CHINA’S NEW MEGACITIES

MICHIEL HULSHOF & DAAN ROGGEVEEN

I prosper’ ‘Saving energy is using your finger’ Ten Thousand Galloping Horses Zaha goes Extra Large Stacked bars of gold ‘In the East there is Shenzhen. HOHHOT 11. CHENGDU 12. WUHAN 5. LANZHOU 9. KUNMING 7. in the West there is Kashgar’ 8 36 62 88 116 144 168 192 216 242 266 290 314 334 340 . GUIYANG 10.CONTENTS 1. SHIJIAZHUANG 3. ZHENGZHOU 2. CHANGSHA 8. XI’AN 6. YINCHUAN 13. KASHGAR EPILOGUE NOTES ‘This is a business town’ How the city moved to Mr Sun Building the largest city in the world Canary Wharf in Central China ‘Heaven for young leaders who enjoy life and shopping’ A new future for Old Civilization Street Millionaires in Little Venice ‘When the factory prospers. CHONGQING 4.

The brand new roads are six lanes wide. It all looks very cosmopolitan. Yet. two kilometre long mall surrounds the water. but the real eye-catcher is the new theatre: five golden egg-shaped globes designed by Uruguayan architect Carlos Ott. . Apart from one thing.The city centre is as large as that of Frankfurt. The city has no inhabitants. Porsche recently opened a flagship store here. Gleaming skyscrapers surround an artificial lake. A circular.

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1. ZHENGZHOU .

(1950) ZHENGZHOU .

Women try to sell us maps while men offer us taxi rides.VIETNAM With 94 million inhabitants. Two yuan. honking cars and the train station announcer. We see busses. while girls hand out leaflets advertising newly built properties. Above all the deafening noise characterises the chaos. Thousands of bags are stacked up in piles in front of a row of shops. There are call shops. Special offer. taxis and scooters arriving from all directions. Don’t miss it. Thousands of travellers move in a massive jumble. Everything cheap. Doesn’t matter what. We walk past hundreds of people queuing in long lines next to peasants sitting on their luggage. ‘Special offer. Don’t miss it. Doesn’t matter what. souvenir stalls and off licenses. circumventing the begging vagrants on the ground. Kentucky Fried Chicken. Almost all shopkeepers tout their wares from large loudspeakers on the street. the population of Henan province is the same as the population of Vietnam ZHENGZHOU O ne word: pandemonium. Everything is two yuan. Special offer. Special offer. an indistinct blend of shouting. Everything is for sale. Don’t miss it. Bored youths with bleached hair stand around smoking. Don’t miss it. green tea and sunflower seeds.‘THIS IS A BUSINESS TOWN’ HENAN . Customers in small supermarkets throng around instant noodles. McDonald’s and Dong Fang Ji Bai compete for hungry voyagers.’ ‘ This is a business town’ ›› 8 .

to almost seventy per cent by 2030. Other coastal towns have similarly grown into flourishing cities of millions. and causes price rises and budget overruns in construction projects in the rest of the world. Their economic growth is gigantic: well over ten per cent annually over the last decade. The urbanisation rate will increase from about fifty per cent at present. and the two of us. eagerly notes that in the coming years China will annually construct ‘more than fifteen hundred buildings of thirty stories or higher. A fascination with the unknown megacities in the heart of China has driven us here. Consulting firm McKinsey. Madrid. China will change from a rural into an urban society. The reason for this obscurity is obvious: Zhengzhou’s precipitous growth started only very recently. are standing on Station Square in Zhengzhou. an estimated 280 million Chinese villagers will become city dwellers. in anticipation of direct connections to Tokyo. Thirty years of Chinese reforms caused the boom of East Coast mega-metropolises like Beijing. Over time. attracted by the profusion of jobs and opportunities in the city. and up to several weeks ago. economic growth and the pace of urbanisation have reached unprecedented rates. In the next twenty years. Their populations vary between two and thirty-two million. Bangkok or Amsterdam. Far from the ocean and out of sight from the world. a modernisation project influencing the lives of hundreds of millions. in the coming century. The enormous increase in construction has provoked an explosive demand for steel. for instance. Zhengzhou.’ boiling down to ‘the equivalent of a new Chicago every year. This means that. We live in Shanghai. Chongqing. Consumers ZHENGZHOU (1960) 9 ›› HOW THE CITy mOvEd TO mr SUN .It is February 2009. This transformation involves numbers that capture the imagination. Shanghai. Shijiazhuang and Wuhan are growing into the (big) brothers and sisters of international metropolises such as Rio de Janeiro. Dubai and Chicago. a journalist and architect from Europe. Guangzhou and Shenzen.’ despite the fact that. Almost all of them have pristine new international airports. This trend is now moving westward at a furious pace. Zhengzhou has seven million inhabitants.’ ² The effects of this colossal urbanisation are felt far outside China. the name ‘Zhengzhou’ meant little to us. Friends in Shanghai dismissively speak of ‘that pokey provincial town’ or even ‘that village. we will examine sixteen of them: fifteen provincial capitals and one future boom town. In a few short years. We visit Zhengzhou as a prelude to a two year investigation into the burgeoning metropolises in the heart of China. according to the Statistical Yearbook.

