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Guy Sorman
Asian Megacities, Free and Unfree « Back to Story
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The convergence of nasty attacks against Asian megacities , Free and Unfree, clearly reveals the China Communist Party propaganda machine at full speed. I am quite used to it : every time I publish a text related to China, in France or in the US , I have to suffer exactly the same " comments". The commentators always try hard to deny my legitimacy and my right to write or to talk about China. The core arguments of my texts are never debated , following the Party guidelines : do not enter into a debate with the enemy , just stop him.
It is quite ironic that the "commentators" need to declare upfront , that they are "not Chinese" or that they are "Christians"and "Consevative". Why do they need to give us these personal informations? Others explain at length that they are Americans living in China... Therefore, they know better and they talk to their fellow Americans. Those are not very creative techniques to hide one's identity or interests.
Among the "commentators" , I am sure some honestly love Beijing: good for them. If they truly love China, they should admit that the Chinese people are fed up with the Party corruption: corruption is the main engine behind any building or public work in Beijing. The Beijing inhabitants who try to save what remains to be saved , are jailed or worse. Would any of my "commentators" deny this ? Even the China press mentions it.
The web allows the Party zealots, hidden under pseudos, to find me wherever I write. I am not impressed : I have lived in China, I write about China since 30 years, I even taught in Chinese Universities . And yes , I do support Liu Xiaobo since 1989. I am not a China basher: on the contrary , I do support free trade with China and human rights in China.
Regarding the published text , all the facts have been checked : this is the way we work at City Journal. True , one mistake has been made: the Starbucks' name in the Forbidden city has been changed. It is also the City Journal policy to publish all relevant informations on the author: yes, I am among many things , an advisor to the South Korean President . This rather symbolic function has not interfered with my descriptions of the Asian Cities I know for many years. The "commentators" anyway, have nothing to say about my description of Seoul : this confirms my suspicions- to say the least- on the true origin and nature of these "comments" .
Insulting the author and not debating the arguments reveal the true nature of the Party and his "friends".
What a biased writing! This article is just as cheap as a too obvious propaganda!(Pardon me: I am not a Chinese)
My oh my, if this is the kind of factually challenged hooey that Sorman is offering to Lee Myung Bak (love how that's dropped into Sorman's bio), I'm even more worried about the situation on the Korean peninsula than I was before reading it.

Yes, Mr. Sorman, politics shape cities.

But it's also the case that facts shape arguments and essays, and your so-called facts (thanks to the various commentators who have crowd-sourced City Journal's fact-checking department, post-publication) warp this essay into something I would fail if it were handed in by one of my undergrads.

I'm a conservative, and a Christian, so there's not much I like about the CCP. But I surely don't let my biases get in the way of making reasoned arguments.
Mr. Sorman,

Do you own a passport? If so have you ever been to China?
Guy Sorman - So let me get this straight. You attack the people who point out that your article is packed FULL of factual errors by suggesting that the people who are pointing out those errors are doing so because they are in/pro-China, and then suggest - without basis - that they are defending China's human rights record. And then, to top it off, you suggest that they don't appreciate your main argument - that politics shape cities. Well, I'll be - what an original argument.

I used to respect City Journal. I used to read it regularly. But this is not only beneath City Journal, it's beneath the average high school newspaper. Shame on you, the editors of this publication, and the Manhattan Institute. By allowing this kind of politically motivated, factually AND intellectually dishonest and disingenuous garbage, it has utterly debased itself.
Most of the comments are clearly pro China , or made in China, without considering my main argument : politics shape cities. Some of the comments are over the top , like pretending that China is governed by the rule of law: go and ask Liu Xiaobo in his jail!
I did make a mistake : Starbucks in Beijing has become "The Forbiden City Café".
Shanghai versus Hong Kong? Hong Kong has remained the financial hub for China. Why ? Rule of law in Hong Kong , of course not in Shanghai.
"You cannot dispute the facts."

You can if they're wrong and many are here in this article. "Today, seven concentric highways loop the city of 10 million."

No, today six ring roads loop a city of 20 million. What former mayor of Beijing told Sorman -- years ago -- that there's a 7th Ring Road? Who told him they live between the 6th and 7th Ring Roads (maybe in the Delta Quadrant)?

What Starbucks are Americans going to find in the Forbidden City -- the one that closed in 2007?

You'd think someone who has visited a city every year for decades and claims to be intimately familiar with the place, might have a clue about approximately how many people live there and not be off by 10 million, little things like that.

