14 June 2015
Cities of Dreams and Nightmares
The documental China Rises: City of Dreams is part of a four-part television series co-produced by New York Times, Discovery Times, The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, ZDF, France 5 and S4C that centers in the dramatic change that Shanghai’s society is going through and how do its citizens deal with the rhythm of a city that less than thirty years ago was a still under a strict communist regime; as whereas today can be compared to cities such as New York and Toronto. China Rises: City of Dreams depicts an issue of society: Do people need to adapt to new times? Can they? And what would happen if they do not? Societies always change and by a range of different reasons; it might be war or the invention of some gadget, but the short-term result is always the same: there are some people who adapt, and some that don’t. Experiences show us that the ones who adapt forget about those who didn’t, and the result is exactly what is currently happening in Shanghai. Describing the situation, photographer Hu Yang1 said “The gap between rich and poor is huge, Shanghai’s society looks like a weightlifter’s bar, you have the rich and the poor like the large weights and a narrow middle class like a bar in between them”
The documental follows the stories of people who are successful today and people that did not adapt to new Shanghai. The ones that are showed as successful are part an incipient middle and high class. They are happy because they feel they have the freedom of doing and thinking whatever they want. Which is not exactly true. Government still controls the flow of information on the internet2 and there is no such thing as political democracy; the communist party has been in control of China ever since 1949; however, these people feel free because they now get to decide what to wear, where to eat and what to study. As they are being constantly entertained with these important but superficial aspects of life, they gradually disconnect with what happens around them. Without information, this generation is condemned to have little or no interest in the issues of their country and society.
Sadly, what this city most needs nowadays is compromise, responsible citizens who are aware that the big bucket of wealth has not been pour into all Shanghai’s residents. The old neighborhoods, which are currently being sublet by the government to build skyscrapers and big malls3, are still home for a large number of people that refuse to leave because the compensation offered to them was less than 1/3 of the real value of their properties. These people live in construction sites, most of the time without light or running water, waiting for the same government that promised them a wonderful life 50 years ago, to come and negotiate with them a more reasonable compensation; but as it appears, this won’t happen any time soon. The range of action people in this situation can take is limited; they do not have money to pay for lawyers, and they don’t have the skills to get a new job.
In that sense,