The converse of China’s rapid construction and development is a huge, patchwork demolition economy. In order to make room for the high-rises and hypermarkets, the country’s narrow residential alleyways (hutongs) and other fixtures of Old China need to be razed and repurposed. The old buildings are marked, and then come the heavy machines and scavengers with mallets and blowtorches. There’s value in the old buildings, from wooden doors to the rebar in their concrete walls and floors, and a small, movable economy sets up wherever there’s destruction to be done.
The residents of these old houses are given money, but often it’s not enough. The only affordable housing to be found after a forced move like this is often well outside the city and far from any jobs or shops. Their old houses may not have had running water or electricity, so the opportunity to move offers a step up the urban ladder in some respects. But as with any relocation, adjusting to a new neighborhood creates many headaches, especially if the money promised for the old houses never arrives. China’s economy continues to hum along, of course, and the demolition continues regardless of whether or not any of the new construction ventures will ever be completed.