When you get this much wrong, from the basic facts such as population to generalizations with no basis in fact (no cultural life! the sidewalks roll up at 8pm! nightlife is only for the rich elite!) then who can take even his opinions seriously? Especially if they actually live here right now.

What a gloomy assessment, Guy...
There is much more of the old world to see in these great cities than you would have us believe, albeit some are reconstructions as you point out.
Interesting how the Chinese still don't understand that the rest of the world values authenticity rather than facades. No wonder they get angry when their fakery is pointed out.

And yes, it was blindingly obvious that the Shanghai math/science performance was the result of having only the upper class test. Another example of China's infantile obsession with maintaining a false image. They just don't realize that when they "overshoot", they end up looking silly, defeating the whole purpose of the exercise.
Remember the fake educational statistics from 3 weeks ago, saying that Shanghai led the world in science and math score?

I wonder what the test real scores were from West Shanghai, where the slave population lives, most of the real population?

A fair amount of crap here regarding Shanghai and Beijing. Like it or not, in order to prevent overloads on cities, China seeks ways to restrict massive migration from the countryside to the large cities. The key strategy has been to create satellite cities. I'm not sure what else the author would have China do to gradually develop and raise the quality of living of its people. In any event, Shanghai is a very cool place. If Ayn Rand were suddenly dropped down in its middle, she'd demand to know "when were the Communists defeated?"
Adam Nathaniel Mayer December 24, 2010 at 3:54 AM
I'm pretty much in agreement with most of the commenters here, especially the ones who have experience living on the ground in China.

In response, I've written a criticism of Sorman's piece on my blog, the China Urban Development Blog:
I agree with Minter for why HK firms invest in Shanghai. Sorman is 100% wrong and ignorant. Today this article from Hong Kong Standard show why:

Firms opt for Shanghai base

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Shanghai has overtaken Hong Kong as the favorite city for firms to set up headquarters in Greater China, according to a survey.

One in two business leaders chose Shanghai compared with just 21 percent picking Hong Kong, according to workplace solutions provider Regus, which polled 300 firms.

"It is expensive to establish businesses in Hong Kong, especially with office rents rising," said Hans Leijten, Regus vice president, East Asia.

Rents for top-end offices in Hong Kong's central business district have soared to HK$11,294.40 per square meter annually compared with US$558 (HK$4,352.40) in Shanghai, according to Jones Lang LaSalle data.

Location is another major factor. "China has made no secret that it wants Shanghai to become the world's leading financial center by 2020," Leijten said. "With gross domestic product in Shanghai expected to grow at 8.3 percent next year against Hong Kong's 4.4 percent, relocation of multinational companies to Shanghai will continue."

Twenty-four global corporations, including Walt Disney and Kraft, moved their regional headquarters to Shanghai this year, joining 280 other multinationals. At the same time, while many firms are transferring their regional headquarters from Hong Kong to Shanghai, other firms are moving from Singapore to the SAR, which Leijten said has many advantages.

"The city has a very good legal system, good service and banking industries and a sound tax structure." TONY LIAW

Does Sorman think Kraft and Disney move to shanghai so they can launder money? He really know nothing about China. China has many problems but so do "journalists" who want to make a political point instead of talking fact.
Thank you once again, Mr. Sorman, for your insightful observation of these Asian cities. I just wonder how you read Daniel A. Bell--a Confucianist who admires China, perhaps too much.
Mr. Sorman:

As I pointed out in my last comment, the matri-lineal transmission of the hukou was abolished in 1998, nationally and in Shanghai. That you wrote otherwise in your book doesn't change the hard, cold fact. Indeed, citing your book for a fact is a bit like telling me "It's true because I once said it." You are wrong on this point (in shanghai, it's necessary only to have one parent - father OR mother - to transmit, so spare me the word game in your last comment), and I hope the second edition of your book - if there ever is one - will correct that wrong. At a minimum, perhaps you could email some of your Chinese friends in Beijing and ask them to send you the relevant regulations.

Mr. Sorman, your ideological biases obviously trump your commitment to the truth. That happens sometimes, and I certainly empathize. Better luck on your next trip to Beijing.

Adam Minter

M. Sorman,

That you lived in Beijing in 2006 and "have Chinese friends" makes the howling errors in your piece all the more stunning.

There are still hutong, and vibrant small neighborhoods with shops and restaurants which stay open and busy past 8:00, and many large parks. Beijing also has several historic sites beyond the Forbidden City.