The disarray continues inside the buildings. ranging from French wine to gold watches. athletes and scientists whose paintings. Concrete apartment blocks with barred windows stand next to gleaming malls. China’s large scale urban development is an example for other countries. guest houses. All the same. Chinese architects are already designing new cities in Africa and South America. movie directors. Old people dance or play table tennis in the park. life takes place largely on the street. and where it is not. designer bags and sport cars. factory chimneys stick up into the sky. a bowling alley. The predominant colour is grey. She points at the most important tourist attraction around: the new Central Business District. driving up demand for luxuries world wide. Here and there between the buildings. a suffocating mixture of fog and coal dust. urbanisation has severe implications in terms of sustainability: it causes higher emissions of greenhouse gasses and puts further pressure on dwindling oil and gas reserves. achievements and inventions are gaining growing recognition abroad. The traffic is congested in many places. movies. Despite February’s wintery cold. Street vendors sell telephones.in Europe and the United States buy sunglasses and phones flowing from the new factories in the interior of China. The growing urban middle class has ever more money to spend. We enter a tower block at random and find shops. The experience gained in the interior of China benefits other developing areas in the world. thanks to the quality of the air. The new metropolises produce artists. half-completed hotels and undeveloped plots of land. Chinese students are conquering the lecture halls of Harvard and Yale. an online gaming café. mp3- ‘ This is a business town’ ›› 10 . pedestrians risk their lives crossing the road. a hairdresser and numerous restaurants under and beside each other. On the other hand. while young people play billiards in the open air. During our walk through the station district Zhenghzou at first sight leaves a dreary impression.

but has one and a half times the number of inhabitants: ninety-four million to be exact.players. clubs. a shopping centre. gloves and scarves.’ As evening falls. The number of city dwellers rose from 18 per cent in 1978 to 23 per cent in 1992 and 44 per cent in 2005. toys. Henan is four times smaller than France. In the 1960s and 1970s urbanisation ground to a halt as Mao ruthlessly attempted to transform China into an agrarian society. phone cards. the Ferris wheel and viaducts. Zhengzhou is to most inhabitants of Henan. restaurants. China has known large cities for thousands of years. then faster from the beginning of the 1990s. nothing but a few ruins remain. Factories sprang up everywhere. Over 3600 years ago. offices. The architecture is an eclectic post-modern mix. news and trailers for the latest movies. first slowly. Neon lights cover literally everything – hotels. Urbanisation gathered pace. chunks of pineapple. with Zhengzhou appointed as a centre for textiles and tobacco. Zhengzhou lies about 600 kilometres west of Beijing and is the capital of Henan province. In the park a dilapidated Chinese temple stands next to a new Egyptian sphinx. What Paris is to the French. Industrialisation commenced after the communist takeover in 1949. T-shirts. Zhengzhou was one of the most important Shang dynasty cities. coats. along with residential communes for the workers. Today. People shout at us every hundred metres or so. The development of the modern city started with the construction of the train station in 1903. vegetables and fish. household appliances. After Mao’s death China’s new leader Deng Xiaoping opted for another economic model. a government office with Roman columns and a massage parlour in a Texan ranch. a sign that the locals are not used to seeing foreigners. And everybody is eating: roast potatoes. This leads to absurd conversations. sausages and pancakes. Besides drab communist block flats and modern business buildings we see a restaurant shaped like a French chateau. The only Westerners in the street are the models on gigantic billboards plastered all over the sides of buildings. On the markets traders are hawking trousers. ZHENGZHOU (1970) 11 ›› HOW THE CITy mOvEd TO mr SUN . This comparison also illustrates the regional importance of the capital. karaoke bars. A few international fashion chains have discovered Zhengzhou as a promising consumer market: Adidas. putting cities centre stage. the city changes from grey to multi-coloured. To get a feel for the size of Chinese provinces it helps to compare them to American states or European countries. ‘Is that a mosque?’ – ‘No. fried tofu. Giant video screens everywhere display adverts. meat. Jack Jones and Miss Sixty.

