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The Cost of Economic Growth -- China, a case study

Updated on October 21, 2015

This is a continuation of a previous hub, The Myth of Perpetual Growth,  in which we discuss the limits of this planet and our blind refusal to recognize them. We live under an economic system based on perpetual growth, an infinite expansion on an increasingly crowded and finite world.

Shanghai at night
Shanghai at night

Author's note: The bibliography of sources for this article is almost as long as the article itself, so I chose not to publish it. This represents many weeks of research. Anyone who wishes may contact me for the entire list, or sources for any particular section.

Isn't it amazing?

Wow! Look at China, look at the growth! Isn’t it amazing? The astonishing performance of the Chinese economy has the financial pundits of the west scratching their heads in perplexity, not to mention envy, and left them mouthing a plethora of statements that all boil down to WE should be more like THEM.

“We need to start thinking like the Chinese.”-- nameless opinion show pundit

“The explosive growth of China is due to will and a steady source of energy.” – another nameless opinion show pundit, who went on to suggest such would be the case here, if only…. (We returned to our foundations, our workers rediscovered their productivity, blah, blah, blah)

"We see in China things we used to see in ourselves: can-do, get it done, hard work, sacrifice, 'own the future'. That used to be us, and now we see it in them." --yet another nameless opinion show pundit

"What's most unsettling about China to Americans is not their communism, it's the capitalism What we're losing is much more than just a product that can be found in a store. We're losing a culture and a way of life, a culture of hard work. We're ..." – BBC News

The underlying message is this: the slow demise of our own economy while China's grows at a double digit rate is somehow the fault of the productivity of American worker. Yes, it is, they insist. You see, the American worker has priced himself out of competition in this global world. By insisting on a decent share of our metaphoric pie, he has forced industry to quit these shores and set up shop in places where workers are so long accustomed to no pie at all, they will work for the tiniest sliver, even crumbs.

While there is truth in this scenario, industry will always seek the lowest possible cost in order to turn the highest possible profits, there is a great deal more to the equation than western workers “unrealistic” demands.

Let's begin our journey, but let's embark with a few questions in our minds.

The Human Cost

Can a worker in the United States, or Britain, or Germany, or Canada live on a monthly income of $135 -200/ monthly (the current average factory worker’s pay in China?)

Or will they agree to live in a factory owned dormitory (the rent for which is deducted from their paycheck even if they choose to live elsewhere,) accommodation analogous to an old Second World War prison camp?)


Made in China (Unfortunately, this wonderful video regarding working conditions in China is no longer available. The author suggests you search on Youtube, Made in China, Brave New Films

Or work twelve hour shifts, seven days a week with ten days off every six weeks, under conditions that can only be labeled sweat-shop?

I doubt it. The workers of the western world are not yet hungry enough. We’re not ready to accept the Global Sweatshop.

Take the time to view the video to the right, Made In China as a first step into the world we are about to visit.

Who are these young people slaving away in privately-owned factories (that is: not state-owned?)

First we must come to terms with another great difference between China and the Western World. China is not a free country. Domestic migration, the movement of people from on area to another, usually from the impoverished rural areas to the relatively alluring financial opportunities of the urban areas has been tightly controlled and until the recent demand for cheap labor, impossible.

While visitors tend to view the slum-free cities of China, as opposed to the cities of India, for example, as a symptom of economic well-being, the truth is the poor simply are not allowed into the urban areas. Every resident carries an internal passport called hukou and is assigned a status—urban or rural—upon birth, creating a kind of locational apartheid. If people want to move outside their birth hukou, they need official permission, which was virtually impossible to get before liberalization. Now, thanks to the need for cheap labor in China’s urban factories, men can get permission by paying a fee. Women have to pay—and take a pregnancy test to prove that they are not moving to evade birth control restrictions.

“Hukou restricts more than mobility. It restricts social services too. Migrants are not entitled to any of the social services that urban residents get unless they convert their temporary visa to permanent residency, something that is exceedingly hard to do. They can’t get admission in city public schools or get adequate health insurance or other subsidized services or even city bus passes. Hukou makes city life so hard that many couples leave their children home to be raised by grandparents, breaking up families. -- Professor Kam Wing Chan, a hukou expert at the University of Washington.

Video not available

Sorry -- this illuminating video has been removed from the entire internet. I cannot find an available copy of anywhere.

As workers normally live in factory-owned dormitories, or must pay the rent for them whether used or not, family life is impossible. Children are left behind; teenage children move to the cities to become laborers without elder guidance and support; workers strive to live as cheaply as possible to send the maximum amount of money home to their poor rural families – family-life, once the mainstay of Chinese rural society, is weakened, perhaps demolished.

The living conditions they endure are abominable. Take a tour of factory dormitories with a young journalist in the video to the right.

Since the People’s Republic of China’s government embarked on their one-couple-one-birth program, the aging population no longer has the private safety net of children to support them in their old age. They will need a public one – what hukou denies them. A large, disaffected underclass of an impoverished rural population may become one more seat of discontent and unrest, but to provide such a safety net will require diverting 2.5 percent of China’s urban GDP to migrants by 2025 (McKinsey Study.)

Images of glittering Shanghai skylines aside, China is still a developing economy with huge pockets of poverty. And the country's efforts to invest in the less-developed regions away from the prosperous coast of China are just beginning. Urban incomes now are 3.2 times those of rural residents (who only earned $413 per year in 2005, the last year data were available), up from 2.5 in 1978, when China started to reform its economy and open it to the world.

How did this come to be; these privately owned factories exploiting a seemingly endless supply of migrant workers now facing life in an urban environment in which they hold no rights? How, indeed, in a supposedly planned economy of a self-proclaimed socialist state, now dubbed by those enamored with China’s growth as a “shining example of state controlled capitalism?”

We must once again examine a major difference between China and our Western World. Up until the 1980’s, the People’s Republic of China’s government owned and controlled all means of production, and the central government injected massive amounts of capital into the development of industrial complexes, state-owned heavy industry and national infrastructure.

When was the last time a western government planned and invested in industrial development? (Bail outs not included.) Our system runs on private capital used by corporate entities whose very charters of existence demand one and only one directive: maximum profitability and return to shareholders. We do not have the foundation, the structure nor the political/social desire to “collectivise” our resources in accordance with our leaders’ “Ten Year Plan.” Quite the contrary. We wouldn’t give our leaders ten years in power, let alone allow them to formulate a plan for our economy.

So, in the 1980’s when East met West, literally, the PRC made a decision to privatize certain segments of the economy, and the West was invited in. Imagine the glee on the part of those corporations! A new breeding ground of profitability in a land with an enormous, underemployed population which didn’t even have a minimum wage law until 2004 (which was US$122.00 per month;) a land with the supportive infrastructures of railroad, buildings, utilities but without a tradition of corporate income tax, and with a government hungry for foreign currency in order to acquire the raw resources and energy required for such growth. The capitalists must have thought they’d died and gone to heaven.

Perhaps they had.

The China Price

What is the result? The China price.

The term “the China price” is international businesses’ name for the lowest possible price to get anything made – anywhere.

As a result, factories sprang up in China’s “foreigners’ corridor” like mushrooms. Watch the video to the right The China Price, for a view of this area from a train, and the voice over describing what is inside this myriad of buildings. Surely Shangri-La from an industrialist's point of view.

But it wasn’t too long before there was trouble in paradise.

An update added May 6, 2011

Further to the conditions at Foxconn, here is a must read article for the UK's Daily Mail titled You are NOT allowed to commit suicide: Workers in Chinese iPad factories forced to sign pledges

Factories making sought-after Apple iPads and iPhones in China are forcing staff to sign pledges not to commit suicide, an investigation has revealed.

At least 14 workers at Foxconn factories in China have killed themselves in the last 16 months as a result of horrendous working conditions.

Many more are believed to have either survived attempts or been stopped before trying at the Apple supplier's plants in Chengdu or Shenzen.

An investigation of the 500,000 workers by the Centre for Research on Multinational Companies and Students & Scholars Against Corporate Misbehaviour (Sacom) found appalling conditions in the factories.
Read the entire article.

Strikes and Suicide

On May 17th, 2010, hundreds of worker in a Honda auto component manufacturing plant in Nanhai, Guandgong went on strike, protesting low wages. The huge salary gap between the Chinese workers and Japanese workers caused the most complaints. An ordinary Chinese worker’s monthly salary is only 1,000 yuan (USD 146.5) while a Japanese worker can earn 50,000 yuan (USD 7,325) each month. In addition, nearly all the medium-end and above management positions are taken by the Japanese. On June 4, Honda agreed to add 500 yuan (USD 73.20) to the worker’s pay each month. The strike ended.

At the same time, May 2010, in the sprawling factory complex of Taiwan’s based Foxconn, the ninth factory worker that year jumped to his death through a window in the plant. Before another two months were passed, that figure was 12 suicides.  Foxconn’s answer?  -- Five-meter long steel poles were bolted into the walls below the roofs to support webbing that will eventually cover 1,500 square meters. In response to charges the suicides were due to inhumane conditions, CEO Terry Guo opened the complex to a group of journalists.

The walled-in industrial park employs 300,000 workers and looks more like a small city with fast-food restaurants, bakeries, Bank of China branches and towering dormitories for workers. The visitors were first escorted to an Olympic-sized swimming pool, and interviewed workers who, each and every one of them, insisted Foxconn took good care of them, and that most workers were very happy. Yet, earlier that year, Guo was quoted as saying the company’s success was due to “the first-class customers, second-class equipment, third-class management and fourth-class talents”, of which the first-class customers are Apple, Nokia, HP and Dell and the fourth-class talents are the Chinese workers.

Foxconn Suicide Scandal

In truth, Foxconn’s benefits arising from this pattern is much smaller than its customers. For example, Apple subcontracted the production of its iPad and iPhone to Foxconn and can enjoy a 50% profit margin.

