By Pat Lopes Harris, Media Relations Director
San Jose Mercury News photographer Dai Sugano, an SJSU journalism grad, created this spectacular visual essay after traveling to Beijing. Demonstrating a new direction for photo journalism, the essay blends still and video images with captions to show how “this sprawling metropolis of 20 million is a canvas of contrasts.” Sugano’s colleague, John Boudreau, writes: “China’s communist political system is nominally committed to socialist egalitarianism, but its capital city contains some of the world’s greatest disparities between the haves and have-nots … Urban sophisticates in designer clothes pack nightclubs and sip champagne while migrant workers huddle in makeshift housing along construction sites, slurping noodles out of large tin cups.” Sugano is a frequent classroom speaker at SJSU’s School of Journalism and Mass Communications, which offers hands on instruction in multimedia and emerging new media technologies. Read Boudreau’s story below.
Beijing is a study in contrasts
Originally published by the San Jose Mercury News Dec. 13, 2011.
By John Boudreau
BEIJING — This sprawling metropolis of 20 million is a canvas of contrasts.
China’s communist political system is nominally committed to socialist egalitarianism, but its capital city contains some of the world’s greatest disparities between the haves and have-nots. The newly rich in Bentleys and Mercedes-Benzes rush by street vendors in donkey carts who come in daily from the countryside, some who earn barely $100 a year. Urban sophisticates in designer clothes pack nightclubs and sip champagne while migrant workers huddle in makeshift housing along construction sites, slurping noodles out of large tin cups.
China’s emergence has also created opportunities for well-educated Chinese to work and live abroad, including tens of thousands of tech workers now employed in Silicon Valley. The 2010 Census tallied 630,467 Chinese-Americans in the Bay Area, up 25 percent from the 2000 Census and more Chinese-American residents than anywhere in the United States other than New York City.
On a recent reporting trip to China, staff photographer Dai Sugano captured in images and video the contradictions on display every day in this rising economic giant.
Now the world’s second-largest economy, China is also its fastest-growing major economy, continuing to post impressive growth rates after three decades of spectacular economic performance, and despite the painful global recession. Hundreds of millions of Chinese have been lifted out of poverty as China has become the world’s largest exporter of goods and its second-largest importer.
Yet many Chinese have been left out of the nation’s economic miracle. Hundreds of millions of people living in the countryside remain mired in poverty.
China’s capital city is a tableau of the new and the old. In and around Tiananmen Square, flashes of patriotic images of the rising nation are displayed in two jumbo screens. “Firmly pushing forward the great cause of socialism with Chinese characteristics!” reads one slogan on a screen. iPhone-toting hipsters pose in front of a huge portrait of former Chairman Mao Zedong.
Images from the revolutionary era in which Chinese Communists violently opposed capitalism are juxtaposed with gleaming citadels created by China’s new heroes — captains of industry. China’s headlong embrace of a market economy, though, comes with caveats. The government plays a major role in guiding the economy and many of the nation’s most important companies are state-owned.
In the rush to be a leading 21st-century city, Beijing’s government has bulldozed many historic neighborhoods to make room for reach-for-the-sky development. The bustling city is crammed with towering office buildings containing high-end stores, from Gucci to Apple, filled with shoppers snatching up Tiffany jewelry, designer bags and bottles of $4,000 Château Pétrus wine. The quaint courtyard houses and labyrinthine hutong neighborhoods that defined Beijing for hundreds of years are mostly gone, and the few that remain are overshadowed by high-rise complexes.
The city is a magnet for migrant workers, with millions of rural Chinese pouring in to find their own Chinese Dream. But they often end up as second-class citizens: Under the country’s household registration system, migrant workers don’t qualify for many services, from public education to health care, unless they remain in their home province. Still, they stay because being a second-class citizen in Beijing often seems better than being a first-class citizen of a village with no jobs or future prospects.
Addressing the widening gap between the rich and poor is just one of many daunting tasks China faces as it transitions to the modern industrial society. The world awaits, with both anticipation and dread, the next chapter of its emergence as an economic powerhouse.
Contact John Boudreau at 408-278-3496.
19.6 million in 2010 (up from 13.6 million in 2000)
Gross domestic product per capita in 2010: $10,672 (up 6.2 percent over 2008)
Disposable income per capita in urban area: $3,914 (up 8.1 percent over 2008); in rural area: $1,754 (up 11.5 percent over 2008)
Home to 26 of the Fortune Global 500 companies, behind only Tokyo and Paris, and just ahead of New York
Source: National Bureau of Statistics of China, Beijing Government Statistics, Fortune Magazine