What is the role of communication technology in the development of global cities and what is the significance of metropolises in global economy? These were overarching questions we – a group of eleven students of the Graduate Program International Communication and Dr. Basilio Monteiro – explored during our two-week study trip to the People’s Republic of China. Right after New Year’s, on January 2, we took off to China’s capital Beijing where we spent our first week exploring ancient as well as modern sites, which were and are integral for the development of the city. For the second week, we travelled to warmer climates, to study at Sanya University on the tropical island of Hainan, the most southern province of China.
As students of International Communication we were fortunate enough to visit and study one of the globally most important hubs for international connections, commerce and communications – Beijing – with a rich history dating back three millennia. In one of our lectures at Sanya University, we learned about the urbanization process of big Chinese cities like Beijing and population migration in China, especially the so-called floating population. For the past years, mainly young people from rural areas have moved in masses to urban areas to find work there, for example in manufacturing, construction, retails and sales.
These migrant workers live in urban villages or dormitories provided by employers like Foxconn, a multinational electronics contract manufacturing company that has raised public concern due to controversial working conditions in the past. Information technology products that Foxconn manufactures include iPhone, iPad, Kindle and BlackBerry, for example. Throughout the years, the major workforce of the floating population and their production of exportable goods made way for China’s economy to grow rapidly, to become the world’s largest exporter of goods and to make the country internationally competitive. Today, China is known to be the factory of the world and its economy is the world’s second largest by nominal GDP.
However, recent news reports state that growth of the Chinese economy has slowed down toward the end of 2016 and is expected to slow further in 2017 (CNN Money, 2017). China’s floating population is shrinking, as older workers find themselves forced to move back to rural areas due to extremely high living expenses in the cities and high performance pressure at their jobs. Additionally, young workers’ migration from rural to urban areas has been slowed down greatly. Will this be the end of the Chinese miracle?
The lack of young workers is partially a result of the country’s one-child policy that was relaxed and replaced by a two-child policy in 2016. Consequently, newspapers just recently reported on China’s birthrate in 2016 being the highest this century (The Guardian, 2017). Still, the policy change might have come too late in the fight against a rapidly aging population.
Regarding China-US relations under the Trump administration, a term that was often heard during the last days, is trade war. Only few days ago, Trump said that everything, including the one-China policy is under negotiation. However, now that Trump withdrew USA from TPP, the door is open for China’s own trade deal known as the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP).
All in all, this trip allowed us to gain greater understanding for the development and the significance of global cities, for Chinese culture and politics. Beyond this, travelling to China and experiencing Chinese culture, mentality, food, philosophy, history and education allowed us to broaden our personal horizons and it changed our perceptions of China and of the Chinese people.
Written by Julia Theilen, a student of the M.S. International Communication at St. John’s University, New York.