooray for Technocracy!).

I don't even want to bother weighing in on these kinds of economic matters any more. I've been bearish in the past on China's development and my natural instinct is to think that this Huaxi experiment is insane. But China's sustained economic development has impressed me. I'm just going to go with "a little from column A and a little from column B" on Huaxi for now.

Regardless of what one thinks of what is going on Huaxi Village, there's no doubt that this little dot on the map deserves to be on a list of places that could only exist in the present-day Middle Kingdom.

4 comments:

Hopfrog said...

As gaudy as it all is, I would much rather see the party blowing money on stuff like this than lining their own pockets.

With the overbuilding of China it should, in theory, eventually benefit the masses with lowering home prices.

I too have gone back and forth on China's handling of its economy, currently though, I have to say I have been impressed with China's ability to rein it in, maintain it, and even give concessions with a small untying of the yuan's tether to the dollar. I still predict a real estate collapse, but for the masses who cannot afford housing, that is the best thing that could happen for them.

All the issues aside, thats a pretty cool looking city.

Ramesh said...

This is the first "city" on your list I have not heard about, and and quite happy that it was so ! In my book, this is in the insane column !!!

Maria Miranda said...

Lovely cities in pictures.
Maria
http://linguajandemportugues.blogspot.com

Anonymous said...

Mark,
This model would not work in the US. More than half the population in Huaxi are non-registerd so they don't have the same benefit like other local villagers. Outsiders do most the physical work and the villagers are owners/ managers. This creates a two class of people living in the same area but not enjoy the same life style.
It is almost like Chinese society today.
Huaxi's leardership has its own style since 1970's.They don't always listen what the government tells them .They make headlines every now and then.
Very smart people there!
Andy Kansas City