China is one of the world’s fastest growing economies in the world, so naturally has seen some drastic changes in its culture and way of life.
I aim to discover how life has changed for those living in China over the generations; what the living conditions were like, and how they are now. To what extent has the ongoing construction work changed China’s biggest cities and are old traditions being abandoned due to a culture that is suffering with these ongoing drastic changes.
The ‘City of Dreams’ documentary is a brilliant insight to the unbelievable changes that are happening in Shanghai. With a staggering population of 23 million, Shanghai is the ‘posing symbol of China’s phenomenal growth’ and its current redevelopment is called the ‘largest construction project in the world.’ With its middle class making a surge of wealth and its incredible ‘science-fiction’ skyline Shanghai really is the ‘new’ China. With the considerable amount of construction work that is ever changing Shanghai’s skyline, it is said that the streets now resemble those of New York and Toronto, with McDonald’s, H&M’s, designer shops and numerous starbucks on every street. Shanghai has clearly been heavily influenced by Western cultures and over the years has seen its own culture disappear.
So how has this changed the lives of many civilians in China? This documentary followed three people, an upcoming advertising and film director, a fashion designer whose aim is to conquer the fashion world and a lady who has lost almost everything due to these changes.
This recent economic boom has affected everyone in China, in particular those that aren’t well off. For this one lady, she has lost her job, her home and is now worried she won’t be able to support her son. She is one of 2 million other residents in Shanghai who have lost their homes. Dealing with this struggle can be unbearable; her husband tried to fight the system and is now in jail.
Many homes are being destroyed to make room for new high-rise apartments thus destroying old communities that families have lived in for generations. To add to this struggle, many homeowners in these small communities have only been offered a fraction of what their homes are actually worth which leads them unable to afford a new home in the city once their homes have been destroyed.
Not only are small communities being destroyed, but also ancient buildings that hold hundreds of years of culture and history. A statement from the book ‘City of Heavenly Tranquility’ by Jasper Becker really stood out to me. Becker talks about how many ancient buildings have been destroyed but the Chinese authorities ‘have constructed ‘new’ historic buildings or temples from scratch’ for tourism purposes.
Whilst many families are suffering with these changes, others are finding the advantages of this economic boom. An upcoming advertising and film director talks about being the first generation in almost fifty years to not be controlled by the communist party. He goes on to talk about Shanghai’s booming advertising prospects and how he has benefitted greatly, but also talks about his past and memories of living a very ordinary life, wearing simple clothing and living in cramped living conditions. He also talked about how traditions have changed and how the younger generations of China are in no rush to get married or have children. They simply want to enjoy life.
Along with the director, a passionate fashion designer has also benefited from these changes. China is known for its incredible culture and family traditions, however over time the younger generations find it almost impossible to find work close to home, so nowadays many are moving away from home to pursue their dreams or find a job. This is exactly what this young fashion designer did. She moved to the city to pursue her dreams and now she is a very respected fashion designer in Shanghai. She talked about how some cultural traditions help keep her family together, but others have been completely abandoned. She remembers how disappointed her grandparents were when the younger generation started to move away. Her grandparents wanted her family to stay together as traditionally the more people there are in a family, the more prosperous you become. Like many women in China, she was determined to be a part of the ‘hip new urban lifestyle’ and enjoyed leaving the old restrictions and attitudes that stopped women from achieving their dreams behind.
Another major change in the Chinese society is the cost of education. This documentary also addressed the issue of families moving to smaller apartments as the cheap rent allows the parents to provide a good education for their children. Education has become very important and many children in China are feeling the pressure to do well so they can move away and earn a better living than their parents.
Other sources, such as China’s Housing Crisis, an article by Peter Yuan Cai, gives details on how expensive it is for new couples in China to buy a new home in China’s ever-changing economy. Not only do they need to save money themselves but they also need the support from both parents and grandparents – ‘Three generations of savings are thus exhausted in buying a single house.’
China will continue to change for many years to come. It’s clear their traditions is what keeps their culture alive, but how much longer will this last?