So, what is it like to live in China?
That’s a question with many answers.
Many, many answers.
When I came to China, I hadn’t given much thought to the place. I had a vague view of the country, based on popular culture references and news items which I had stumbled across.
To me China was exotic, and that is all I needed to know.
It is only after living here for a year and a half that I am beginning to understand the variety that China has to offer. The country is so large, and so variable, in terms of geography, history, culture and language that a person can get lost here for years, for decades.
I, myself, live in the industrial city, Foshan, one of the largest cities in the country’s most populous province, Guangdong.
The name can be divide into two Chinese characters Fo and Shan, which together means Buddha Mountain, derived from either a mountain in the rural town Xiqiao, or from a trio of bronze Buddha statues found in the city in 628 AD.
Foshan is split into five districts, each with a varying level of importance. Chancheng, Nanhai, Shunde, Gaoming and Sanshui.
Historically there is a lot to talk about. After starting this blog I decided that it would be a good idea to do some solid research on Foshan. Before, I was able to talk in an abstract way about the city, but what I have since found out has left me more than a little bit shocked.
Foshan has a long history, that’s true, but more interesting than the history of how this city thrived, is how it impacts the world today.
According to online magazine Macau Hub, Shunde produces half the world’s air-conditioners and refrigerators. That is 50%. Think about that. There aren’t many houses that I know about without a refrigerator and, in certain parts of the world, an air conditioner.
I remember on one trip that I took to Shunde, we visited the Bruce Lee Museum. We took a bus there, driving over the bridge that links Chancheng with Shunde and passed a small city of factories. Storefronts bearing items ranging from electronic appliances to traditional chinese furniture zipped by the window for ten minutes or more.
Shunde is a veritable furnace, in which goods are produced, sold, exported. In Shunde you may sit back and admire the greenery and the lush forests and fields, in one moment, while in the next moment you are knocked back on your heels by the industry.
Complaints always arise about the state of China’s pollution. China is the most polluted country on Earth, and why? The onus has fallen on the Chinese to produce much more of the world’s goods than any other country on Earth.
Perhaps you have never heard of Specialised Industrial Towns. I had never heard of them either, until I came to China. In Foshan there are 30 specialised towns dotted throughout, each of which, as the name suggests, specialise in a particular trade – such as electrical appliances, furniture, ceramics etc.
Foshan is intersected by the Fen River. When I run, I run along the Fen River, and I watch in horror as locals swim alongside massive, hulking tankers transporting God Knows What to the port in Guangzhou.
Foshan’s proximity to China’s third city, Guangzhou, is very important. The two cities are connected by a metro line. The trip from downtown Foshan to downtown Guangzhou typically lasting somewhere in the region of an hour. The two cities are working together to share a common metropolitan zone.
Guangzhou’s 10 million plus residents, added to Foshan’s 7 million plus residents could, if combined, put this Southern megacity into direct competition with the two sprawling metropolis’ further north, Shanghai and Beijing.
Guangzhou is just one of Foshan’s strong neighbours, however. To the south you have Zhuhai and Macau, and then further to the east are Shenzhen and Hong Kong. Guangdong is already China’s most populous, and possibly most important, province, but if the rate of growth in each of these six cities mentioned above continues along the current trend, who knows what implications there may be for the wider world, and China itself.
Imagine that, a sleepy, industrial, ceramics-driven town that you have never heard of could soon be part of the most important and powerful area on Earth.
What do we really know about Foshan, as it is?
Bruce Lee has roots here. His teacher IP Man was born and trained here. The film, based on the aforementioned IP Man, was also set here.
That’s all? What else is there?
In the shade of more glamorous neighbours, a supposed sleeping giant has, in fact, been toiling. It’s unlikely that you can come across even a fraction of the culture that you find in Guanghou or Hong Kong when you come to Foshan, but in the modern China, the China whose value is based around monetary worth and raw materials, Foshan is one town on whose shoulders the fate of the future of China will rest.