The 12 known deaths were all of migrant employees in the 19-24 age range. Most of the eight men and four women were in their first job since leaving school. Half had been there for less than four months. Most leapt from Foxconn buildings.

Some employees blame the spirit-sapping work at the plant. "It's very tough," said Liu Jichang, a 19-year-old migrant from Guangxi province, who earns 2,000 yuan (£200) a month polishing the cases of Apple computers a minimum of 10 hours a day, with as much overtime as he can get in order to make a livable wage, 6 days a week. "We are not allowed to talk while we are working. In any case, it is too noisy to have a conversation." Critics allege that Foxconn manages its plants with a strict military approach and workers must work too much overtime on assembly lines that move too fast.

In Foxconn’s defense, the suicide rate among Chinese factory workers is very high, higher even than Foxconn’s record.

Perhaps in response, the Central Government increased the minimum wage to USD 140.62, and for the first time set safety standards in order to "ensure the basic needs of the worker and his family, to help improve workers' performance and to promote fair competition between enterprises."

As a result, in the early months of 2011, for the first time the number of factories and the even more infamous “shadow” factories is in decline.

Apparently, there are other places in the world where starving farmers are willing to work 10-12 hours a day for pitiful wages and in brutal conditions to make cheap cellphones.

Is it fair to say the first visible cost of growth for China has been the wholesale exploitation of her massive population?

My father, a thoughtful, educated man who’d seen much change in the world since his birth in 1918, once told me, “The problem with socialism [and its necessary form of ‘progressive’ taxation] is that all are brought down to the lowest common denominator.” It appears to me that global capitalism has the same result in mind – at least for the workers of the world.

Every year, a lot of deficiency babies in Shanxi Province were abandoned. Kong Zhenlan  in Qi town  who was making a living by recycling trash adopted 25 abandoned children. April 14, 2009
Every year, a lot of deficiency babies in Shanxi Province were abandoned. Kong Zhenlan in Qi town who was making a living by recycling trash adopted 25 abandoned children. April 14, 2009
In the photographs to follow, you will recognize Lu Guang's haunting images by the trademark in the corner.
In the photographs to follow, you will recognize Lu Guang's haunting images by the trademark in the corner.
Lu Guang
Lu Guang

The Deadly Cost -- Air, Water and Soil

“In Some areas of China people’s lives are threatened because of the environmental pollution. Residents suffering from all kinds of obscure diseases, the cancer villages, increase of deformed babies, these were the results of sacrificing environment and blindly seeking economical gain.” - Lu Guang

I am pleased to introduce the photographer Lu Guang to those who have not previously seen his work. He is famous (or infamous) for his exposure of China's reality, and very generous, as he has made his work available for all to share with an invitation to "use, share with everyone."

"Lu Guang (卢广), freelancer photographer, started as an amateur photographer in 1980. He was a factory worker, later started his own photo studio and advertising agency. August of 1993 he returned to post-graduate studies at the Central Arts and Design Academy in Beijing (now is the Academy of Arts and Design, Tsinghua University). During graduate school, he studied, traveled all over the country and carved out a career, became the “dark horse” of the photographer circle in Beijing. Skilled at social documentary photography, his insightful, creative and artistic work often focused on “social phenomena and people living at the bottom of society”, attracted the attentions of the national photography circle and the media."


Recently, China assumed the dubious distinction of being the world's greatest polluter.

23% of the world's carbon emissions come from China, surpassing the past long-term record holder, the United States of America at 20%. But whereas America's emissions are declining, China's are growing at a rapid rate.

In Inner Mongolia there were 2 black dragons from the Lasengmiao Power Plant covering the nearby villages. July 26, 2005
In Inner Mongolia there were 2 black dragons from the Lasengmiao Power Plant covering the nearby villages. July 26, 2005

China Rated World's Top Polluter

China's Grime Belt -- Air Pollution

According to the World Bank’s report on quality of life, 16 of the world’s 20 cities with the worst air are in China. According to Chinese government sources (where they can be found and trusted), about a fifth of urban Chinese breath heavily polluted air. Visitors report a pervasive smell of high-sulfur coal and leaded gasoline. Only a third of the 340 Chinese cities that are monitored meet China’s own pollution standards.

The air pollution and smog in Beijing and Shanghai are sometimes so bad that the airports are shut down because of poor visibility. Sometimes you can't even see buildings a few blocks away and blue sky is a rare sight. The civic authorities monitor air at five different stations, but the US Embassy takes it’s own readings several times a day and broadcasts their findings via Twitter.

“Since the US embassy in Beijing began tweeting hourly reports of pollution last year, I – along with many other smog watchers – have been horrified at the frequency of "bad" and "hazardous" readings.

But this week, the depth and murkiness of the haze was so appalling that the automated system briefly entered the realm of black comedy with a "crazy bad" analysis of our air.

The outlandish description appeared on the @beijingair Twitter account late yesterday when levels of PM2.5 tiny particulate matter surged past 500, about 20 times higher than the guideline issued by the World Health Organization.” – posted by Jonathon Watts, UK citizen living in Beijing

Beijing -- in the daylight
Beijing -- in the daylight

In Shanghai sometimes you can't see the street from the 5th floor window. “Fresh air tours” to the countryside are very popular. Less than 1% of China’s 560 million city dwellers breath air considered safe by International standards according to a World Bank study.

Air pollution is particularly bad in the rust belt areas of northeastern China. A study done by the World Health Organization (WHO) estimated that the amount of airborne suspended particulates in northern China are almost 20 times what WHO considers a safe level. So intense is the pollution of this area, that recent studies proclaim it the worst air quality in the world.

See the map below.

The map of global air-particulate pollution shows fine particulate matter density worldwide through color-coding, where white and dark blue areas have the lowest concentration of particulates and dark red areas have the highest.
The map of global air-particulate pollution shows fine particulate matter density worldwide through color-coding, where white and dark blue areas have the lowest concentration of particulates and dark red areas have the highest.
Hebei Province Shexian Tianjin Iron and steel plant () is a heavily polluting company. Company scale is still growing, seriously affecting the lives of local residents. March 18, 2008
Hebei Province Shexian Tianjin Iron and steel plant () is a heavily polluting company. Company scale is still growing, seriously affecting the lives of local residents. March 18, 2008

Jay Apt, an astronaut wrote in National Geographic, "many of the great coastal cities of China hide from our cameras under a blanket of smoke from soft-coal fires." The northeast industrial town of Benxi is so polluted that it once disappeared from satellite photos. Its residents have the highest rate of lung disease in China.

Cities like Beijing and Shenyang have poor air dispersal and low-level temperature inversions. In fact, "urban centers in that region record some of the highest readings in the world for total suspended particulates (TSP) and SO2 (sulfur dioxide.)

Fan Jai Zhuang in Anyang City, Henan province, () there is only one wall separating this village from the steelmaking furnaces. The villagers live in this heavily polluted environment where the village is under the iron rain every day. March 24, 2008
Fan Jai Zhuang in Anyang City, Henan province, () there is only one wall separating this village from the steelmaking furnaces. The villagers live in this heavily polluted environment where the village is under the iron rain every day. March 24, 2008

The Japanese government proposed acid-rain abatement programs which provide cities in China five-year, low-interest loans to reduce acid rain degradation.  The funding has been capped at $10 billion in loans (2001 – 2006) but the plans are still being negotiated.  The Chinese government argued that at least $15 billion should be provided in loans in order for the project to work.  China's officials have been quoted as saying that if the Japanese are the ones concerned about acid rain, then they should properly fund what is needed for the prevention plans to be executed correctly.

In southern China, areas such as Sichuan, Guangxi, Hunan, Jiangxi ,and Guangdong, have growing acid precipitation problems. In 2002, nationwide emissions of SO2 were estimated at 18.85 million metric tons, and as a result, in many areas 90% of all rain is acid rain (sulphuric acid.)

When sulfur dioxide is emitted into the atmosphere, it takes approximately ten days for it to settle to the earth during which time, the sulfate particles can travel several thousand miles. China is not the only country suffering from acid rain problems. Mongolia has complained of rain that raised blisters on the skin. Other Asian countries, such as Japan, Taiwan, S. Korea, and the Philippines have all reported acid rain problems originating from China's coal burning pollution. The Central Research Institute of Electric Power and Industry in Japan has reported that acid rain from the China mainland has become a major problem for Japan.

Coal is the number once source of air pollution in China. China gets 80 percent of electricity and 70 percent of its total energy from coal, not just any coal, but most of it high-sulphur coal. Around six million tons of coal are burned every day to power factories, heat homes and cook meals -- the indoor burning of "smoky" coal, as opposed to smokeless coal under unvented conditions.

Scientists have predicted by the year 2025, China will emit more carbon dioxide and sulfur dioxide, two products from coal burning, than the United States, Japan, The European Union and Canada combined.

"At the junction of Ningxia province and Inner Mongolia province, I saw a tall chimney puffing out golden smoke covering the blue sky, large tracts of the grassland have become industrial waste dumps; unbearable foul smell made people want to cough."
"At the junction of Ningxia province and Inner Mongolia province, I saw a tall chimney puffing out golden smoke covering the blue sky, large tracts of the grassland have become industrial waste dumps; unbearable foul smell made people want to cough."


By far the most serious environmental issue that the Chinese urgently need to resolve is that of water.

A crisis is looming. Insufficient water is already limiting industrial and agricultural output in some areas and threatening to curb China's high economic growth rate and food production.

The country is facing increasingly frequent and desperate shortages, disastrous flooding in some areas, and dangerous levels of pollution – some estimate 75% of the water resources in China are heavily polluted.

