China’s Manufacturing Cities


Just when we thought that the nature of our urban spaces has been altered by the changing forms of economy and technology, the manufacturing-based cities make a comeback. In the previous half-century, we moved from a manufacturing-based economy to services-based economy thus altering the form of our cities from being centralized to being disperse. No longer was a single industry the major employer and the working class didn’t necessarily have to live near their place of employment as commuting to work became easier. This held true even in developing economies until of course, China took over the mantle of being the world’s manufacturer. Of course, manufacturing never died as someone has to manufacture the countless goods that we desire; it simply moved to places where it was more affordable to do so.

china manufacturing cities

[source]. Edward Burtynsky recently released his pithily-named book, China that contains several photographs like the one above that depict the vast manufacturing industry in China. The mass employment pattern of such industries have spawned townships that are akin to manufacturing towns that dotted the Rust Belt in the United States in the earlier part of last century. Almost all workers are employed by a single industry and work and live together in high rise apartments. Characterized by long working hours, most workers either have no need for activities apart from work or aren’t given opportunity to indulge in any such activity. The other day I was talking with my significant other regarding the proclivity of having acquaintances and friends outside of our working environment and if lack of such options would have any detrimental effect on our lives. It looks like these workers simply don’t have the luxury of such options. The images of the workers housing as shown below are indicative of their work-centric lives:

china apartments

china apartments1

I am sure the workers are better off than living in the countryside where they couldn’t eke out a decent living wage. But I wonder what will be the repercussions on their social lives of living in such an urbanscape. Is it rapidly becoming the form of urban spaces in countless cities across China as they struggle to fulfill the demands of a consumer society?

Burtynsky in his book says that “these images are meant as metaphors to the dilemma of our modern existence; they search for a dialogue between attraction and repulsion, seduction and fear. We are drawn by desire, a chance at good living, yet we are consciously or unconsciously aware that the world is suffering for our success. Our dependence on nature to provide the materials for our consumption and our concern for the health of our planet sets us into an uneasy contradiction. For me, these images function as reflecting pools of our times.”