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Dreaming Big: Wuhan as the new New York

Becoming a New York is harder than Wuhan officials imagined

08·15·2013

Dreaming Big: Wuhan as the new New York

Becoming a New York is harder than Wuhan officials imagined

08·15·2013

Compared to President Xi’s concept, the “Chinese Dream”, the vagueness and ambiguity of which sparked debates and discussions all over the world, Wuhan’s dream is clear and precise. The Economic Observer reports:

“On July 4, the Wuhan local government announced its intention to transform its city of 10 million into a world-class cosmopolitan metropolis comparable to London, New York, Paris and Tokyo by 2049.”

A city with ancient history, Wuhan has been the capital of several small kingdoms and, in more modern history, the capital city of the Republic of China.  Currently, it is the provincial capital of Hubei, home to the Wuchang Uprising which led to the fall of the Qing Dynasty; its most famous building is the Yellow Crane Tower, first built in 223 A.D; the modern version is not quite so historic, being rebuilt in 1981.

The city’s attempt to become one of the world’s great international cities smacks of chutzpah, and it is difficult to fathom why it so confident it can be an international metropolis impacting on global economic culture, and political affairs. The city’s bet is on its geographic location — they are the pathway to the center of nine provinces, not to mention its high quality universities. But the media has not been so optimistic, as EEO noted:

“…the central location hasn’t seemed to translate into economic competitiveness so far. As railway and road networks develop, Wuhan’s location on the Yangtze River is becoming less important.

Wuhan does indeed possess some of the best universities in China. However, it also has a serious “brain drain.” Because of the city’s relatively sloppy economic development, the majority of high-value college graduates choose to work elsewhere.”

Even Wuhan’s residents consider this an unrealistic claim. The city may dream big, but so far Wuhan has not even amassed enough resources or advantages to become a major financial city in China, with Shanghai, Beijing, and even Shenzhen standing in its way.

Another disadvantage, according to the EEO, is its low degree of globalization. The establishment of Korean, French, and American Consulates are all due to its relatively central location in China, and nothing to do with its status as an international city, the EEO contends. Wuhan’s GDP in 2011 only reached 42.2% of Beijing’s and 35.2% of Shanghai’s. Most of the Fortune 500 companies in Wuhan consider it as a distribution center or a research base, instead of a possible location for their headquarters.

In addition to its less competitive GDP, Wuhan’s culture and arts scene also fails to stand out among the various metropolitan traditional cities in China. Whether it is traditional culture, ancient traditions, modern culture, western culture, or youth culture, Wuhan’s stance is awkwardly ranked in the middle. For the moment at least, New York can sleep easily.

Image courtesy of  Tauno Tõhk / 陶诺.