Yunnan: The Hour of Minerva

It is the dusk of the journey. Tomorrow morning, a return to Hong Kong. It is impossible not to be impressed by southwest China. Snow-wreathed mountains from which the fabled Yangzi and He flow interminably. Fields exploding with flowers of infinite hue. A syncretic culture, sublime climate, and flawless night sky. There is a palpable sense of purpose here in Yunnan, a province both ambitious and confident. There are luxuries. Yet there is also a sense of foreboding, a feeling that what I have witnessed will one day register as a rose-hued blip along China’s vast and tumultuous timeline. The gleaming airports, skyscrapers, speed trains, the labyrinth of shopping malls have all been erected upon the shoulders of cheap labor. But the Chinese labor force now demands more, and wages have risen to reflect these demands. Foreign investment is in retreat. Factories are moving south of the equator, to countries such as Vietnam and Cambodia where the desperation for work translates into microscopic wages. And all the while the restless groan of 1.4 billion stomachs. A country this vast and this diverse, with such a high degree of economic stratification, how does it not collapse beneath the weight of its own contradictions?

The dark skies have departed, carrying the rains off to the mountains that ring Kunming. Kunming, when my mind exits, and with it my perceptions and memories, my emotions and imaginings, my language, what becomes of the city thus described?

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