‘ This is a business town’ ›› 12 .

650 dollars per capita. from Taiwan and Hong Kong. in Chinese: ‘This is a business town. His ‘ladderstep doctrine’ divided the country into three regions: the Coast. you have to take the train to Luoyang. And so. Construction workers are building a skyscraper that eventually will rise up out of the lake. we find ourselves at the edge of an enormous lake surrounded by a double ring of sixty residential and business tower blocks. a car park and a combined theatre and museum consisting of five golden globes. in a number of specially selected cities permitted to experiment with market forces and foreign trade. where annual disposable income now exceeds 1. Foreign trade and investment brought riches in the coastal provinces.’ She bends over the map and points at the most important tourist attraction around: the new Central Business District. She picks up our pen and writes the answer underneath. The pretty Chinese receptionist behind the counter introduces herself in English as Patsy. later also electric razors and walkmans. and migrant workers from the depths of China moved to the coast. She takes out a city map. The chaotic inner city of Zhengzhou seems very distant here. a chain of cheap hotels identifiable by its bright yellow walls. We scribble ‘old buildings’ on a piece of paper. By the lakeshore lie a convention centre. ‘NO’. and to actively make preparation for the further development of the western region. one grey morning. Then.Zhengzhou at first noticed little of the new policy. Party leader Deng Xiaoping believed that ‘some must become rich first. Investors from abroad. The southern province of Guangdong developed into the ‘factory of the world’.’ We move into the Home Inn. slouched on a red sofa. She stares at us blankly and requests us to write our question down. The economic miracle manifested itself primarily on the coast. The opulent use of ZHENGZHOU (1980) corporate architecture with plenty of glass and steel gives the district a futuristic 13 ›› HOW THE CITy mOvEd TO mr SUN . each at least one hundred metres high.’ as an example to the rest of the country. the Centre and the West. The plan proposed to ‘speed up the development of the coastal region. varying from fifteen to thirty metres in height. A girl sleeps in the lobby. to put the emphasis on energy and raw materials construction in the central region. We ask her where the historical town centre is. Billboards advertise it as a luxury hotel-to-be. If you want to see old buildings. first to produce jeans and T-shirts.

Even in sections where building has yet to commence straight roads run equipped with street lighting. Next to it stands a nursery dubbed ‘Little Harvard. In the sales centre of Westlake Spring No. we see that the infrastructure for the whole area is complete. against a background of cranes. ‘Only a few people live here now. Inside. the new city area is to become twice that size. When we drive through the area in a taxi. In the empty car park next to the convention centre a few tradesmen have transformed their minivans into mobile supermarkets. In between there are still some fields with a few remaining farms. Not far from here lies an exhibition centre completely dedicated to the new neighbourhood. This environment breathes structure and order. The new business district is deadly quiet.’ Most inhabitants of Zhengzhou point to the year 2000 as turning point in the ‘ This is a business town’ ›› 14 . President Hu Jintao. you see a business world filled with successful men and women in tailored business suits clinching one million dollar deal after the other in boardrooms overlooking the new skyline. fully grown trees and cultivated road dividers. Its size is gargantuan: Zhengdong has a surface area of sixty square kilometres. Closer to the central lake we pass residential areas. nothing of this furious future activity can be noticed just yet. a university quarter. two logistical zones. all with themes of their own. but that will change swiftly. which makes it as large as Paris within the Périphérique. There are no shops. Japanese architect Kisho Kurokawa designed the master plan for the district. We hardly see any pedestrians or cyclists. When you squint through your eyelashes. an economic development zone and an ecological neighbourhood. However. prime minister Wen Jiabao and various members of the Politburo have had their pictures taken wearing construction helmets. an enormous model makes it clear that the area surrounding the lake forms only a small part of a new city district named Zhengdong. We drive past ‘Vancouver Town’ and a district with balconied apartment blocks and tiled roofs that from a distance vaguely reminds of Spain. apart from perhaps the newly opened Porsche showroom. Cars drive past only once every now and again on the wide streets. but inquiries teach us that the majority have been sold to speculators. Ultimately.1 an employee tells us to come back next year. A photo gallery in the exhibition area proves the new district is not merely a local project.’ Most apartments are empty. consisting of several parts: a Central Business District.look. even bigger still. targeting the rare visitor to an occasional conference.