Elder shepherd by the Yellow River cannot stand the smell. April 23, 2006
Elder shepherd by the Yellow River cannot stand the smell. April 23, 2006

Water Pollution in China

China is a signatory nation of the Stockholm Convention, a treaty to control and phase out major persistent organic pollutants (POP). ] It is a big challenge for China to control and eliminate POPs, since they often are cheaper than their alternatives, or they are unintentionally produced and then simply released into the environment to save on treatment costs. Watch the video to the right, Water Pollution in China, for some truly frightening images.

Effluence from factories and municipal wastes are not the only pollutants to be considered. All that SO2 pouring from the sky in the form of acid rain is changing the PH balance of much of China’s water, making this precious resource hostile to wildlife, fish, plant growth … and humans.

Guiyu, Guangdong province,  rivers and reservoirs have been contaminated; the villager is washing in a seriously polluted pond. November 25, 2005
Guiyu, Guangdong province, rivers and reservoirs have been contaminated; the villager is washing in a seriously polluted pond. November 25, 2005

Inorganic pollution in the form of garbage chokes many of China's waterways, -- particularly plastic water bottle -- much of it entering the oceans. Unlike their rural counterparts, urban dwellers have access to and can more easily afford bottled water, but despite government recycling programs, most users simply toss them. Said one American living in Shanghai, who traveled throughout the country:

"The Chinese litter. I mean, a lot. They tell me it creates jobs for the poor -- and I suppose it does, but everywhere you look there's garbage. And garbage pickers pouring over the mounds, selecting what might be worth money. Even so, every river, stream, lake and even the coastal waters carry tons of plastic, cans and who knows what. I've never seen anything like remotely like it. It's sad. Not a stretch of completely clear water to be found, not even in the richest areas." Andrea Plett -- an American with two years residency in China

 In Maanshan, Anhui province (), along the Yangtze River there are many small-scaled Iron selection factories and plastic processing plants. Large amounts of sewage discharged into the Yangtze River June 18, 2009
In Maanshan, Anhui province (), along the Yangtze River there are many small-scaled Iron selection factories and plastic processing plants. Large amounts of sewage discharged into the Yangtze River June 18, 2009

Factory waste continues despite new regulations issued by the Central Government. Environmental laws are often simply not implemented. Sometimes it’s corruption, other times “guanxi” (connections and bribery.) Beijing either can’t or won’t stop them.

Read the following account written by Mark Hertsgaard, who toured China for months, investigating environmental concerns and pollution.. One specific case involved a paper factory in Chungking, on the Jialin River with a forty-year history of polluting the local waters, but the local official of the Chungking Environmental Protection Bureau told him the plant had been closed, and no, he would not be able to visit the facility.

Hertsgaard went ahead without permission and describes approaching the supposedly “shut-down” factory with his guide and translator Zhenbing.

A Large amount of the chemical wastewater discharged into Yangtze River from Zhenjiang Titanium mill every day. Less than 1,000 meters away downstream is where the water department of Danyang City gets its water from. June 10, 2009
A Large amount of the chemical wastewater discharged into Yangtze River from Zhenjiang Titanium mill every day. Less than 1,000 meters away downstream is where the water department of Danyang City gets its water from. June 10, 2009
13 Large amount of the industrial wastewater flowed to Yellow River from Inner Mongolia Lasengmiao Industrial District  every day. July 26, 2005
13 Large amount of the industrial wastewater flowed to Yellow River from Inner Mongolia Lasengmiao Industrial District every day. July 26, 2005

“….found the front gate open when we arrived, and since no one stopped us, we simply walked in. At the back of the plant a set of concrete steps led down to the Jialin River, perhaps eighty yards below. Halfway down Zhenbing and I cut left across the exposed riverbank, our shoes leaving clear prints on the dark, sandy soil.

Within seconds we saw a broad stream of bubbling water cascading out the back of the plant and down the hillside. The astringent odor of chlorine attacked our nostrils, and once we reached the stream's edge, the smell was so powerful that we immediately backed away. Below us, where the discharge emptied into the Jialin, a frothy white plume was spreading across the slow-moving river.

Fifty yards farther on we encountered a second stream, this one a mere foot wide but clogged with pineapple-sized clumps of dried orange foam. Beyond was a third creek. Its stench identified it as household sewage (workers in China's state-owned factories generally live on site or nearby), but its most extraordinary feature was its color -- as black as used motor oil. Not ten yards away a grizzled peasant in a dark-blue Mao jacket and trousers (an outfit still worn in China by the poor) bent over a tiny vegetable patch to pick some greens for his midday meal.

All this was dwarfed by what lay ahead. The vapor was what we saw first -- wispy white, it hung low in the air, like tear gas. Stepping closer, we heard the sound of gushing water. Not until we were merely footsteps away, however, could we see the source of the commotion: a vast, roaring torrent of white, easily thirty yards wide, splashing down the hillside like a waterfall of boiling milk.

Again the scent of chlorine was unmistakable, but this waterfall was much whiter than the first. Decades of unhindered discharge had left the rocks coated with a creamlike residue, creating a perversely beautiful white-on-white effect. Above us the waterfall had bent trees sideways; below, it split into five channels before pouring into the unfortunate Jialin. All this and yet the factory, as one worker had informed us, was operating at about 25 percent of capacity.” – Mark Hertsgaard

There are over 100 chemical plants in Jiangsu province coastal industry district.  Some of them discharge wastewater into the ocean; some heavily contaminated sewage is stored in 5 Sewage Temporary Pools to be washed out to sea with high tides.
There are over 100 chemical plants in Jiangsu province coastal industry district. Some of them discharge wastewater into the ocean; some heavily contaminated sewage is stored in 5 Sewage Temporary Pools to be washed out to sea with high tides.

Hertsgaard goes on to write:

“Despite witnessing all this, Zhenbing was not exactly a militant environmentalist. Born into a very poor rural family thirty years ago, he, like most Chinese I had met, was quite willing to put up with filthy air and polluted water if it meant more jobs, better pay, a chance to get ahead. But today's experience had shaken my new friend. Outside the factory we were waiting for the bus back downtown. I was scribbling in my notebook when, behind me, I heard Zhenbing murmuring, as if in a dream, "My poor country. My poor country."

Semi-official estimates admit around 300,000 million Chinese are without access to safe water (almost he population of the United States.) But those who've been there and seen believe the situation to be worse -- much worse.

If this were only a national problem, we could rest content to let China stew in her own juices, but water, like the air knows no boundaries or borders. The true extent of China's pollution is impossible to know, but all environmental experts agree it is "crazy bad."

Except those here in the West so enamored of China's growth, they blindly accept and reiterate the continual flow of official optimism. Even Wikipedia dutifully reproduces reports of declining air and water pollution and continual improvement. Reports not substantiated by first hand observations of those who've been there and studied actual conditions.

But pollution isn't the only issue in China's water crisis.

In the Yellow Sea coastline, countless sewage pipes buried in the beach and even extending into the deep sea. April 28, 2008
In the Yellow Sea coastline, countless sewage pipes buried in the beach and even extending into the deep sea. April 28, 2008
China's major rivers. (Click for full size)
China's major rivers. (Click for full size)

Drought, floods and diminishing rivers mean that it is not only the quality of the water creating a crisis, but the quantity.

The map to the right shows China’s main waterways, yet surprisingly, population density does not follow water resources. An estimated 44% live in the northern and northeastern provinces where 58% of the cultivated land is found, but only 14% of country’s water resources supply the area, creating a massive water deficit.

As though mocking the plight of the arid area, the south is prone to flooding, causing great losses in agriculture and harvest as well as in human lives.

Over China’s late history, the rivers – the main sources of water have been abused, not only by pollution but by diversion schemes for crops, dams for flood control, reservoirs for industry which in some cases have reduced flow dramatically. The Yellow River, the water mainstay for China’s wheat and corn producing area is an example. Water no longer reaches the sea on about 200 days a year. The growth of the urban areas means cities now compete with agriculture. Downriver from Beijing, the Juma River’s flow has dropped considerably and harvests have declined drastically. The city’s needs come first.

Again, in what may well prove to be another solution creating yet worse problems, massive water diversion schemes are underway – canals under construction to feed the dwindling Yellow River from the Yangtze (which is extremely polluted.) What the end cost will be is unknown, but they will be high, not only in terms of money but ecological damage: loss of farmland, displacement of populations through dams, reservoirs and aqueducts, and of course the spread of the toxic material the Yangtze carries.

The Central Government has begun to encourage development in the south of the country where water is plentiful, which likely will mean the problem of pollution will accompany such growth – unless the environmental regulatory body grows some teeth, unlikely given the present mindset of graft, bribery, connections and corruption. Those first-hand observers whose input was important to this article say there is little indication in the present to suggest such hopes for the future, despite the rhetoric of the political leaders.

Last year, the following news story suggested that tide may be turning. Perhaps the authorities will put their might where their mouths alone have acted.

Photograph from Ting River incident which killed hundreds of thousands of pounds of farmed fish.
Photograph from Ting River incident which killed hundreds of thousands of pounds of farmed fish.

Zijin Mining Group admits toxic spill polluted Ting River, blames accident. Investigators say leakage was deliberate as witnesses point out that latest incident was the third since June.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies 07/16/2010) – Police have detained three senior employees of China's top gold and copper producer Zijin Mining Group over a toxic pollution spill that has killed off about 2,300 tonnes of fish in the Ting River, one of the main water sources for Fujian Province. Upon learning of the incident, the authorities reacted angrily at the mining company’s failure.

The manager, deputy manager and head of environmental protection at the Zijin-operated copper mine are in custody, Shanghang County authorities said in a statement.

Zijin, China's third-largest copper producer, blamed the leak from a sludge pond on rains that have pounded Fujian for the past few weeks, saying it responded immediately to the mishap and controlled the spill within 24 hours.

