Where Are All the People?

We left the cities behind yesterday, flying out of Hangzhou airport to Guilin in Guanxi province. The Boeing 737-800 was packed to the gills. Either the Chinese travel really light or they check all their luggage. Julia’s day pack was the only item in the overhead bin.

Driving around Shanghai and the the lake country 2-3 hours south, there are legions of high rise towers. Many completed, but many more in the process of being built. In many places 5 or 6 or 8 high rises are going up together, each with their own tower crane. Most are more than 20 stories and they cover much of the ground in that megopolis. It is awesome, the numbers of buildings that are here and being built. Everywhere, they are filling up the land with high rises. Having seen the 60 Minutes piece on empty high rises, I wonder how many of these have any people living in them.

When we reach Guilin, there are a few more high rises going up on the city outskirts, but for the most part the building is far more benign. Although it seems that every building is either in the process of being demolished or in the process of being built. Nothing is complete in either direction. So you see a house that has a business or residence on the first floor, maybe some curtains on the second, and scaffolding holding up the third floor until the windows get installed. Which in some cases looks like it might already have been years.

There are also a great many vegetable gardens. But there aren’t many people!
There are trucks and cars and motorcycles and motorbikes and bicycles on the highway, but in a country with 1.3 billion people, there should be more of them out here. The countryside is almost emptier than parts of the Adirondack Park, and is almost as empty in places as the desert southwest. Where are the people? Our guide says some of them are working in Guangdong province where all the factories are. But that still doesn’t account for the empty gardens and buildings.

If it’s true that all the China’s population is moving into the high rises around the cities, and no one is left in the countryside to make food, what will happen here?


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