Millions

There’s much, much more where I came from.

My ancestors, like those of many Chinese-Americans, hail from a pair of valleys about 100 miles west of Hong Kong. The conurbation rapidly rising between the two — standing astride the Pearl River Delta — is “the fastest growing region of the fastest growing country” in the world, with a population estimated at over 50 million. That’s akin to packing the population of the three West Coast states into an area smaller than the Phoenix metropolitan area. (That, in turn, is only a bit smaller than the three states of southern New England.)

(This reflection comes from the graphic comparison of metropolitan footprints in Peter Bosselmann’s book Urban Transformations.)

Of course, China’s vast population defies any attempt to put it into scale; after all, per Guinness, I share my last name with over 100 million Chungs. Just about as many people answer to just my last name as pledge allegiance to Mexico or Japan. Luckily, I’m the only living “Payton Chung” known to Google.

What does it all mean? We often hear about China becoming a larger economy, a larger polluter, a larger exporter, a larger whatever than [America, Europe, Japan, etc.] — meaningless statistics without accounting for the mind-bogglingly vast human resources that China has, both to offer and to support. Here’s a thought exercise: walk down the street and, for every single American you see, imagine an entire family of four. That might give you a sense of how crowded China is.

A great many narrow-minded observers from “the west” suffer from pot and kettle syndrome when pointing at China: “they pollute more, so why should we care?” Well, such observers sometimes neglect human rights in their own way: no human has greater rights to pollute than any other, and on a per-human basis Americans are still by far the greater environmental criminals.

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One thought on “Millions

  1. At one time there were a list of facts about China circulating via email attempting to put it’s population into perspective. The only one that I remember went something like this: if you are “one in a million!”, there are a thousand Chinese just like you. :-)

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