Investigators have found that 9,100 cubic metres of wastewater leaked from the sludge pond through an “illegally built passage” into the Ting River.

Experts believe that such an amount of waste could have leaked into the river only over weeks. Some media are reporting that two spills had already occurred in June.

Local fishermen said that last month the river turned a dark colour and fish began to die.

Soil by Yangtze River, was polluted by Anhui Province Maanshan Chemical Industrial District (). June 26, 2009
Soil by Yangtze River, was polluted by Anhui Province Maanshan Chemical Industrial District (). June 26, 2009


China’s soil problems suggest food production will drop by almost half over the next five decades, even while the 1.3 billion population continues to grow. The assault on the land is multi-faceted:

  • Soil exhaustion caused by poor agricultural practices,over-grazing and deforestation.
  • Erosion by wind in the north and water in the south. (40% of China’s territory suffers from severe soil erosion.)
  • Desertification (27% of China’s land mass is arid, either desert already or deteriorating, and the desert is expanding.)
  • Flooding.
  • Urban growth.
  • Industrial growth and pollution.
  • Acidification due to acid rain.

China's arable land is literally disappearing, strange as such a statement may sound. And at a rate that should create more concern to the Central Committee than it does.

The recent change to a more open country (at least open to the outside world) has at least brought the extent of China's problems out into the open. Read the following news stories.

A view of southern China by satellite.
A view of southern China by satellite.

Beijing (Xinhua) May 2010 - Almost 100 million people in south-west China will lose the land they live on within 35 years if soil erosion continues at its current rate, a nationwide survey has found.

Crops and water supplies are suffering serious damage as earth is washed and blown away across a third of the country, according to the largest-scale study for 60 years.

Harvests in the north-east, known as China's breadbasket, will fall 40% within half a century on current trends, even as the 1.3 billion population continues to grow.

While experts cited farming and forestry as the main causes, contributing to over a third of the area affected, the research team said erosion was damaging industrial areas and cities as well as remote rural land. About 4.5bn tonnes of soil are scoured away each year, at an estimated cost of 200bn yuan (£20bn) in this decade alone.

The poor will be worst hit, warns the report from China's bio-environment security research team, which worked on the survey for three years. Almost three-quarters of them already live in erosion-hit areas.

The country's 80,000 reservoirs are also affected, with sand and mud reducing their storage capacity each year. Like soil deposits along rivers, that increases the risk of flooding.

"If we don't conduct effective measures, erosion will cause major damage to social and economic development," Chen Lei, the director of the Ministry of Water Resources, told the official People's Daily newspaper.

Professor Mu Xingming of the Institute of Soil and Water Conservation was quoted in the UK journal, The Guardian, as stating overpopulation was largely to blame. He said his analysis of north-east China over the last century proved the deleterious effects of increasing population density, and the population of China is less aware of the need for environmental protection than in other countries.

Mu cited the Yellow River as one of the areas worst hit. "Historically, it got its name because of its colour - because the water contains more mud and sand than other rivers. But now it's yellower because of human activities," he said.

This quoted study is the country's largest soil conservation scientific survey since 1949, when the People's Republic of China was established.

It showed:

  • 1.61 million square km of land is suffering from erosion by water and 1.96 million square km is being eroded by wind.
  • Erosion could be found in almost every river basin in every Province.
  • The problem is severe as 4.52 billion tons of soil eroded every year.

Desertification of Northern China

Taming the yellow dragon -- fighting desertification in China

Northern China is already facing the effects of climate change, according to the team who undertook this study. Whereas once the region could rely on regular light rainfall which sustained those crops suitable for the arid region, the patterns of rainfall have changed. Over the past decade the territory has seen prolonged drought broken by rain in the form of deluge, which runs off the parched land and destroys the crops.

These factors have drastically increased the rate of desertification in the northern grass lands. Beijing has been concerned about this for many years, says Mu, and scaled back logging after deforestation contributed to massive flooding along the Yangtze in the late 1990’s.

Mu said more work was needed to restore forests and grasslands and suggested humans would have to leave some areas entirely if they were to recover. This is underway, giving rise to a new phenomenon: the ecology refugee, as more and more shepherds and farmers are forced off the land due to the relentless advance of the desert.***

This has led to a massive program of replanting and reforestation in an effort to slow the process, halt it and eventually reverse it, a program much touted in official releases. However, a senior official who leads China’s efforts to battle the desert, Liu Tuo has said investment and effort has been “seriously insufficient.”

"At our present rate of treating 1,717 sq km a year, I've just calculated we'll need 300 years," said Liu.

300 years to treat the 1.73 thousand square kilometers (.67 thousand square miles) of desertified land in China, of which about 530,000 square kilometers are considered redeemable. Efforts to date have succeeded in slowing the advancing sand dunes in some areas, but Liu adds that global climate change will most likely exacerbate the problem by causing drought.

*** The Chinese government is in the process of building new settlements for the "ecology refugees." The link to the right is to a photo-essay on one such new town, Hongsibao, recently highlighted by the BBC. I forwarded this link to one of my correspondents in China, who laughingly referred to it as a "Potemkin's Village," and suggested the plight of these refugees was far more dire, and that they were more numerous and impoverished than the West can imagine.

Southern China has always experienced seasonal storms, the monsoon cycle, yet according to China’s Office of State Flood Control and Drought Relief Headquarters, weather patterns over the past three decades have changed drastically to a cycle of extreme weather events.

Last year’s floods were catastrophic, arriving on the heels of the area’s most severe drought in history, spanning three seasons.

“Since 1517, when records began in the small Chinese village of Xiazha, there has always been water in its three wells."

This spring, however, the wells dried up.

"I'm 83 years old, I've never seen anything like this," said Yang Kuanren, a villager in Xiazha, in Guangxi province. "Not a single drop of water can be seen in our wells. For hundreds of years, we have relied on those wells for irrigation and drinking water and we do not know what to do. It is time to start planting the fields, but the earth is so dry we cannot even plough it."

Three enormous water reservoirs that normally feed the village, and its neighbours, which usually hold enough water to irrigate 5,000 acres of land, have also run dry.” – Malcolm Moore, Shanghai, March, 2010

According to eyewitness accounts, villages started drilling new wells, but there is little water to be found, even several hundred feet below ground. Thousands of people left their homes and land, migrating to possible water sources. For a poignant look at the reality of this drought only twelve short months ago, follow this link to a site of a photo-journalists report of this tragedy.

Beijing, Xinhua, April 2010 -- In response to the drought, which has swept across Yunnan, Guangxi, Guizhou, Sichuan and Chongqing, China has mobilised the full might of its army, sending troops to deliver 1.4 million tons of emergency food and thousands of water trucks.

Wen Jiabao, the prime minister, has made a personal visit to the region to reassure villagers, some of whom are having to trek more than 12 miles a day to collect water. Growing enough food to hit China's targets this year "will be a test for sure" in the wake of the calamity, said Mr Wen.

More than 50,000 villagers in Yunnan have been forced to leave home and camp near streams in the foothills of the Himalayas.

The normally sub-tropical south of China saw its rainy season evaporate this year, with the average temperature in Yunnan two degrees higher than normal, and rainfall at only half the usual level.

Yunnan is the source of several of Asia's biggest rivers, including the Yangtze and the Mekong and almost a billion people living downstream could be affected as they dry up. The Mekong is at its lowest level for 20 years. Over five million hectares of forests have withered or been ravaged by fires.

The cost of the drought in failed crops and falling electricity production from the region's network of hydroelectric dams is already estimated at 24bn yuan (£2.36 billion) and there could be knock-on costs for the huge aluminum smelters that set up in the region to take advantage of the cheap hydroelectric power.

To produce rain, the government began seeding the clouds above 88 cities in Guizhou this week.

However, according to Accuweather, the American weather forecaster, there is "little prospect for meaningful rainfall [in the region] until May".

A spokesman for the Yunnan Land Resources bureau said: "The situation here will get worse in the coming months before it gets any better, but hopefully if we drill more wells and divert more water to those in need, we can help ease the situation."

Six short weeks later, the news reports from the region changed as drastically as new possibly could:

Beijing, Xinhua, June 2010 --Heavy rain that continues to ravage southern China has claimed 365 lives and caused $US10.4 billion in damages. More than 145 people have been reported missing as of Thursday, according to China’s Office of State Flood Control and Drought Relief Headquarters (SFDH) Xinhua reports.

Torrential rains have battered 10 provinces and effected 30 million people, with a couple million people having been evacuated. And the rain is expected to continue.

Floods have already caused power outages and damaged roads as well as railways, while leaving millions of people without access to drinking water. Rain has already damaged 215,000 homes, flooded farmlands and killed 17 percent of the crops in the region. Long-term aid may be required as the loss of crops from the flooding could cause a food shortage in the next six to twelve months.

You do not need to understand the commentator to be appalled by the images in this raw video footage of the 2010 floods of Southern China.

Flooding in Southern China

This is the worst flooding in the region since 1998–when 3,600 people died while 20 million were displaced. The Jiangxi province is experiencing its worst flooding on record, as the Fuhe River overran its banks for the second time Wednesday, forcing 100,000 residents to evacuate, while other cities in the province are in danger of landslides.

Meanwhile more than 16,000 soldiers and civilians have been mobilized by the provincial governments to aid in the flood relief and rescue work. The president of the World Water Council, a 14-year-old international think tank, applauded China for its flood relief response and resource mobilization..

Premier Wen Jiabao praised the response by relief crews, but told them to prepare for more flooding and landslides. Food and tents have been rushed to scores of residents impacted by flooding.

With more rain in the forecast, water levels on Hunan’s Xiang River are projected to reach a record high of 42 meters. Eight million people have already been impacted in the province.

Although rescue and relief efforts have been impeded by the steady rain, Wen offered encouragement to rescue workers. “You are not afraid of sacrifice and in 48 hours, managed to rescue 100,000 people without a single casualty…You have created a miracle in history.”

