Is Huaxi the next Shanghai?

Sian
Monday 17 Oct 2011

China's richest village opens luxury 328m tower as it begins an architectural ascent


In the 1950s it was home to around 600 hardworking farmers. Today this figure stands closer to 35,000. We are of course talking of Huaxi, a so-called ‘village’ in China’s Jiangsu province sprawling outwards at breakneck speed which last week opened a breathtakingly lavish 328m tower costing 3bn Yuan (£301m).

An Internet storm followed as blogs and Twitter users picked up on reports from reliable news sources listing seemingly impossible statistics: a £31m solid gold statue of an ox weighing over a tonne; a large proportion of the Huaxi villagers each donating 10m Yuan in shares; genuine flakes of gold inlaid on the reception floor...

The 800-suite building which acts primarily as a hotel and conference centre under the title Longxi International Hotel has become a symbol of China’s construction industry but for many, this is a bridge too far. Jonathan Watts, respected contributor to The Guardian, penned an enlightening article on Thursday detailing the troubles that may arise on the back of this luxury tower.

He explains: “In making the transition from third-world village to first-world skyscraper, Huaxi is in many ways a microcosm of China. But the next step will be harder as it tries to cope with the declining competitiveness of its core industry [iron and steel], the inflated cost of land and worries about the environment. In this case, an even wider comparison can be drawn: like the global economy, Huaxi may be bumping up against limits to growth.”

This isn’t a new phenomenon in China. Many of the nation’s most industrious cities have expanded swiftly through diversification into new fields, turning from agriculture to the iron and steel markets in the pursuit of rapid riches. Hong Kong and Beijing both swallowed up handfuls of minor villages on their perimeters as additional square miles were needed for the influx of new residents attracted by the growing financial rewards of such industrious developments.

It is in Shanghai that we find the closest comparison however. Once a modest coastal town relying on the textile and fishing industries for income, Shanghai’s economy boomed in the nineteenth century as international trading began to increase. Slowing in the mid twentieth century, the community (now considered a city) has grown extensively in the last two decades in terms of commerce and architectural development and is now home to some of the world’s most impressive (and expensive) buildings.

So has Shanghai set a sustainable business model for Huaxi? Potentially, but many put the latter’s recent wealth down to one man as opposed to pre-existing geographical elements for economic development. Wu Renbao is Party Chief of Huaxi Village, has been a delegate to two Communist Party National Congresses and is an elected deputy to the National People’s Congress. His work in escalating the living situation of Huaxi’s original residents has also earned him a place on a list of ‘Top National Contributors to Poverty-Alleviation’.

Speaking to The Guardian, the 84 year old Renbao determined: “[Longxi International Hotel] is my idea. We learned from Dubai, but taking into account our domestic situation, we decided the height should be 328m. Why 328m? Because that is as tall as the highest building in Beijing ... We used to have a very difficult life. We lived in a thatched shed, ate bran and had nothing in our pockets. I think it will never be wrong to expand the economy and make ordinary people rich. In our opinion, that is the priority.”

Sian Disson
News Editor

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