Shedding Kunming’s Old Skin – What Lies Beneath?

Even some of the locals here in Kunming tell me that the city has changed so quickly that they can hardly recognize it from one day to the next. A French woman, living and working here now, told me that she came to Kunming about 15 years ago. When I asked about how the place has changed, she couldn’t even find words for it.

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I got on my bike this morning, in a hurry and in danger of being late for class, as usual, and set out to weave my way through the masses of university students, workers, and vendors selling interesting breakfast food that clog the narrow alley between Xue Fu Lu and 121 Street. I crossed the railroad tracks just as a huge rumbling and crashing seemed to spew a cloud of dust all over the passing students. Rounding the corner, piles of concrete and rubble rose above, a mountain of it, where normal looking buildings had stood the day before.

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Go down almost any street, and you get the feeling that the entire city is in a perpetual state of construction, destruction, renewal – change. A lot has been noted about the human costs of the kind of and pace of change and development in China. The Three Gorges Dam project, not too far away from the the city of Kunming, is an excellent example, for it is full of contradiction. On the one hand, there are literally millions of people whose lives and livelihoods have been disrupted, entire towns that have disappeared beneath the waters of the instant man made lake. On the other hand, the power that the dam will produce will replace energy that could have come from the burning of coal or other fossil fuels. How does one way the costs and benefits?

The government just recently passed laws regarding land ownership as well as taxation, reflecting China’s efforts to engage in and yet control its own change and development, in a global context. Both of these changes in law directly affect the presence of foreign business in the country. China seems to be encouraging the development of global economic ties while at the same time trying to keep a firm grasp on the socialist system that the Peoples’ Republic has heralded since its founding.

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