Even in a country that has maintained weather records going back to the first century, such opposite extremes over a short period of time are unprecedented. Whether one accepts the precept our polluting activities on a mass scale cause climate change, which in turn causes extreme weather events is irrelevant to the result. China is losing her land on an increasing scale and thereby losing her ability to produce food for an ever-increasing population.

While no one can control the weather, there’s no doubt human activities on the land have greatly increased the adverse effects of flooding. Deforestation, cultivation destroying natural cover, antiquated agricultural practices which hasten erosion, the leveling of riverbanks for industrial purposes – all conspire to make a bad situation worse.

Even without floods, south China soil washes to the seas at an alarming rate.

In what can only be described as action/reaction/over-reaction, private investment in housing, particularly up-scale housing in China ballooned well beyond demand (or at least the demand by those who can afford such housing -- considering some cities are experiencing a 20% unemployment ratio as more and more unskilled, impoverished workers from the rural areas defy officialdom and pour into the urban areas.)

The country is now dotted with acres and acres of uninhabited housing developments in what was a serious real-estate bubble -- which would have burst long ago if Chinese banks operated as do banks elsewhere.

Said on source, "Chinese banks are banks in name only. The entire country is set up for a financial collapse if the banks are ever allowed to deal with sour loans. The current situation is supported by the Central Government, a time bomb waiting to explode."

Erosion by wind and water are not the only problem reducing China’s productive land; urban and industrial expansion is gobbling up the land at an accelerating pace.

In 2007, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) capped 30 years of economic liberalization with a revolutionary land law. This law, the Property Law of the People’s Republic of China, granted the private acquisition of land-use to both foreign and domestic private parties.

Starting in 2008, agricultural collectives, which traditionally had limited ability to individually transfer their land use from agricultural to urban or industrial, began to contract their rights to non-agricultural developer, under a similarly revolutionary policy statement - Decision on Certain Issues Concerning the Advancement of Rural Reform and Development.

These laws had the aim to help flatten the economic disparity between the increasing rich urban population and the increasingly marginalized peasant agricultural class.

Their goal was to spur the development of modern agriculture and promote the construction of a “new socialist countryside.

Spurred by a great flood of cheap, migratory labor leaving the agricultural areas, and years of industrial development, agricultural land has been converted to residential, commercial and industrial land at an unprecedented rate.

This conversion, which has been accomplished through both legal and illegal means, has effected China's grain security, contributed to increased agricultural pollution, and created large groups of landless migratory workers.

Existing laws have provided a framework to limit the conversion of agricultural land, but their language and enforcement is inadequate. Indeed, changes such as the 2008 Decision have inadvertently exacerbated a growing problem of agricultural land destruction.

Less than ten percent of China’s land use and environmental laws are actually enforced.

Jiangxi Province Hu Ko County Chemical Industry district () is by the Yangtze River. Chemical factory landfill the Yangtze River bank to expand the scale of the factory without authorization.
Jiangxi Province Hu Ko County Chemical Industry district () is by the Yangtze River. Chemical factory landfill the Yangtze River bank to expand the scale of the factory without authorization.
Longmen town in Hanchen city, Shaanxi Province has large-scaled industrial development. Environment is very seriously polluted there. April 8, 2008
Longmen town in Hanchen city, Shaanxi Province has large-scaled industrial development. Environment is very seriously polluted there. April 8, 2008

With available arable land at an all-time low and an ever-increased rate of conversion, China’s population has changed in character. Urban populations have grown from 18% in 1978 to 42% in 2004. In the last three decades, urbanized land grew from 10,000 square kilometers to 28,500 square kilometers.

Land use by industry has increased at an even greater rate, not only occupying what was once arable land, but leaving it toxic, useless, with poisons leaching slowly into the groundwater.

Worse,these chemical lagoons are often only yards away from plots on which foodstuff is grown. The need for irrigation of these plots only increases the rate of toxic leaching.

The favored places for industrial developments is often on the banks of rivers and other waterways. While this arrangement allows industry access to water without great cost, it also means the most productive farm lands, those along river banks where irrigation is easiest and soil is deposited by the rise and ebb of the water flow, are the first to be transformed.

Add to this the increased need for roads and railroads to service these new developments, all increasing the loss of farmland.

In what can only be described as the Central Governments love affair with hydroelectric projects, in the past 50 years China built over 80,000 dams and power stations – displacing 4.5 million persons, and consuming 500,000 acres of what was once the most fertile land in the country (and severely restricting the flow of her much abused rivers.)

As if the combined loss of farmland to erosion and urban expansion was not serious enough to jeopardize any possibility of self-sustaining food production, there is one more factor at work, one that is not receiving the attention it should.

Acid rain falls predominantly in the fertile south, the wet lands producing rice (that great Asian staple,) vegetables, fruits – giving two to three crops per year as opposed to the one crop capabilities of the grain producing lands to the north. In some areas, virtually all rainfall is acid rain.

Crop reduction, crop failures and the loss of bio-diversity due to acidification of the water and soil is conservatively (same say unrealistically) estimated at 2.5% of China’s GDP. Add to this figure the loss of entire fisheries (water at a lower PH than 5 does not support fish life) and the impact of acid precipitation is catastrophic.

All told, China is rapidly losing the ability to feed herself, even as the population growth*** demands more food.

(*** Population growth: Certainly lower than in previous times, but still not the one couple; one child official mandate, which seems to be more slogan than practice, particularly in the rural areas. The true population of China is a well kept secret it seems, as the Central Government does not wish to admit to the failure of the population control program.)

The Paradox

The Central Government of the People’s Republic of China is all too aware of the ecological problems they are facing, but what are they to do? Once viewed as an all-controlling dictatorship, much has changed. Social unrest is now a fearful spectacle. To take the necessary actions, clamp down on the corruption, the pollution, the social exploitation and face the double risk of a stalled economy and a contingent massive investment in environmental improvement would be sure political suicide.

Among the country’s emerging working to lower middle class, all is not well. Mrs. Wong wants a washing machine, a dishwasher – the Chinese Dream -- all to be purchased on credit and requiring yet more electrical energy, more coal burning plants, more dams across the rivers… Did I mention the second car?

The great masses of poor, migrant labor want more than a life of unrelenting work, living twelve to a room in a factory-owned dormitory. They want to be Mrs. Wong.

In the rural areas, impoverished farmers also want more, something beyond long days of labor for a life of subsistence. They want jobs for their children, a better future.

The growing number of ‘ecology refugees,’ farmers forced off the land due it’s unsustainability, the encroaching desert, floods, or pushed off due to development, live in dire poverty, and they, too, want more.

The wealthy industrialist has an enviable life, but he also demands more. (Isn’t that the way with the wealthy everywhere?)  115 of the world’s 500 wealthiest people, according to Forbes, live in China. Considering the life and death problems faced by most of China’s population, one would wonder what difficulties they face, but apparently they do. (A recent article called Three Problems Facing China’s Newly Rich Business Leaders showed up in my research, so I read it and link it here for you so you may share in the irony.)

The biggest cause of China’s problems is also her much touted greatest strength – her massive population. Which is also the government’s biggest threat. One cannot control 1.3 billion people unless they agree to be governed.

This realization, new to the Chinese government, has left them unable to act, at least on a scale such a disastrous state of affairs requires. Though they pay lip-service to the idea of green, sustainable development, and often chide the West for our excesses, they continue on what is clearly a one-way, dead-end route.

In the name of economic growth, they have clearly decided to leave the factories and other hazards essentially undisturbed and one envisions them sitting in their seats of power with fingers crossed behind their backs, praying the resultant destruction does not trigger either unmanageable popular protest and unrest, or long-run economic decline.

Said one source, a senior official in Liaoning, a region of winter cold and 30% unemployment, “Heavy pollution may kill you in a hundred days, but without enough heat, food or water you die in three.”

“As for the peasants, well, they dare not dream of good guangxi. Blood, sweat and tears for these fellows. Being at the bottom of the totem pole means shouldering the ridiculously heavy taxes that fund the trip abroad for the children of local leaders (or, in many cases, the lavish, debauched banquet to celebrate said trip.) Being at the bottom also means that roadside veggie vendors must haggle fiercely over pennies, that when the state owned enterprise goes belly up, you're the first to be laid off. If possible, you move to the city and bleed some more and haggle even harder over pennies – all this amidst periodic crackdowns to enforce nebulous codes regulating the movement of the masses (the hukou  systems). As a peasant, you either add to the urban unemployment and risk the wrath of the local city officials, or you squeeze as much produce as humanly possible out of plot of land and pay tribute to the local village officials.” – Mark Hertsgaard

Villagers present demands for change and a petition for damages due to pollution to Party officials. They have signed with their fingerprints.
Villagers present demands for change and a petition for damages due to pollution to Party officials. They have signed with their fingerprints.

So China goes on committing ecological suicide – for how else can it be described?

What a downward spiral:

  • Industrialization and exploitation ravages the country’s ecology reducing China’s ability to feed itself, and poisoning not only the land, but the inhabitants.
  • The need to import more food increases as the agricultural productivity decreases, which requires more outside capital.
  • The need for more outside capital requires more industrialization.
  • More industrialization increased the deleterious effects on the environment, further reducing food productions.
  • Which increases the need to import food….
  • Which increases…
  • Which decreases…

One in five humans on this planet lives in China, a country apparently hell-bent on destroying itself in the name of economic growth. This is not to say China is not committing the same mistakes as the rest of the world -- in fact we did them first -- only that the demands of her population greatly increase the pace of destruction. In fact, we might say China is a microcosm of the entire world – the perfect case study.

As for her much-envied economic growth? Factor in the tremendous, deadly cost of these environmental issues, conservatively estimated at 20% of GDP, and this brings ‘growth’ in measurable terms almost to a standstill.

