National Geographic magazine’s May China issue covers a wide array of topics with an overall emphasis on the transformation occurring in the country today. Featuring articles by Amy Tan, Brook Larmer, Ted C. Fishman, Leslie T. Chang and Peter Hessler, the special issue takes an in-depth look at such subjects as tensions facing a traditional rural village, China’s emerging middle class, the pollution of the Yellow River and the burgeoning architecture in Beijing. Readers will find a current, engaging primer on issues affecting everyday life in China and analysis of what the future may hold.
In addition to feature coverage, the all-China issue includes a series of short essays on topics ranging from the copying of art masterpieces, political dissent and concerns about the shrinking workforce to the emerging car culture, energy consumption and environmental, health and cultural issues. Also included are maps showing the Great Wall (actually many disconnected sections snaking across and around the country) and the ethnic make-up of the country, as well as a snapshot of the percentages of Chinese practicing various religions.
This introductory essay offers Peter Hessler’s perspective on China, shaped first as a Peace Corps teacher in 1996 and later as a writer. He explains, “…because the government continues to severely restrict political freedom, people are accustomed to avoiding [large social problems]. My students taught me that everything was personal — history, politics, foreign relations — but this approach creates boundaries as well as connections. For many Chinese, if a problem doesn’t affect them personally, it might as well not exist.”
As the state increasingly retreats from citizens’ private lives, Chinese society is changing. People are free to choose where to live, work and travel, and material opportunities expand year by year. The middle class is now estimated to number between 100 million and 150 million. Many people own cars, homes and appliances; they eat out, take vacations and have lifestyles they could never have enjoyed a decade ago. While this sudden prosperity brings undreamed-of freedom, it also brings new anxieties and pressures, especially for children, who inhabit a world that combines old and new.
For a thousand years the lives of the Dong people have resounded with song. Living in rural Guizhou Province, the Dong people have no written form of their language; instead, they record their history through song. Their distinctive culture endures, but for how long?
Written by award-winning author Amy Tan and photographed by Lynn Johnson.
As China prepares for the Olympics, new architecture is being created at a feverish pace for a giant coming-out party. In the works are futuristic structures such as a new 91,000-seat National Stadium that resembles a bird’s nest and a National Aquatics Center based on the structure of soap bubbles. More than 1 million workers are busily turning Beijing into what is perhaps the largest construction zone in history.
Written by Ted C. Fishman (author of China, Inc.) and photographed by Greg Girard.
The Yellow River, the lifeline of China’s northern heartland, is facing increased pollution and overuse. As the country’s spectacular economic boom continues, factories, farms and cities are proliferating and bringing deadly pollution to the people who rely on the river for their livelihood. Cities along the river are becoming some of the most polluted in the world.
Peter Hessler takes a look at China’s future, describing the nation’s lack of social institutions as perhaps its biggest human rights challenge. That, combined with short-sighted development driven by local government, a lack of individual commitment to environmental challenges and the West’s demand for cheap Chinese goods, means that China’s growth will present huge challenges to itself and to the global community that helps fuel the country’s economic expansion.
Written by Peter Hessler and photographed by Fritz Hoffmann.
National Geographic magazine is the official journal of the National Geographic Society, one of the world’s largest nonprofit educational and scientific organizations. Published in English and 31 local-language editions, the magazine has a global circulation of around 8 million.