As gas and coal are found especially in Central and Western China. and paid for large environmental projects such as the planting of forests.650 US$ / year 02 1. power plants and hydroelectric power plants. 2009 Source: National Bureau of Statistics development of their city. The Gross National Product per capita then was only forty per cent of that on the East Coast.200 US$ / year 03 1. motorways and gas and oil pipelines. The government financed the construction of railways. critics believed the growing need for fossil fuels on the East Coast especially inspired the policy.200 .LADDER STEP DOCTRINE 01 Speed up the development 02 Energy and raw materials 03 Preparation for further development CONSEQUENCE OF THE LADDER STEP DOCTRINE 01 > 1.1. In that year the government initiated the Go West policy.650 US$ / year Disposable income / capita. (1990) 15 ›› HOW THE CITy mOvEd TO mr SUN ZHENGZHOU . aimed at bridging the gap in development of China’s interior.

In November 2008. changes ‘ This is a business town’ ›› 16 . Hu Jintao’s government announced it would pump 586 billion dollars into the economy.’ As we walk through Zhengzhou. ‘Is that a mosque?’ – ‘No. In a country of tea drinkers one can link the size of the middle class to the popularity of frappuccino and latte macchiato. Partly thanks to the stimulus package. Coffee Company and 85°C together have hundreds of branches. In Shanghai chains such as Starbucks. economic development is obviously still behind that of the major cities on the coast. the latter mostly English teachers. The sounds of pile drivers. Twenty-three year old Ying serves coffee to an audience of Chinese and foreigners. The taxi starting rate is half that of Shanghai. as it did in the rest of the world. Amy’s Café still has a monopoly. Just as the Zhengzhou of 2009 has changed beyond recognition since 1979. To reduce the impact of the global financial crisis. To begin with. In downtown Zhengzhou. even though it diminished on the East Coast. We also see fewer luxurious hotels or shopping centres. In the same period. economic growth remained strong in Western China during the financial crisis. Besides building new airports. A review of ten years of the Go West policy by the Chinese University of Hong Kong estimates that the economy of Central and Western China grew between 1999 and 2008 by an average twelve per cent per year. pneumatic drills and circle saws drift into the centre of town. prices are lower. Much of it ended up in infrastructure projects intended to unlock the Chinese hinterland. But hard work is being done to bridge this gap: construction sites with cranes stand in every street. the Gross National Product increased per capita from 521 to 2303 dollars. In 2020 almost all provincial capitals will be connected by trains running at speeds between 250 and 350 kilometres per hour. the network of high-speed trains was to be expanded. a shopping centre. Go West received a new impulse. Owner Tao Ying has her coffee shop on the twenty-first floor of an apartment complex in which various entrepreneurs have set up small businesses.

’ Ying herself (1995) 17 ›› HOW THE CITy mOvEd TO mr SUN ZHENGZHOU will keep rapidly piling up in the next thirty years.’ says Ying. ‘When Mao visited Zhengzhou one day. five hundred packets a day. she talks about her grandmother and mother. ‘Her best customers were Taiwanese who came here to invest. Ying’s mother had just grown up when the first changes of the new economic era brought could be felt. While Ying prepares Brazilian coffee n io at RC er f P ib o : L ng 49 di 19 un fo 20 78 :O pe ng ni up 08 ej :B g in Ol ym n tio pi cs . they took her picture with him.PERCENTAGE URBAN INHABITANTS PER COUNTRY ek P th erc liv e p ent in op ag g in ula e o th tio f e n ci ty ts ch .’ Like all other workers she lived on the factory premises. She became the first female taxi driver in Zhengzhou. oc ra t ic Ku bi ris is m lin de lC nc ia ila fin a :W or ld 20 16 : Ri o Ol ym pi cs o 1 50 955 ye : Br ar az s i il: n Ju 5 sc e a Ko re 19 87 : 19 97 : As ia 100 So ut h Fi na nc 20 08 cr is is BRAZIL USA SOUTH KOREA EUROPE RUSSIA JAPAN CHINA INDIA 50 KENYA 0 1950 1955 1960 1965 1970 1975 1980 1985 1990 1995 2000 2005 2010 2015 2020 2025 2030 2035 2040 2045 2050 u rt ol ta ev :S lr 66 ra 19 ultu C na hi : C TO 01 W 20 ins jo 19 behind the counter of her café. ‘She was the fastest in her unit. Her grandmother worked in a cigarette factory where she manually rolled cigarettes.