As a commenter on my previous hub, The Myth of Perpetual Growth, said, ”When all the resources are used up, may I have a bowl of coins and a cup of currency to wash it down?”

1 picture is worth 1,000 words. The great contrast that is China.

"The trouble with capitalism is that it is based on the exploitation of man by man; as opposed to socialism which is based on the reverse."


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    • lmmartin profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago from Alberta and Florida

      Thanks, TDowling. Good to know it was helpful. I will check out your hub on the air pollution. Lynda

    • TDowling profile image

      Thomas Dowling 

      5 years ago from Florida


      This a fantastic Hub!

      I found it when I was doing research on China's toxic air -- the subject of my latest Hub. I can't believe all the material you've assembled here. It tells the awful tale of what happens when an autocratic government sets out on unprecedented growth without planning and a total disregard for the millions of its citizens who are suffering the consequences.

      Voted up.

      Also, I gave you a shout-out at the end of my Hub. -TD

    • lmmartin profile imageAUTHOR


      5 years ago from Alberta and Florida

      Thank you

    • tuteramanda profile image


      5 years ago from beijing china

      nice article you tell the truth

    • lmmartin profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Alberta and Florida

      Yes, Eugene, you have caught the real message of this hub. Much as we humans like to think we are at the apex of evolution, we have proven ourselves to be no better than any of the lower life forms that mindlessly destroy their environment without thought or regard to the long term consequences. We will all pay a very high price on that day of reckoning, to be sure. Thanks for your comment.

    • Eugene Hardy profile image

      Eugene Hardy 

      6 years ago from Southfield, Michigan

      Thank you for this Hub, it is an educational experience.

      Voted up.

      First, I truly fear for China's population, pollution and climate change issues aside. With a growing population, what food are they going to eat if the crops they can grow comes from polluted water?

      What of soil quality?

      Secondly, it is not only China's fault, it is ours in the West as well, because we provide our desire for ever cheaper products (and ever cheaper labor if you are a global corporation).

      Yes, there is a "China Price" all right, and we have not even begun to pay it. I'm willing to bet we will wind up paying more for products and labor when we figure in the human costs like famine, displaced populations and the poisoning of the environment.

      We will eventually all pay a higher price....

    • lmmartin profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Alberta and Florida

      Hello chinaconcept. Thank you so much for adding such knowledgeable comment to this article. Very much appreciated.

      I am heartened by these late efforts to improve the picture. Nor do I lay total blame at the feet of the government. The citizens of a country need to be a driving force behind any improvements and as my correspondent there in China is quick to point out, the average Chinese resident is more involved in survival and personal progress than in the long-term problems, as witnessed by the rampant pollution and litter to be found everywhere. In my travels around the world, I have noted that people need to have a certain comfort level of life-style before they can think beyond their own needs, and the majority of residents are not yet at that point.

      It will be interesting to see if the quidelines and subsidies you mention take form, or remain a mere hopeful plan. Considering the authoritarian form of government, the next article may by "A Case Study of Government-Driven Environmental Efforts."

      One of the contributors to this article, a chemical engineer states that the situation has already passed the reversible state. Another, an economist claims that China's recent economic flops mean that the programs on which so much depends will never get funded.

      And as any American resident knows, lack of funding or under-funding is a surefire method of ensuring such programs will not work.

      Again, thank you for adding your perspective to this article and I hope you will continue to do so. Lynda

    • thechinaconcept profile image


      6 years ago

      Great overall picture of the situation in China, including the graphics. While the government is slowly implementing policies to improve environmental protection such as the use of biomass energy, water conservation and energy efficient power and cut down reliance on heavy polluting industrial sectors, I too hope they will come in time before the damage to the environment and public health is irreversible.

      As a side note, I would like to say that having watched policy development recently, I do not think the government is blind to the damages that its rapid industrialization has caused nor does it regard it's citizens as "expendable". The issue of poor food safety stems from the underdeveloped technology and QC measures being employed by the local F&B industry and of course there is an element of rampant irresponsibility by the industrials who are dumping poisonous waste. I would like to remark that this year alone, the government has introduced subsidies for energy efficient building materials, automobiles and energy sources and will invest billions in a variety of environmental projects to clean up polluted waters, close down pollutive factories, consolidate the steel and coal sectors and improve quality control standards in the F&B and Health sector. Therefore, while I agree that the state of environmental damage is dire in China, I disagree that only immediate gains drive the country. The country is now starting to pay attention to the value of its resources and the impact of pollution over the long term and has started to rebalance its economy away from the heavy industries/infrastructure projects/property investment into a longer term, sustainable growth model. However, articles such as yours will continue to add positive pressure to the country to persist in its efforts to fine-tune its environmental protection policies.

    • profile image

      wgfdktdcghjshdfkfvty rcjsxrwer 

      6 years ago

      this is interesting

    • lmmartin profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Alberta and Florida

      Hello Murray, and thanks so much for taking the time to visit these hubs. It is so gratifying to learn that my research coincides with your first-hand experience. I have never visited China and this hub grew out of a job I won as a research assistant to a scholarly writer who is writing a book on the coming collapse of China. Through him I was able to access the work of many others. This was perhaps the most educational and exhilarating projects I've ever undertaken.

      It is apparent that China has chosen the immediate rewards rather than long term benefit to the land and people, but why should that be such a surprise? Throughout history China has always seen their human resources as the most expendable.

      However, when this collapse does happen, it will not be pretty. It will be ages before the harm done to the land itself can even begin to heal and only when it is to late they may rue their priorities of today. But then, their society is not so different in one aspect: the immediate gain to the economic aristocracy is what drives their policies. Doesn't that seem familiar?

      As to the corner cutting, we've already had a taste of that with toxic substances in baby food, pet food and on toys, etc. One can only sit and marvel at what may befall them. Even now, there are so many homeless and so many empty housing developments... Oh -- I see that here in Florida, too.

      Is this a case of the blackbird remarking on the color of the crow?

      Thanks again. Your interest is very much appreciated. Lynda

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      One further comment. The Chinese culture mitigates against their long term success for reasons I don't want to elaborate just now. However one manifestation of that problem is that they cut corners whereever possible and have no quality control unless it is provided by their partners or customers. I have no doubt that most of their building and infrastructure boom is shoddy and inefficient and will prove to be unreliable. We have our own problems and may be past our peak of materialism, but China is not much of an economic threat.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Hi Linda,

      Got a chance to visit again and chose your two excellent articles on the perils of growth. You are an amazing researcher and a writer with an unusual ability to condense a large book of information into a readable article.

      I made my first visit to China with 29 other industrial managers (20 HK Chinese and 10 American expats in HK) at the invitation of the Chinese gov't, shortly after Deng Xaio Ping started the great opening of China's economy. We were asked to give them advice on industrial modernization, and spent 5 weeks visiting factories in most of the cities. From then on I watched with open-mouthed amazement as they progressed with their "development" until my last visit in 1998 to visit my employer's new assembly plant in Shen Zen. (We built and ran our own plant to acceptable western standards of work life). By 1998 the problems you describe were becoming very apparent, and that was before the insane building boom.

      One thing that struck me was the ubiquity of the PLA, and I learned that regional commanding generals get to run their commands in their native provinces or regions. My forecast after my last visit was that China would continue their insane development until resources began to run out, and then a few years of decline would lead to massive unrest followed by national breakup into feifdoms of competing ex-PLA General warlords, and that would happen by 2020. I still think the forecast is good.

      Energy resources in any given field or province, like oil or coal, reach peak production when about half the deposit is exhausted and the rest becomes increasingly difficult to extract, leading to irreversably declining production. China is now about at 1/2 their coal exhaustion and has become an importer. World oil production is at or very near decline. The price of portable energy is now rising, and will soon make China much less competitive simply because of the cost of transport, and there is nothing they can do about it. They can't build nuclear and/or renewable energy resources fast enough to offset declines and keep costs down. As you imply China is a disaster waiting to happen.

      The good news is that their pollution will soon go into decline too.

    • lmmartin profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Alberta and Florida

      Thanks for commenting Jon. As usual, you've missed the point. This article is NOT about the US, it is looking at China as a case study for the direction the world is taking. Do you want to live in a world that looks like China? I do not. Nor do I wish such on my grandchildren.

      And as every great power has had its zenith and decline, the US is simply following the pattern of history.

    • JON EWALL profile image

      JON EWALL 

      7 years ago from usa


      AN INTERESTING HUB regarding what the US used to be and what the US is today,the world's leader moving on down to number two.

      check this link out

      An article ‘’ China seeks Latin Nation Commodities’’ by Ian James of Associated press appeared in our local paper on 6/7/11.

      The following are exerts from the article.

    • profile image

      Nan Mynatt 

      7 years ago

      Linda this hub is truly one of your masterpieces that I have read. Money is the root of all evil and China doesn't care or bother about human beings. They are getting worst with their exploitation of human beings. It must have taken you many months to do this research about China. We have gone along with China and let them take over in industry. They are treating their own citizens like slaves and we in this country have endorsed them. Thanks for your efforts and time writing this hub!

    • Quilligrapher profile image


      7 years ago from New York

      I think it has occurred to Foxconn. The pledge being signed by workers sets a limit on compensation to be paid to the families of employees who kill themselves.Q.

    • lmmartin profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Alberta and Florida

      It sounds like the Industrial Revolution. Thanks for the link. I hope everyone reads it.

      By the way, does it not occur to anyone that when a person is suicidal, a pledge makes no difference at all?

