The internal migration happening in China right now is the largest in human history. However, as subsistence farmers from the impoverished rural areas, who account for over two thirds of the population, make their way to the rapidly expanding cities in search of their slice of the cake, there is another migration taking place against this flow. Much of the industry is moving outwards, to the city limits and beyond. By doing this, jobs are brought to impoverished rural regions and urban air quality gets a much needed boost. The original industry was moved out of these disintegrating factories on a sprawling site by the Ma Lan River in the west of Dalian over a year ago. Phase one of this brownfield redevelopment is already nearing completion, with the first of several luxury high-rises having emerged from their chrysalis of scaffolding just a week ago. With resources so tight in China though, no opportunity is wasted. The remaining blocks on death row have been recolonised by car body spraypainting teams and rows of metal bunks have been moved into the sheds to be squatted by migrant workers. Week by week, the ball and chain brushes aside the hammer and sickle and reduces to another block to rubble. In a year this building and its unintentionally abstract patterns will no doubt be gone too. There's no time for sentamentality though. By then, another temporary site will have become available for the spraypainters and this current batch of migrants will either have made enough money to return to their village a hero or else found their footing on the next rung of the urban ladder. Perhaps then the most ruthless oppressor in modern China is not politics or economics, but the present over the past.
Dalian, Sept 2006