The Other China: Life on the Streets, A Photo Essay


We all know or have heard about the overwhelming development going on in China. Journalists enthuse and analysts throw magnificent statistics of what seems to be a miracle. Yet there is little discussion of the daily life of the common people, and their struggle. There are miracles aplenty in China, but the astounding figures only partially reflect the reality.

Thousands of people from rural areas move to the big cities of China in search of job opportunities. Strenuous work funds an often meager existence. No social security, no benefits of any kind. Like immigrants from Europe to America’s cities in last century, they often find in the streets an answer to their needs.

In the year 2011, in the streets of Chengdu, one of the fastest growing cities in the world, many people still have no other option than fixing their dentures under the most unimaginable poor hygiene conditions. For about 20 RMB a street dentist will fix it for you.

It takes only 4RMB to get yourself a haircut, right there, on your block.

And add 5 RMB more to the bill for a deep, though dubious, ear cleaning in one of the many neighbourhoods in Shanghai still south side of the mass production of crystal-clad skyscrapers.

In those neighbourhoods of all-in-one houses (all-in-one-room), the space is so reduced that the food needs to hang out of the windows. For many neighborhoods that still inconveniently survive in areas of real estate dementia and speculation of the 21st century, it may be just a matter of time until they disappear.

In China, everything is cheap, and that wonderful home appliance that you just got in the shopping center at a ridiculous price even includes delivery costs. All stores include the cost in the price. There are hundreds of hands out there ready to take everything right to your door for a few coins.

Real estate developments constantly reconfigure the skyline of Chinese cities selling wonderland views of the contaminated horizon of the Chinese skies. England New Town in Chengdu seems to offer it all, summed up in fantastic Chinglish phrase: “Leads a pious life by the city by view mountain keeping in good health.”

And even though the children of some will go to the new IMAX around the corner, the people who build the miracle that others can enjoy go to the movies only at improvised movie theaters around the construction sites where they live.

In the meanwhile, the garbage produced by the miracle accumulates in the suburbs. There are still people ready to make the most out of it.

They never get the English right, but the Chinglish we find everyday on the streets usually defines the country’s situation better than the proper English. Protect Circumstance: Begin with me. I think Ayn Rand has some followers in the People’s Republic.

Born and raised in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Nicolas Marino is a 33 year-old architect and photographer currently based in Chengdu, China. For the last 6 years he has chosen a bicycle as means of transport to reach the most remote regions of the world where he focuses most of his documentary work. Some of his journeys include a 10.000km ride from Tehran to Shanghai and several trips around remote and rural China where he has now cycled over 8000km.

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great post

Photos of life on the

Photos of life on the streets are really interesting. This shows the life of the common people and their struggle. Thousands of people from rural areas move to the big cities of China in search of job opportunities. Nice information.
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gentrification rarely benefits those pushed aside

Thanks for your commentary. As architects and planners boast of converting downtrodden areas into gentrified urban utopias, yours is the first article I've seen that addresses the main problem I have with the urbanists who boast of 'improving' this world: Where did the downtrodden families go?

We cannot solve the problems of downtrodden areas simply by sweeping the less fortuante under the rug (another downtrodden area). I guess the matter is even made worse by Foundation Grants and our tax dollars subsidizing gentrification that rarely makes the low income populous have a higher living standard.

The problem is not just China!