10,000 Shovels: China's Urbanization and Economic Development
Grade Level: High School
Includes curriculum unit + DVD ("Ten Thousand Shovels" documentary film)
Since the late 1970s, China has experienced an unprecedented economic boom, and is today's fastest growing major economy. Its economic reforms of 1978 allowed large amounts of capital to flow within the country, spurring the economy into a period of breakneck growth. Tens of millions of rural Chinese have been drawn into China's cities looking for work, and countless businesses—foreign and domestic—have sprung up in China, each eager to grab a piece of China's 1.3 billion-strong customer base: the world's largest. It is an exciting time. In a country where people starved from widespread poverty only 50 years ago, business is booming like never before. More and more people are living longer, more comfortable lives, and are finally able to afford luxuries like air conditioners, refrigerators, mobile phones, and cars. For them, China's rapid rise is a dream come true—a transition to a modern country.
But not everyone is happy. To make room for development, citizens have been evicted from their homes and forcibly relocated. Lax environmental practices have spawned 16 of the world's 20 most polluted cities. The income gap between rural and urban China has widened. Northern China's deserts are expanding and Beijing's water tables have dropped. More people are suffering from diseases related to air pollution, water pollution, and fatty diets. Is China's dream turning into a nightmare? 10,000 Shovels examines the causes and effects of China's development boom, and encourages students to evaluate and appreciate its benefits and costs.
Lesson One introduces students to modern China though a short documentary film that illustrates urbanization in the Pearl River Delta, an area where quiet farming communities have given way to bustling industrial cities. Students form small groups to perform research on a select topic—such as car culture, water issues, and food—and analyze its environmental, economic, and social impacts.
Lesson Two consists of a collection of short interdisciplinary activities that were designed to engage students in the analysis of 10,000 Shovels in the context of world history, economics, environmental science, cultural anthropology, music and the arts, and statistics. These activities also encourage students to consider the importance of urbanization in their own lives.