Nicolas Sarkozy seems to be indulging in the time-honored European tradition of cracking down on Gypsies for political gain:
The deportations, scheduled to start Thursday, follow the
dismantling of 51 illegal camps—set up by Roma of eastern origin and by
other Gypsies, including French citizens—over the past three weeks.
Around 700 of the people expelled from their camps who were staying in
France illegally will be flown home to Central and Eastern Europe, he
after police in Saint-Aignan, in central France, shot dead a
22-year-old Gypsy for failing to stop at a roadblock, Gypsies armed
with hatchets and iron bars felled trees and traffic lights, torched
cars and attacked a bakery and a police station.
Two weeks later,
on July 28, Mr. Sarkozy said the government would dismantle illegal
sites used by Gypsies. He also proposed stripping French citizenship
from people of foreign origin who were convicted of trying to kill
police or other public officials. Separately, a member of Mr. Sarkozy's
ruling UMP party has proposed that parents of delinquent children be
imprisoned for up to two years.
The thing is, none of this is really all that unusual. The French government regularly shuts down the camps and expelled 10,000 Roma to Romania and Bulgaria last year alone. Since, as EU citizens, the Roma are free to travel to France without a visa (though not to live there permanently) and still face far less discrimination there than in Eastern Europe, many of them simply return a short time later. But this time Sarkozy has made the expulsions the centerpiece of a larger law-and-order campaign.
Sarkozy's popularity ratings have been in the low 30s thanks to a sluggish economy and an ongoing campaign finance scandal. The strategy seems to be working. 79 percent of French voters support dismantling the camps and Sarkozy's ratings are up 2 points this month. And so the cycle continues.
The more time one spends in China, and the more one travels within the
country, the harder it is to describe "China" as a single entity. The
country is far more geographically, culturally, linguistically and economically
diverse -- and confusing -- than is evident from the photos we now often see of
gleaming new shopping malls in its wealthier eastern cities. There is not one
China story, but countless.
From the windblown deserts of Gansu province to the fertile rice paddies of
Hunan, from impoverished Tibetan shepherds to shopaholic Shanghaiese, from the
glitzy coordination of mass events, like the 2008 Olympic Opening Ceremony, to
the chaotic hodgepodge of daily life (orderly queues are entirely unknown),
there is no single narrative or argument that encapsulates the nation. (The
Atlantic's James Fallows and others return often to this point.)
What all these aspects of China do have in common, however, is that they're
changing. Rapidly. Over the next 20 years, some 400 million people -- more than
the entire population of the United States -- will move from the countryside to
China's fast growing cities. Imagine the many stages of American history over
the last century and a half condensed into a single generation. Then you have a
glimpse of the transformation underway in China.
In Britain, the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution, there are only two
cities with a population of more than 1 million; in the United States, there
are just 10 such cities. But already in China, there are 43 cities of more than
1 million, and by 2030 there will be 221, the McKinsey Global Institute predicts.
What is life like in China's booming megacities? To begin to answer that
question, this spring I visited the sprawling metropolis of Chongqing -- once a
relative backwater in mountainous western China, and today place where land is
converted from countryside to apartment blocks and parking lots faster than
anywhere else on the planet. A dynamic inland port city, and gateway to what
Beijing considers China's still Wild West, think of it as "Chicago on the
Yangtze" (check out the article here -- and Matthew Niederhauser's superb photo
During World War II, the city was known to westerners as Chungking, when it
was briefly the Nationalist capital of China. Many turns of history later,
it is today a place where it is possible to drive through the northern New
District for more than a half hour, past block upon block of new apartment
highrises, where five years ago there were only fields. Its celebrity Party
boss, Bo Xiali, is already making international headlines for his storied crackdown
on Chinese mobsters and wrenching political ambitions.
For all the international attention paid to decisions made in Beijing, I have come to believe that the role
that China, now the world's second largest economy, will come to play in the 21st century will depend not firstly on the wiles of its diplomats, the size of its navy, or
even the next appointments to the Politburo, but on how well China manages the
largest mass urbanization in history. The municipality of Chongqing, absorbing
roughly 1 million new urban dwellers each year, is at the spear tip of this
UPDATE: Chicago fires back! Writing for the Chicago Reader, Lauri Apple takes issue with the comparison, and explains why Chicago is not the Chongqing of the United States:
Chongqing is mountainous, and its main body of water, the Yangtze, looks like a river of Yoo Hoo.
Chicago has no mountains, and its water is blue (and green, on Saint
Patrick's Day). In Chongqing, people play badminton in the public
areas; Chicagoans play public cornhole.
Fair enough, there's no analogy that truly explains a Chinese megacity. But hopefully the article and photos will help a bit to demystify the abstraction.