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Is it possible to empathise?

Published on 08/01/14

It's good to celebrate success. This is a continuation of a unit of work on development, taken by a year 9 (8th grade) class at the Stephen Perse Foundation.

Question: Is the price of development in Whitehorse Village (China) a price that is worth paying?

How it was set up

The class iBook on the China topic allows quick access to written and video content with some interactive widgets too.

iBook with interactive content


The task itself was explained with combination of Keynote and Explain Everything video. Importantly, the students have a choice in how the present their work - written essay, keynote or video presentation. Perhaps understandably, given there were a few more homework tasks on that week, the essay and the keynote won through. Nevertheless, the use of interactive resources and multimedia materials helped the quality of the submitted work to be very strong.

Here is one write up from a student called Amber. Particularly impressive is the use of additional research and also the relationship drawn to her own life - seeking to make comparisons between her own life in the UK and life in China, but also trying to empathise - this is always a delight to see:

The Answer:

White Horse village is in Wuxi county, western China and is one of China’s fastest growing areas. Where once subsistence farmers once made living tending small agricultural plots and living very traditional lifestyles, there is now there is a very large city.

Some background

To understand the problems of the rural development in areas such a White Horse village I wanted to research about China in general. China’s current population in 2013 is estimated to be 1.384,694,199 (approximately 1.384 billion people) as published by the United Nations population data. The estimated current world population is 7.129 billion, so China’s population makes up around 1/5 of the total and is by far the largest in the world.

China; the People’s Republic of China (PRC) is governed by the Communist Party in Beijing. The most populated area of China is in the Eastern region and particularly costal areas. For example, Shanghai, the largest city in the country and the world, has a population density of 7,900 people per sq mile. Considering that I cycle about 4 miles to school from my home here in Cambridge I cannot image living in such a built up city.

Empathy and comparison

In order to take away some of the pressure from the western coastal cities, the government has started a large scale rural development program; of which White Horse village is an example. Up until about 7 years ago many of the working aged people from this area would move hundreds of miles away from their families to work in the costal cities and send money home to provide for them. I am very familiar to this way of life because of living in Thailand for part of my life and many people we know do this. I think that in some ways this is ok as the home rural areas stay as they are. The extended family such as Grandparents, Uncles and Aunts take care of the young children. The children benefit from the wisdom from these elder members of the family and the older people seem to stay younger and happier because of constantly being with the children. There is also more community spirit where people look after each other and really know each other. The people feel safe in their traditions and way of life that has always been.

However, today, because the government has made plans to expand these rural areas into vast cities, the working aged people can stay at home with their families. This should of cause be a good thing. BUT.. I think that ‘the cost of the development’ is that it has changed people’s lives too much and too quickly.
As well as using our research from the video we watched, I also looked on the internet about White Horse village. An article by a Chinese importing company discussed how beneficial the development was. It said that China has doubled its GDP (gross domestic product) three times in three decades and an annual growth rate of 8%. Also how that the West took a hundred years to achieve this! It talks about how a farmer can turn into a factory worker, and turn his land into ownership of rental apartments that pay for his pension. Also about how the children will become skilled workers and educated. These are obviously very positive things but again I think that the price being paid to have these advantages for some people is very high. In 'The fastest changing place on the planet' it discusses the plights of certain individuals and the effect the changes have had on their lives. Such as 70 year old Mr Jin who 3 years before lived in a mud brick house and now lives in the 6th floor apartment surrounded by the concreted Wuxi New Town. There are now schools, shops and apartments. But it describes Mr Jin as unhappy with many of the changes such missing the fields that he worked in before; his ancestors land, not knowing his neighbours and feeling isolated. Although he also says that the advantages are the state pension and hot running water but I’m not sure that he thinks that these out way the disadvantages.

Application of the research

In the program it also discusses how often the younger people are able to adapt to the changes and prefer to live with the new opportunities that the city has to offer. This would be an obvious scenario as they haven’t had the same experiences and memories as the older people have had. However it is likely that even within the younger society that some people are getting very rich and successful while others are struggling and suffering. The article talks about mistrust and that the golden opportunities are not benefiting people equally.
It is hard to imagine living in such a largely populated country. I can imagine how the old people feel to see their beautiful valleys now covered in concrete and motorways linking them to the large cities. For them, many of the advantages would not be so important either. It appears that the community spirit and sense of belonging has disappeared. So perhaps in order to make the new cities work they should evolve more slowly and take into consideration peoples needs and traditions. However the benefits for the growing younger population would appear to be good; with education and better job prospects.

Great conclusion

It seems to be a very complex problem and probably a large price has been paid in order for people to have a so called ‘better life’. But I’m not sure that it is.