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      I’m back, Lynda, to ask if you’ve seen this item from the UK’s Daily Mail:

      Employees working for Foxconn in China, manufacturing Apple’s latest iPhones and iPads, are being forced to sign pledges not commit suicide after 14 of their co-workers killed themselves over a 16 month period. Investigations are uncovering horrific working conditions at facilities in Chengdu or Shenzen. Workers, living in dormitories resembling prison blocks, were often assigned to 6 12-hour shifts a week, and in a least one case, an employee worked 98 hours of overtime in one month. This sounds a lot like the U.S. a hundred years ago. Q.

    • lmmartin profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Alberta and Florida

      Hello Robert. The quote is from Georges Santayana, and is certainly very true. Thank you for your intelligent and thoughtful comment -- particularly the intelligent part. I also believe the CCC does want to improve the life of their people, but the road to hell is paved with good intentions. They are truly stuck. To deal with the real problems they face, as quoted, is political suicide. To ignore them is also suicide. Not a happy choice. However, as much as this article speaks of China, I also put forth the idea that China is a portrait of the entire world to come unless we choose a different path, and it has nothing to do with political ideologies, but our long-term survival. Thank you again for sharing your thoughts. Lynda

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      Immartin: I want to start by saying that you have shared an excellent article with us. Your commitment to research is evident and I thankyou for your courage to write on a subject that was bound to stir and provoke "contentious responses." It would perhaps take an equally long article, which I very much appreciate by the way, to fully respond. I want to applaud you for choosing to write with conviction based on the facts as you could best assess. I have had a "premonition" the "China boom" was a facade or mask, hiding the truth of the cost in human suffering to provide the opportunity to make a very small percentage of the population very, very rich. That being said, I must recognize an element of desire within the Bejing governemt to strive to meet the needs of a huge and growing population. Perhaps America is actually heading down a similar road though with a different type of vehicle. I would disagree with the analogy that China is where America was 100 years ago. One hundred years ago, America was not facing an extreme overpopulation situation. America still faced the opportunity for strong sustained growth based on available resources within her borders and strong population growth was seen as essential to continue that growth. China today can only dream of the opportunity that laid before America 100 years ago and dreaming of it happening today will not make it so. I have recently discovered, through college studies, the value of studying history. "Those who refuse to learn the lessons of history, are doomed to repeat them." The name of the author of that quote fails me at this moment however the statement rings true. I would agree with you that the Communist Central Committee is leading the Peoples Republic of China down a road of increased suffering for her people. I am concerned about the choices the CCC will make in the future in seeking to satisfy the growing unrest of such a large population. I believe the impact on the global community "will" be significant. It is only a matter of time.

      Thankyou again for such an honest and poignant article. You have provided much food for thought for those who are choosing to step out of the "polluted fog" of political ideologies. Looking forward to more of your writing. Keep up the great work. Robert

    • lmmartin profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Alberta and Florida

      Hi ftclick, like all bubbles, this one has to burst. Yes, they volunteered for the job, but what alternatives did they have? Stay with parents and grandparents, all trying to scrape a living off a plot of land? Think about it. Lynda

    • ftclick profile image


      7 years ago

      A lot of soothsayers on wall street are saying (betting) China is ready to decline to single digit growth. Big vacancy rates in housing and population movement restrictions with pay like that is bound to come out. Those are tough pictures to swallow. It's definitely exploitation in western civilization but then again they did volunteer for the job.

    • lmmartin profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Alberta and Florida

      Hi drbj -- twelve years ago, according to the records, the pollution of the water was very high, not the 'crazy high' it is now. As for the building, whole cities have been built but now stand at less than 30% occupancy -- again that whole "planning' thing. My sister spent a lot of time there about eight years ago. Even then, the situation was difficult, economically in the country and environmentally in the cities. From what contacts are reporting now, the situation has worsened "200%." Thanks for your first hand observations. As always, Lynda

      Thank you Jeremy.

      Hi Gus "Self-limiting" -- you mean enough people will die to make the situation supportable. Hardly comforting. When bacteria overpopulate, the host dies. Food for thought here. Thanks for commenting and nice to hear from you, always. Lynda

    • GusTheRedneck profile image

      Gustave Kilthau 

      7 years ago from USA

      Hi Lynda (lmmartin) - This is another truly giant of an article, both in size, in subject, and in its writing. Thanks.

      I have some slight consolation due to my belief in the biology of all of this - that the amount of crowding and pollution (of all kinds, physical, mental, etc.) tends to eventually be self-limiting. It is true for plants, for animals, for bacteria - and even for such rather inanimate things such as snow, rain, and politics.

      Gus :-)))

    • Jeremey profile image


      7 years ago from Arizona

      Awesome piece of work you have presented for us. This is quite the story, makes one wonder a little bit more about just about everything. Thanks for the great work.

    • drbj profile image

      drbj and sherry 

      7 years ago from south Florida

      The first time I visited China, Lynda, more than 12 years ago, it was still fairly bucolic and in the villages, you could often find a cow or a pig in the same house as its owners. But the air and the water were clean. And straw was continuously replaced on the mud floor.

      When I visited more recently, the cow or the pig were gone, the people couldn't afford to keep them and building was going on everywhere you looked. In the cities with modern cranes and technology, and in the small villages with bamboo ladders and workers carrying building supplies up and down on their backs.

      China today is a strange mixture of communism and capitalism and from the information in your excellent hub it would seem the changes are not necessarily for the better.

      Those photos at the end of your article sum it all up amazingly well.

    • lmmartin profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Alberta and Florida

      Hi Hello, Thanks for reading and commenting here.

      Hi Bobbirant, Would we say slave labor? People would say the decision to work in a factory is a free-choice. Or is it? If you come from an impoverished family in a rural area, how many choices do you have? But of equal, or even more importance is the full-out assault on the ecology of China. Does a bundle of money out weigh the health of the very land on which we live? I don't think future generations will thank us. Thanks for commenting. Lynda

    • BobbiRant profile image


      7 years ago from New York

      Yes, anytime people are exploited as slave labor it is a bad thing. How do businesses sleep at night, those CEO's do not live in such dismal conditions. Just because China allows people to used as slaves, does that make it right? No, it really does not. Great hub about a topic that Should concern any people who have any heart whatsoever.

    • Hello, hello, profile image

      Hello, hello, 

      7 years ago from London, UK

      Wow, Lynda, you certainly done a full job here. Thank you for a well worded and detailed article about China. It certainly was an eye opener.

    • lmmartin profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Alberta and Florida

      Thank you, AA Zavala. Nice to meet you. I'm glad you found some insight in the article, but I'd like to add that I see the situation in China as a case study of the world. As I pointed out, the only reason the situation has advanced so quickly in China is the same reason the pressures and destruction is greater -- the sheer number of people all trying to live in what amounts to a shrinking territory. Shrinking, because with the environmental problems, the basics required to support life, water, air and soil to grow food, are being reduced at an alarming rate. Thank you, Lynda

    • A.A. Zavala profile image

      Augustine A Zavala 

      7 years ago from Texas

      Absolutely fascinating. Thank you for the insight into the economic growth in China and it's repercussions.

    • lmmartin profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Alberta and Florida

      Hi Quilligrapher, I think the overall appraisal is right -- it is a downward spiral of destruction creating more need, creating destruction. Unless there is a very big mind shift (which I doubt) and not only in China but everywhere, the future is not all that rosy. Who knows the next target? If we're very good and manage to survive long enough, the circle will close and it may be our turn...

      Hi Peter. Yes. My disagreement with that comment was not that it was wrong, but that the mindset hasn't changed in the US all that much. Personally, I think China will be faced with crisis on so many fronts in the not too far future, they will pose little threat. Those that will leave and turn to America will become Americans. And you've overlooked one thing: it is American companies (along with others, including Korea, Taiwan, Japan, to name but a few, who are the ones fueling Chinese factories, owning them in many cases, and using the labor who sleep in the dormitories. We are far from blameless in the exploitation of China. Thank you for your insightful comment. Lynda

    • Peter Owen profile image

      Peter Owen 

      7 years ago from West Hempstead, NY

      Great hub.

      I agree with the first commentator - china is where the US was in the late 1800's. No controls, no respect for human life or resources, not thought to the future other than to make a lot of money very fast.

      Then the ones who make all this money can retire to the US, buy a large home in southern california and leave the problems for future chinese generations to solve.

      The thing is, growth creates power. China will be in position to start buying US companies the way the Japanese did in the 80's. So our grandkids may end up being the workers in the dormitories

    • Quilligrapher profile image


      7 years ago from New York

      Thank you, Lynda, for all of your research. The extent of your effort is obvious throughout the piece. If your appraisal is accurate then China’s economic boom will be short lived. Is it possible that the global enterprises fueling China’s destruction have already identified their next victims. Will they move on to exploit Indonesia, India, or elsewhere along the Pacific Rim? Or, is it possible that capitalism has devised a new 21st century strategy to destroy the world’s largest remaining stronghold of Communism without having to fire a shot?Q.

    • lmmartin profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Alberta and Florida

      To Apostle Jack. Success? (Amen I understand.)

    • lmmartin profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Alberta and Florida

      Thank you, Nan. Obviously, this isn't an article meant to be digested in one reading. It is long, but it needed to be in order to cover the extent of the issue. Please do come back when you've had time to ponder the information. Lynda

      Thank you Martyjay, but I am in no position to give insight into the "lives of those who live in China," never having lived there. I've only researched existing conditions related to the subject of growth and the costs. I have used those connections I was able to make with those who do have such insights, researched many scholarly papers on the conditions in China (sometimes wading through some very fragmented English,) and corresponded with as well as borrowed from the journals and writings of those who've traveled, worked and studied there. Particularly my thanks to Mr. Hertsgaard who studied the problem of pollution and ecology all across China. I only want to clear up any idea that I intended to provide insight into the daily lives of the Chinese. Without the basics of air, water and soil to grow our food, we are doomed and all the plastic trinkets in the world won't help us. This is a conundrun facing not only China, but all of us. Thank you for commenting here. Lynda

    • Apostle Jack profile image

      Apostle Jack 

      7 years ago from Atlanta Ga

      Amen to success.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      An excellent piece of writing. This is a very important article on the human condition. How far can we allow it to deteriorate? You have given us an excellent insight into the lives of those who live in China. Thank You.

