USC Asia Architecture & Urbanism Study Abroad Program

What is it all Worth?

Having spent almost two months in China by now, I have witnessed on a daily basis the remarkable extent to which this nation is growing.  Three times a week I ride the world’s most extensive subway system into the city center for studio.  By 2020 the system is projected to double in size.  Last month I attended the Shanghai Expo, which drew more people in five months than any other in history.  On one day in October, over one million people flooded its grounds.  In Beijing I visited the site of the 2008 Olympics where the Chinese government spent roughly 40 billion dollars, over twice the expenditure of any other Olympics in history.  And just last week I viewed Shanghai form the world’s highest observation deck atop a Pudong skyscraper.  Within a matter of two years it will be substantially eclipsed – by a building under construction across the street.

If it sounds as though I am belaboring my point, that is my intention.  Economists no longer debate whether the PRC will surpass the United States in economic might, but whether this will occur closer to 2030 or 2040.  Political thinkers no longer debate whether China is the next world superpower but whether, once fully developed, it will eclipse the United States in its military dominance and space exploration.  All of this is sure to guarantee the next few decades of global politics will be endlessly fascinating, and no doubt a bit scary for Americans content with the current world order.

But one question keeps coming back to me every time I consider China’s development: what is it all worth?  That hundreds of millions of people will rise from poverty level to the middle class is a victory for all of humanity, but will individual Chinese born into this newfound wealth be better off for it?  If precedent is any indication, the answer is not as simple as we may like to believe.

Citizens of developed countries across Europe and North America have access to the kind of wealth, education, healthcare, and opportunity that rural Chinese now seek for their children. Despite this, disenchantment with the human condition persists.  One in ten Americans suffers or has suffered from depression according to WebMD.  And Medical News Today reports that 40 million Americans deal with anxiety and stress on a daily basis.  Are the children of the Baby Boom generation, born into a Post-War era of phenomenal growth in the United States, any happier as adults than their parents who lived through the Great Depression?  By comparison will Chinese children of today, born into a country on the verge of developed status, find a great deal more fulfillment in their lives than those who came before them?  My suggestion is not that the answer to these questions is no, but that increases in wealth and technology elsewhere have often introduced as many problems as they have solved.

Matt Luery



Filed under: China, development, Growth

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AAU FALL 2013:

University of Southern California
School of Architecture
Asia Architecture and Urbanism
Study Abroad Program

Andrew Liang
Bu Bing
Steven Chen
Yo-Ichiro Hakomori
Andrew Liang
Yuyang Liu
Neville Mars
Academic Contributors:
Thomas Chow, SURV
Bert de Muynck, Movingcities.org
Manying Hu, SZGDADRI, ITDP, Guangzhou
Clare Jacobson, Design Writer, Editor, Curator
Laurence Liauw, SPADA, Hong Kong
Mary Ann O'Donnell, Shenzhen Noted, Fat Bird, Shenzhen
Paul Tang, Verse, Shanghai
Li Xiangning, Tongji University, Shanghai
Daniel Aguilar
Hong Au
Michael den Hartog
Caroline Duncan
Nefer Fernandez
Christian Gomez
Isabelle Hong
Jin Hong Kim
Ashley Louie
Javier Meier
Paula Narvaez
Ashlyn Okimoto
Tamar Partamian
Samuel Rampy
Luis Villanueva
Krista Won
Tiffany Wu

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