Monday, November 22, 2010
China perspective - A river flows through here
THE word “Dickensian” is often bandied about in descriptions of China’s hell-for-leather modernisation. The back-breaking labour; the social dislocation; the throat-rasping air pollution: much that China has experienced in the past three decades was chronicled in the 19th century by Charles Dickens, writing about Britain’s own industrial revolution.
But seldom can the term have had such a direct parallel as in the extraordinary story, reported by the BBC, of Wei Xinping, a man who makes his living plying the Yellow River in search of corpses. In seven years, he has found 500 dead bodies. Some he has turned to a profit, by charging families for a chance to identify their dead loved ones, or for taking them home. They were, according to the report, suicides, murder victims or accidental deaths—those “swept away” in the rush for growth.
The Dickensian echo is the first chapter of “Our Mutual Friend”, where the novel’s heroine, Lizzie Hexham, helps her father retrieve a corpse from the Thames, London’s river. This, it emerges, is his livelihood. The book is a sort of allegory of the perils of greed; or, at the national level, of the dangers of a race for growth that forgets its purpose is to improve human life.
By banyan, the Economist