Does Beijing have problems? Sure. Are the 're-development plans' put forth by the municipal government often poorly planned and destructive? Absolutely.

My quibbles are not with your interpretations, but facts, such as those listed above and by C. Custer below, which were either inadequately researched and/or poorly conveyed.

To Adam Minter,
The Hukou system or Interior passport has not been abolished. Each Chinese citizen is thus tied to his or her mother birth place. In Shanghai only, the city citizenship can be transmitted by a father to his children in case he is married with a Shanghaiese woman ( see my book on the subject: The Empire of lies , Encounter , New York).
I did not write that there were no Hong Kong investments in Shanghai : there are , usually mainland money laundered in Hong Kong . I wrote that Shanghai has not taken over Hong Kong because there is no rule of law in mainland China.
Dear Jeremiah,
I know Beijing since 1967 : I have been there every year since . All my observations are first hand and shared by most of my Chinese friends who live there. Moreover , I lived there for a whole one , in 2006. You may disagree with my interpretations but you cannot dispute the facts. By the way, I have never visited Guam.
Guy Sorman
Space does not permit a rebuttal to all of the howlers in this piece, the gross tonnage of which suggests that either the author skipped his Beijing visit entirely and went tanning in Guam, or else never left Terminal 3.

I have, however, taken the liberty of noting some of the more outrageous and egregious errors and reviewing them here.

What an utterly ignorant, stupid article. As an eight year resident of Shanghai, living in the heart of downtown, I would have been happy to introduce Mr. Sorman to the migrant laborers in my neighborhood. There are thousands.

Does City View have a fact-checker? If it did, that fact-checker would have red-lined Sorman's claim that urban citizenship (more precisely, the hukou registration) is transmitted through the mother. In fact, that system was abolished in 1998, and now a hukou can be transmitted through mother OR father. A not insignificant factual error, don't you think?

As for the lack of Hong Kong investment in Shanghai - is he talking about Shanghai, Kansas? Or did he miss the giant new Hong Kong Shanghai Banking Corporation tower in Liujiazui? That's the financial district, by the way, where Hong Kong banking firms and trading houses are opening up branch offices and mainland headquarters at a rapid pace. Sorman's suggestion that Hong Kong remains more attractive due to the "rule of law" shows an intense naivete about how the Chinese - and global - financial system works. Hong Kong moves to China because that's where the money is.

Shanghai has plenty of problems, but not the one that Sorman suggests. Did he even bother to visit the city before writing this? An article totally, utterly, beneath a publication that has any self-respect. Way to go.
As someone who lives in Beijing, I find your characterization of Beijing preposterous. Dead city after 8pm? Shops replaced by malls? No parks? All that remains of old Beijing is the Forbidden City?

Honestly, have you ever even BEEN to Beijing? Because all of those characterizations are misleading (to put it generously).
"But this isn’t North Korea, which means, as Oh observes, that “eventually, the market will decide.”

This is telling. Here, an elected official of a democratic government is essentially saying he has no power to decide anything - that it's up to an unelected business elite to decide how people live. How is that the ambition of "free citizens?"
alfredo de vido/architect December 20, 2010 at 4:39 PM
Your magazine is excellent. Thank you for your free on line subscription
What BS. I write from Shanghai, which makes my beloved native New York look like a hick town, and I've visited a half dozen Chinese cities in the past month that are thriving in vibrant, clean, tree-lined streets. These people are on to something- it's not communism, either- and they know it. It may not be our style, but it's working for a huge and happy and growing middle class. Better start studying Chinese.
Mr.Sorman is a champion of democracy, but his comment that South Korea has nothing to fear from North Korea just doesn't make sense.

I wonder whats worse, the mindless building of Red China or that of our country during the real estate bubble?

Is life better for America's permanent welfare class or Shanghai's migrant factory workers? We are more violent, addicted,and probably ignorant. But ignorance isn't bliss. I think these Chinese migrants will succeed before America's urban deadbeats.
Just a normal american absurd article that supports seoul and opposes China. Nothing but quintessential a reflection of the American way of thinking
SF v. NYC: The Tale of Two Utopias.

"With Seoul’s population burgeoning and the city limits restrained by geography, where to put everyone? Mayor Oh’s partial solution: skyscrapers."

Oh? Until when?

It is amazing when people seem to have so many facts stuffed into their heads, and yet seem to know so little about the earth's ecology that provides them with life itself.

