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About A Week: Have You Heard Of Chongquin?

Peter Hinchliffe notes that while millions of Chinese folk are rushing from the countryside to live and work in cities, in post-industrial England many long for the rural life.

Never heard of Chongquin?

Me neither. At least, not until this week, when I read an article stating that it is the fastest growing urban centre on the planet.

It’s in China, of course. You guessed that. It’s on the banks of the Yangtze River, and does duty as the economic powerhouse for western China.

Look down at the ground in Chongquin, blink three times, and when you look up again another skyscraper has appeared.

Chinese folk are rushing by the millions from the countryside to live in the mushrooming cities. An estimated eight million leave the land every year to become urbanities.

The United Nations says that we are on the point – this month or next month – of becoming for the first time in human history a world of urban dwellers. And the Chinese stampede to the city lights suggests that peasants may be as scarce as polar bears by the turn of the century.

How’re you gonna keep ‘em down on the farm after they’ve seen Chongquin?

For a Brit such as myself the contemplation of the rapid expansion of China - industrially, economically, population-wise – guarantees a sober start to 2007. Britain has five urban centres with populations over the one million mark. China has nearly a hundred.

In my school days a map of the world hung in the classroom. Large landmasses were coloured pink. India, Australia, Canada… The Empire! London was of course the biggest and best city in the world.

Now we have to face the truth. We’re a small island race. At its present rate of growth Chongquin will soon have a population which is half that of the whole of the United Kingdom. It will be very difficult then to brag in a cocky fashion about Leeds, Manchester, Birmingham, Liverpool – and maybe even London.

Now here’s an odd thing. While the Chinese are charging at full-tilt towards life in the urban centres, hundreds of thousands of Brits (we now do things in hundreds of thousands, rather than millions) are opting to shake city dust off their feet.

Brits dream of rural idylls. A thatched country cottage, with roses at the door. A village pub, on the edge of a village green (naturally), where welcoming folk drink local cider while playing skittles.

Brits also dream small. Hence, theirs is an insatiable, and seemingly unsatisfiable, demand for rural property. There’s a semi-detached cottage down the lane in which I live. Yes, I’m a village dweller. Two rooms upstairs, two rooms downstairs, and a basement bathroom/jacussi. There’s a garden as big as a dozen spread-out pocket handkerchiefs, and no garage. It’s for sale. The asking price. £380,000.

Rural properties fetch big prices in a land-strapped country.

The first industrial revolution took place in little Britain. A famous Luddite meeting, when workers violently protested against the introduction of mass-production machinery, took place a mile away from where I now write this article.

Strange thing, history. While the Chinese sprint towards super-urban industrialisation, many of my countrymen seem to hanker after the peasant’s life.

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