‘ This is a business town’ ›› 18 .

Before she started her coffee shop. omnipresent Roman columns and European themed areas instead are reminiscent of Las Vegas. The abundant neon lighting. with whom she has since become engaged. air and space reminds of the City of Tomorrow by Le Corbusier. Even on a Tuesday night the two storey club is packed. and music by Snoop Dogg. her American boyfriend. in the new business district of the town. (2000) 19 ›› HOW THE CITy mOvEd TO mr SUN ZHENGZHOU . Here the twenty and thirty year olds who form new middle class amuse themselves with dice games. the hottest night spot of the moment. A singing DJ.’ Once back in Zhengzhou she met Brian. who proposed to replace the entire Parisian town centre by a broad grid of skyscrapers. Chesterfield sofas and oak panelling is Moulin Rouge meets Route 66. ‘A few years ago it suddenly became very popular among wealthy parents to send their children abroad. Bottles of Ballantines stand on the tables. Apart from her marriage she has another plan for the coming year: she wants to open her own night club. which replaced the factory as icon by the skyscraper. next to jugs of iced tea and bowls of artfully carved fruit. next to jugs of iced tea and bowls of artfully carved fruit. I was very proud that I could go as well. Bottles of Ballantines stand on the tables. The city bears the marks of both a dominant state and an unbridled and aggressive market. near the lake. working and recreation form a harmonious mix. dancers on moving platforms. she studied English for a year in Leicester. On our last evening we visit V8. Beyonce and 50Cent warms up the audience. And above all. it is a city where a strong faith in the future prevails. In numerous real estate advertisements Zhengzhou presents itself as an idyll where living. As the evening progresses. more and more customers switch from dicing to dancing. The interior of opulent chandeliers.took the next step. The tightly structured high-rise with plenty of light. In Zhengzhou we see the first contours of a new kind of megacity typical of China.

‘ This is a business town’ ›› 20 .

(2010) 21 ›› HOW THE CITy mOvEd TO mr SUN ZHENGZHOU .

clearly V8’s club song.Just after midnight. Go West. Everyone jumps up and sings along. about the legendary pilgrimage of a monk seeking holy texts in the ‘western regions. Go West. Journey to the West is the title of one of China’s most famous classic novels.’ During our journey to the west we describe the transformation of ‘provincial’ towns in the heart of ‘ This is a business town’ ›› 22 . this is what we’re gonna do. a Village People classic plays. where the skies are blue.

Louis Vutton has just opened his first shop in Zhengzhou. How fast things can change. we discover when we return to Zhengzhou in the spring of 2010. Tao Ying has given up her coffee shop and now runs a thriving café in a street full of bars in the old town. Multinationals are now also deploying activities.(2015) China to potential global metropolises. The Japanese car manufacturer Nissan has announced it will partially relocate the production of its 23 ›› HOW THE CITy mOvEd TO mr SUN ZHENGZHOU . with a VIP-lift and a floor mosaic depicting the Champs-Élysées.

‘ This is a business town’ ›› 24 .

In Vancouver Town the elderly residents sit in the sun. Women are selling pineapples from delivery bicycles. and cars stand parked in front of every restaurant.000 people. And the Taiwanese company Foxconn has built a new iPhone factory that ultimately will provide employment for 300. The taxi ride from the station to the new district of Zhengdong now takes almost an hour because of the maddening traffic jams. And the first students of Little Harvard have a go on the slide. (2025) 25 ›› HOW THE CITy mOvEd TO mr SUN ZHENGZHOU . On the large car park parents are flying kites with their children. Businesspeople are not the only ones frequenting the new district. People are walking around everywhere. The hotel tower rising from the lake has reached its highest point. In the Central Business District nothing remains of the erstwhile silence. while a man grills lamb kebabs over a barbecue. One third of them have already started work.Qashqai SUV to the city.

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