I just watched an interesting documentary called The World's Largest Shopping Mall, about a massive development twice the size of the Mall of America in Minnesota in Dongguan, Guandong Province.
The short film is filled with images of a practically dead mall complete with a canal and gondolas a la Venice. There are only 12 tenants in there and the main investors, a state-owned enterprise, is determined to keep the mall open and even hiring Ted deSwart, a mall consultant to figure out how to get customers in the door.
The guy who started the whole project, a hometown boy called Alex Hu obviously didn't do his market research and threw money into creating a monument as a symbol of his legacy.
But what he's left behind is a shell that was supposed to house consumer ecstasy. Dongguan is not exactly Beijing or Shanghai -- it's an industrial town in south China where many factories are located, meaning most of the people living there cannot afford to buy anything in this fancy mall.
Meanwhile a number of high-speed railway trains being built now. There used to be a slow train running between Beijing and Tianjin. Last year a new one was built that only takes 30 minutes. However, not everyone can afford to ride it. A second-class ticket costs 58RMB ($8.50), but a hard seat on a slow train on the same route costs 11RMB ($1.61).
China is spending billions of renminbi on high-tech infrastructure that people cannot afford or not willing to pay for. While it is good that the country is investing in the future, what is the point of building all these things that will be left mostly unused?
As many outsiders have said before, China should be investing in its people -- and that means providing a better social safety net, from a well-run health care system that does not gouge its users, children get access to education regardless of their financial situation, and seniors get a decent pension as they can't depend on their adult children to look after them as they live far away.
Instead it chooses to showcase to the world and to its own people that is has the most modern trail transport system or the biggest mall in the world -- only to be empty or under utilized.
What is the point of that? This hollow rhetoric that is short-lived.
This shallowness shows China will do anything for face. The government recently announced that by the end of next year, China's GDP per capita will reach $4,000. Nine years ago it projected its GDP per capita should reach $3,000 by 2020. Talk about an astronomical rise.
But figures aren't everything, as some Chinese people are now complaining online that the figure of $4,000 does not accurately represent the majority of people in China, especially not those in the rural areas. It definitely shows there is a small number of outrageously wealthy people while the rest are mostly scraping by.
While the government wants its people will be proud of China's achievements, the population isn't blindly crowing about them either.