China Today

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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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