26 September 2006

China is Big (China: 1 of 5)

At my last stop on the trip to China, Shanghai University School of Digital Media Arts, one of my hosts asked what I thought of China so far.

After thinking about it for a minute, I said, "It's big." More than anything else, this trip changed the incredible size of China from an abstract to a concrete fact for me.

Most of my trip was in Wuxi, which all the books (and my hosts) described as a "pleasant, medium-sized town on the shore of Lake Taihu" *. I arrived after dark, so didn't have much chance to assess the town. Since I had never heard of Wuxi before this trip, I was asking my translator, Super, about the differences between Wuxi and Shanghai (which is China's biggest city, about two hours' drive from Wuxi). Wuxi doesn't have shopping, Wuxi doesn't have traffic as bad, Wuxi has better food because it's on the shore of the lake, etc., etc. Finally, I asked, "How many people live in Wuxi?" "Oh," he said, "it's medium-sized, about 5 million people."

Hmm, about the size of the entire San Francisco Bay Area (five times the size of San Francisco itself; about the size of Chicago). Later, during the day, we were being bussed around from point to point in the city, and the size of Wuxi was reinforced: this place is *huge*. Mile after mile of new, high-tech factories line Wuxi's recently repaved streets. It combines a parade of familiar brand names (Sony, Panasonic, Goldstar) with Chinese companies whose names we've never heard (Wuxi Electric Coil Company). But either way the factories stretch on and on.

Of course, Wuxi is hardly unique as a industrial growth engine in China: you can choose Suzhou, Hanzhou, Guanzhou, Guangdong, Shanghai itself, Tiantsu, Xingdao, Chengdu... In fact, that's the real point: in China, a five-million-person rapidly-growing wunderkind industrial city isn't anything to remark on.

That's because... China is big.

* One of the wierdnesses of language translation: All English-language guidebooks refer to it as Lake Taihu, but in fact, 'hu' is the Chinese word for Lake, so "Lake Taihu" is really "Lake Tai Lake".

No comments: