When Americans visit Beijing today, they feel right at home whether
shopping for clothes or eating a Big Mac. Move further away from the capital,
however, and time stands still, except for the pollution that now mars
the landscape. The Chinese have been slow to consider the environmental
dangers brought on by rapid industrialization.
Western cultural icons are transforming China, especially in major cities
such as Beijing and Shanghai, where there is a profusion of skyscrapers
and large department stores that sell Rolex watches, Mickey Mouse toys
and Harry Potter books. Patrons of karaoke bars and health clubs sport
dyed hair and tattoos.
In stark contrast, outlying communities with open-air markets and tiny
shops are often racked with poverty. People from the country are pouring
into China's major cities for the chance to earn $60 a month, the average
urban wage for a man. If they find jobs, many face the rising problems
of street crime, prostitution, and black marketeering. Deng Xiaoping,
himself, would not have been surprised. He once remarked, "when you
open the door, some flies get in."
Environmental disasters threaten all of China. Industrial areas have
replaced much of the farmland, whereas the fields that remain have been
devastated by chemical fertilizers and pesticides. Several northern rivers
have dried up and disappeared, while southern rivers are polluted by untreated
sewage. Heavy pollution from chemical, steel, and textile plants cause
soaring rates of asthma and respiratory disease.
Over the last fifty years, the Chinese Communists have successfully created a booming economy (the third largest in the world). They are a world power. They have possibly resigned themselves to accepting a certain amount of Western influence and modern ways. Nevertheless, China today has many issues still to face.
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