    • Nan Mynatt profile image

      Nan Mynatt 

      7 years ago from Illinois

      lynda this is one of the best hubs that I have read and you put a lot of research and thoughts into your writing. I am going to print a copy and study it completely. Excellent!

    • lmmartin profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Alberta and Florida

      Dear Mr OldPoolman, I did run a business and also gave employment to several individuals for a couple of decades, actually. But should a business that can't pay a living wage (not an excessive one) hire people? If you can pay only $132 a month for production labor, of course you will move. But, if you look more closely, you will see it's not about making a small profit, but a big one that industry moves to China, or the next place to pay as little as possible. Apple makes a 50% profit margin on outsourcing production to China through Foxxconn. Walmart makes an obscene profit on throwaway junk.

      Believe me, running my small business in Canada where the onus is heavy on the employer (though we only pay 1.5% of their health care contribution, which is considerably less than here and matched the Canada Pension Plan,) drove me half insane at times. The paper work alone for the government (being the big, bad employer) took up two to three days a month. I do hear you.

      But this article is about the true costs of economic growth for one country -- as a case study.

      Thanks for commenting here.

    • profile image

      Old Poolman 

      7 years ago

      Wow, lots of information in this hub.

      One thing you failed to mention was that when the cost of doing business exceeds profits, what happens? Any product or service has a maximum value buyers are willing to pay. When the cost exceeds the value the employer goes broke and everyone loses their job. What choice does an employer have when wages and costs continually increase?

      I run a small business and provide a very decent living for 9 employees and their families. At last count that means there are 28 individuals who are dependent on my company for their living, education, transportation, etc.

      If I were to close my doors all of these families would join the ranks of the unemployed and welfare recipients. If these employees demanded wage increases beyond what I could pay, I would close the business rather than go bankrupt. In addition to wages are all the insurance costs, SS matching dollar for dollar, unemployment insurance, workers compensation, rents, vehicles, and gasoline. Our government does nothing to make it easy for small business and offers no tax breaks or incentives.

      I guess what I am saying is I can see why large Corporations are leaving and going to China. Try running a business for awhile and then read you hub again. You might view things with a slightly different opinion.

    • lmmartin profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Alberta and Florida

      WillStarr: The Beck quote comes from a speech he made at The Villages here in Florida in November 2009, in which he unveils his "100 year plan for America." The O'Reilly quote is from his show of two weeks ago -- exact date forgotten. In this he spoke of loss of productivity of American workers as opposed to China, our inability to effectively exploit our own resources as opposed to China, and the destructive power of organized labor in the face of economic growth as opposed to China, which he suggested were troubles led by the "professional left-wingers." Enough?

      Hi FrogPrince -- in truth this article, is not about Communist or Capitalist. It is about the cost of economic growth, and I refuse to get caught up in a discussion of political ideologies which are totally irrelevant to the subject matter. It makes no difference to me what one calls the governing forces; they are no part of the discussion. As for it being too long, it is a difficult subject to explore fully without being long. It is as long as it needed to be. Just my opinion.

      Hello Pamela, nice to see you. Both the documentary via video, and the first hand accounts of those who provided information of this article, currently in China, tell me that in most cases, rent is deducted whether you live elsewhere or not, only the utilities are forgiven. This is not to say it is true of all factories, only the norm. And as I stated, this article is not about the politics of China, but the economic reality and cost associated with their growth. I am aware that policies have changed, but it is still far from a free country for most. And China does borrow money. Many countries, including the US and Japan have floated loans to China. Right now, the banks of China do not operate in the same manner as banks as we know them. The Chinese currency does not float on the market but operates at a value set by the Central Government, which the banks must follow. Hardly capitalism in my books. Thank you for commenting. Perhaps you may want to come back and comment on the actual subject matter -- the high cost China is paying for economic growth.

      Thank you all.

    • Pamela N Red profile image

      Pamela N Red 

      7 years ago from Oklahoma

      Chinese don't have to pay rent in the dormitories unless they live there. I have a couple pen pals from there, one lives in the dorms the other does not.

      China minds their own business and doesn't try to police other nations which costs money we don't have and borrow from China.

      Also, China is no longer communist.

    • The Frog Prince profile image

      The Frog Prince 

      7 years ago from Arlington, TX

      I happen to agree with Will. But I will add the following to what he had to say.

      China has learned to adopt capitalistic principles to a communistic philosophy, as odd as that seems. It is at the expense of the people, but the limited freedoms they were granted in return were the trade off.

      As a writer, I feel your Hub was too long, hard to follow and has a tendency to lose focus at times. Just my opinion.

      The Frog

    • Mr. Happy profile image

      Mr. Happy 

      7 years ago from Toronto, Canada

      I forgot to give a link on the story about SincoSteel Midwest Corp. and the cost of growth/wealth so, here it is:

    • Mr. Happy profile image

      Mr. Happy 

      7 years ago from Toronto, Canada

      The cost of "becoming more capitalistic" is tragic Mr. Will. We cannot get away from the cost (that was sort of the topic of the last article Mrs. Lynda wrote: there is no wealth without a cost).

      China is indeed "becoming more capitalistic" but at the cost of many people. Let me talk about one example just to understand things better.

      In order for all this growth and wealth that is created, China needs (amongst other things) minerals. At the moment China is searching the globe for such resources as they are called (I personally dislike that term).

      SinoSteel Midwest Corp., a Chinese government owned company has reached the shores of Australia and are now planning to mine on ancient aboriginal grounds. Many things will be lost: archeological artifacts, a culture, heritage. Some aboriginal people have family buried in the hills that are planned for excavation and those bodies will have to be removed ...

      There are so many things that cost us in the chase for a meaningless materialistic life-style. Ohh, well ...

    • lmmartin profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Alberta and Florida

      Thank you, Mr. Happy. I don't know what Mr. St. Clair would have to say, but I can quote my one-time lawyer, Mr. Jarvis who went on an 'official' tour and came back with nothing but 'the place just left a bad taste in my mouth.'

      Thank you, Simone.

      Hello WillStarr -- China a thriving capitalist nation? That's what you got from this? You didn't notice the unemployment, the living conditions, the starvation of the many? Okay. And did it also miss your attention that China only recently surpassed the U.S. as the world's greatest contributor to carbon emissions? But right, we don't want to dirty OUR air and water, because we already have, but lucky for us the industry decided to move to China (as though air and water stay inside national borders.) As for the rest, I choose not to pass comment. I don't venture in the Fox alternate universe unless I absolutely have no choice. The quotes I made were accurate and part of speeches on that very subject: the trouble with American productivity and labor.

    • WillStarr profile image


      7 years ago from Phoenix, Arizona

      Quite a jump from quotes to conclusion. I'm pretty familiar with the way Beck and O'Reilly think, and I've never heard either of them demean the American worker in any way.

      China has become a thriving, capitalist nation, and I'm sure that's what was meant by being 'more like China'.

      Who would have believed that China would one day be scolding the American president (Obama) for being too socialist/Marxist?

      And why would we want to dirty our own air and water? That makes no sense, unless you are a developing nation with no regard for such things, like China.

      We are not China, and 'being more like China' does not mean slave labor and pollution here in the US. It simply means that they are becoming more capitalistic while we are quicly becoming more socialistic, with boondoggles like Obamacare.

    • Simone Smith profile image

      Simone Haruko Smith 

      7 years ago from San Francisco

      lmmartin, this is a fascinating Hub on an issue that really haunts me. Excellent discussion. Excellent photos and video too. Brava.

    • Mr. Happy profile image

      Mr. Happy 

      7 years ago from Toronto, Canada

      A case study indeed; had to pick-up that strange object called a pen again, to take some notes.

      To begin with, thank you for the photographs included in the article. They did very well in completing the picture. I for one, have never seen land dried-up to such great extent ... that honestly made me feel eerie and almost strangely nauseous.

      On the "fresh-air tours" issue, it is quite laughable. I can feel Toronto's smog when I am in Muskoka (a couple of hundred km north of Toronto). I can only imagine how far that monstrous Chinese smog goes. You'd probably have to drive a thousand clicks to get away from it.

      When you wrote that: "We wouldn't give our leaders ten years in power ...", I thought about how the Bush family took a monarchical role for a while with Bush the First and Bush the Second ...

      Another example of a great leader in the western world who just doesn't want to let go of the reigns is Mr. Silvio Berlusconi, who has been Prime Minister for a total of nine years (on separate times since 1994) and still going strong; no matter how many scandals and trials there are involving him.

      It seems to me that people just love to serve the public so much that they simply do not want to let go of their office.

      I'd love to see Upton St. Claire go to China to study and document the lives of workers. Would it be much different than "The Jungle"?

      (Thank you for once again, a great piece of writing - thank you for your time.)

    • lmmartin profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Alberta and Florida

      Hi GNelson, I am not sure so much has changed in the US, other than the people and resources being exploited for industry are elsewhere, and the people of the US are exploited in a different manner. Certainly, the clamor to excavate more coal from the mountains of Appalachia, tear down shale from the mountain tops for gas, drill in the Gulf, even though the full environmental cost of BP's oil spill is only now coming to light, and the finger pointing at labor as the source of all our problems, the demands for growth, growth, growth suggests the mindset hasn't changed all that much. We are certainly a slow learning species. Thanks for commenting here.

    • GNelson profile image


      7 years ago from Florida

      China is where the United States was 100 years ago. Exploiting people and resources at a rapidly expanding rate.


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