Chinese Cities are Huge, But What's it Like to Live There?

We get it, China's cities are big and getting bigger. But what's it like to live there? Isaac Stone Fish takes a closer look at the quality of life in Chinese cities, and finds them almost uniformly monolithic and unlivable.

Fish, resident of the country for seven years, and visitor to 21 of its 22 provinces, offers his impression of life in Chinese cities and the historical roots of their modern development.

He credits the cause of their monolithic and virtually unlivable condition to the rebuilding of the country led by Mao Zedong and the communist party according to the principles of "a Soviet-era engineering textbook." According to Fish, Communist leaders "subscribed to the Soviet idea of what a city should be like: wide boulevards, oppressively squat, functional buildings, dormitory-style housing. Cities weren't conceived of as places to live, but as building blocks needed to build a strong and prosperous nation; in other words, they were constructed for the benefit of the party and the country, not the people."

"Yes," writes Fish, "China's cities are booming, but there's a depressing sameness to what you find in even the newest of new boomtowns... For all their economic success, China's cities, with their lack of civil society, apocalyptic air pollution, snarling traffic, and suffocating state bureaucracy, are still terrible places to live."

Not all is lost however, says Fish, Chinese cities are improving. Pockets of livability still exist in the areas that predate Communist Party control; "Chinese cities have little crime;" and "on the rare day when the sky is clear, you can even see the stars."

Thanks to Emily Williams

Full Story: Unlivable Cities


Brand new! Urban Grid City Collection

Each city has its own unique story. Commemorate where you came from or where you want to go.
Grids and Guide Red book cover

Grids & Guides

A notebook for visual thinkers. Available in red and black.

Wear your city with style!

100% silk scarves feature detailed city maps. Choose from five cities with red or blue trim.

Create Your Own Paper Block City

Urban Fold is an all-inclusive kit that allows anyone to build the city of their dreams with a few simple folds.