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Old 02-26-2017, 04:45   #1
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China: Land of Zombie Factories and 'Sleeper City' Commuters

It doesn't seem that long ago, that leap and that new revolution. From the self-indulged terrorism of "The Great Leap Forward" and the "Cultural Revolution" China has been crashing onto the world high tech market place like a bull, and the west has been cheering them on. Seems like everything is made in China these days. But, one is compelled to wonder if after the bloated real estate bubbles in the west that seemed to come out of nowhere, is China going to be the next bubble to pop? It would be ugly, and there would be blood. There are indications.

China's Zombie Factories and Unborn Cities

China is an unrivalled powerhouse in the global economy. For the last three decades, its growth has outpaced that of all other nations. Entire industries that took decades to mature in the West have sprung up in just a few years. Much of this activity takes place in designated industrial zones, where new cities have been built from scratch to accommodate the workers flooding in from rural regions to be a part of the boom.

Between 1984 and 2010, the amount of built-up areas in China increased nearly fivefold – from 3,413 square miles (8,842 sq km) to 16,126 square miles (41,768 sq km). To construct these new urban zones, China used more concrete in the three years between 2011 and 2013 than the whole of the United States used in the 20th Century.

Yet even in the world’s second largest economy, the rate of development has overtaken demand. Faced with falling prices and slumping sales – partly due to overproduction - the Chinese government has had to step in to cut back some industries.

It has meant huge lay-offs. In areas like Hebei, a northern province that surrounds Beijing, the impact has been especially hard. This was once a thriving region, long regarded as the country’s steel belt. Many of its state-owned plants have been shut down and now lie empty. Privately owned steel mills are struggling to survive. The same fate has befallen other low-tech sectors, creating so-called “zombie factories” across the country.

In China, the shift from industries like steel production to electronics, telecommunications and biotechnology has happened very quickly. Europe and the United States underwent a similar shift over the course of several decades, as industries expanded and matured. China’s high-tech revolution took just a few years.


The grueling, six-hour commute of Beijing’s workers

On some days, Zhang Xia spends more time commuting to work than she does in the office.

The 39-year-old marketing manager lives in Yanjiao, a bustling city packed with residential high rises, found east of Beijing in northern China. She is one of hundreds of thousands of white-collar workers who spend on average six hours – and sometimes up to nine hours or more – travelling to and from Beijing to work each day.

The capital’s soaring property market is pricing thousands of young workers out of the city and into commuter towns like Yanjiao. According to a 2016 report by the Global Cities Business Alliance, Beijing is the world’s most expensive city for renters, with average prices 1.2 times higher than average salaries. Prices are also

soaring for those looking to buy – in the twelve months to September last year, property prices rose by 28%.

Because owning a home in Beijing is not an option for most people, many live in on the outskirts in ‘sleeper’ cities – so named because office workers travel there just to sleep where property is more affordable.

Two decades ago Yanjiao was a collection of half a dozen farming villages and home to 30,000 people. Today it is a city in its own right, with close to a million residents. In the mornings, queues of young, mid-income professionals line the streets in the dark, waiting to be bussed into the capital. Its bus terminals have become bases for commuter-dependent economies – street vendors fry up meals to serve the army of workers before dawn, and in the evenings, unlicensed taxi drivers circle subway stations, car-pooling workers home.

According to a 2013 Chinese government survey, Beijing residents spend on average 52 minutes on the road to work each day. Those living outside with considerably longer commutes just try to make the most of it – Zhang passes the time by reading MBA lectures and taking online courses. “When I first did this journey I felt it wasted lots of time. But now I look at it in a different way,” she says.

"Do not go gentle into that good night..."
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