One of the most deceptive aspects of overpopulation and its pattern of growth is that when it is ramping ever-upward and tied to a growing economy it looks as if booming growth is the answer to everything--until it isn't, and it crashes, taking a civilization and the underlying, now spent, natural resource base with it.

The next time this happens it will likely happen globally. Lots of luck coming back from that one, because we will no longer have the abundant, easier to access resources we originally used to build our present civilization to its moon-walk heights.

To read this article you sometimes think that the only problem is exactly where and how to creatively and attractively stack people.

I don't know what the figure would be now, but an estimate I read some years back was that it takes something like nine acres to support each American, counting everything from crops to freeways to watershed. Wealthy high-density urban societies simply import land, in other words, the things that lots of land and cheap labor can supply, as long as that unsustainable arrangement lasts.

I once ran across another figure, which I have mercifully forgotten, which projected world population growth to the point where the total mass of human flesh will outweigh the planet earth itself, and it was not as long as you might think, in world history terms.

As I am writing this, I just checked the Census Bureau U.S. Population Clock: 310,939,519. And the World Population Clock: 6,888,714,616.

And, of course, both figures are ever-growing, ever-growing ...

Pity Americans. They apparently must choose between San Francisco Social Services and Their Latest Urban Planning Utopianism, versus the Business Booster and Law and Order and Their Latest Urban Planning Utopianism, neither of which is capable of doing the simple math that would tell them that no amount of "compassion" and "tolerance," nor glittery new skyscrapers and law and order (although definitely count me in on that last one) and thriving democracy, and, oh gosh, just general exciting thrivyness will keep humans from running up against finite natural resources. Sure, alternatives, "substitutions," as economists call them, can be found in some cases, but if they are 10 times more expensive, you will still run into an economic-ecological brick wall.

That New York City is more clean and orderly and that fewer are on welfare is a very big plus, as long as it lasts, until the city inevitably becomes more of a Third World capital and starts to move away from Western values that many Westerners, so long at the top of the heap, now simply assume are just The Way Enlightened People Think.

At least the San Francisco social welfare model and the new shining pro-business mega-cities model have one thing in common: they both think that total numbers of people make no difference. We just need to reshuffle the deck, the ever-growing deck.

A truly sustainable society could be a wonderful one. So much energy could be spent on making life better that we now spend on mindless physical growth and its annoying to deadly unintended consequences. As far as construction, just undoing and replacing the bad construction and restoring the fine old construction would be an endless and exciting task.

But we are unlikely to ever find out. Obviously Western optimism has meant some amazing accomplishments, but it likely to be what finally does us in, now that it has become untethered form reality, from numbers, from ecology.

The growth-at-all-costs people are fond of repeating, "If you don't grow, you die." But in terms of human physical growth, if you keep growing, you have gigantism, and you die earlier. When human population sizes become unsustainable no amount of social programs or business boosterism and scifi dreams of sleek soaring skyways and Blade Runner-like hovercars will save us.

There is more and more good science on healthy sustainability. We just need to pursue it.
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note: Even if one doesn't always agree with all the articles in City Journal, and how boring would that be, its quality is definitely a cut above. Thank you for that and congratulations on hitting the Big 20.
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Border Enforcement + Immigration Moratorium = Job, Crime and Eco Insanity.

Pretty bad article, author doesn't know what he is saying or what he is trying to talk about.
I'm pretty sure Seoul is going to get nukes or bombed into the stone age when China gives permission for North Korea to attack.

excellent article great analysis
Thanks for an interesting and informative article. The mainland Chinese are continuing the same "build it bigger than anyone else" strategy that proved unsustainable in the USSR. If that system was best, the South Koreans would be starving, and the North Koreans would be buying air time to run commercials with hot Korean girls to promote the excellent service of their national airline.
This is a very confused peice of work and the author has taken information and interpreted it with very little understanding of the background of these cities. For example the factories are obviously not to be placed in the middle of the city in Shanghai. Which fool would do this. Do you get factories in downtown New York or London? Also there are plenty of migrants in China's cities and the growth of the population is due to more migrants. Is this guy stupid, how does he think the population is growing. the writer obviosuly knows very little about the history, politics and culture hence motivation of those planning the cities in which he talks about.
Do the Koreans and the Chinese read Malthus? Is the draconian Chinese effort towards one child per couple effective? Omitted here is India..... another massive population-social-studies laboratory.