Napoleon ominously remarked “China is a sleeping giant. Let her sleep, for when she wakes she will move the world.” China has been waking, and now urbanizing, enriching, and consumer.
The People’s Republic of China began to slowly embrace capitalism thirty years ago, first in special economic zones. Cities within these areas grew rapidly as they became regional hubs, entrepots, and manufacturing centers. Consequently, they sucked up workers from all of the countryside to work in factories, construction sits, and the service industry.
Now the entire country is a free capitalist zone, with wealth and populations concentrated in dozens of enormous cities. The rapid growth of cities that Western Europe experienced starting two hundred years ago is happening in China at breakneck speeds. However, this time something is different this time around: China’s hundreds of millions of newly-minted urban denizens are consuming at 21st-, not 19th-, century levels. Will they all buy cars and eschew public transportation, leaving a massive carbon footprint? Will they waste food? Build greener or greyer cities? In other words, how would China’s ideas about how it should live (and therefore build) affect the environment?
That was going through my head as I sat to interview Simon Ma, a rising Chinese artist with an architectural education as well as extensive experience working with Chinese real estate developers and Western luxury brands (Chivas Regal, Ducati, etc.). Who better to ask about China’s rise? It seemed few would have better insight into how new lifestyles and behaviors of consumption might affect us all, and sooner than we may think.
Top Image: Simon Ma, Courtesy of Simon Ma.