The May National Geographic will be featuring an article on the tremendous development currently ongoing in Beijing, with thousands of new buildings being constructed largely by unskilled labor pouring into the city from the rural regions of the country. This means several things:
• Traditional forms are being ignored in favor of Western, often avant-garde designs (such as the Olympics stadium—the Bird’s Nest).
• To overcome the lack of skilled labor, buildings are being snapped together from newly developed, modular systems, leading some Chinese to say the city is a testing ground for grand Western architectural and engineering experiments.
• The workforce that is putting the systems into place will be displaced by the very work they are performing.
• Environmental impact is a secondary or tertiary consideration at best, with sprawl in the 65,000-square-mile city of 17 million bound to increase already burgeoning consumption of fossil fuels.
• The strain on world supplies of materials could drive the West to our economic knees.
• The market for Western design and construction services will only last until Chinese professionals and trades develop a viable domestic capability, which, history shows, they will, and relatively quickly.
• The world economy will benefit from this growth only if China enters it as an open partner, which, historically, it has yet to do.
For so many years, American thinking has been that a communist China is one of our greatest threats. And, to a great extent, it was. It now seems that a capitalist China—not just by itself, but also as a model for other rapidly developing nations—could be much worse—at least, for us.