Sometimes the sheer power of the state in China surprises and overwhelms. You read of some initiative that the state is proposing and your mind can’t grasp it – its scale, its enormousness and, unfortunately all too frequently, its enormity. One example of this was recently discussed in the Australian Business Insider. Over the next five years, the Chinese Government is hoping to move 100 million people from the countryside into urban areas. That’s right: by 2020 China is looking to urbanise the equivalent of the population of the Philippines!

“The plan was first unveiled in March of last year as the “National New-type Urbanisation Plan (2014-2020).”At 30 chapters long, the plan is a staggeringly complex vision involving the mass uprooting of Chinese citizens and the destruction, and reconstruction, of homes, office buildings, and infrastructure. It imagines a China that can compete with the world leaders, both financially and ecologically.”

The plan is to rapidly increase China’s urbanisation rate (currently at something less than 60% of its population) so that domestic demand for Chinese products is increased. This will allow China to rely less on exports for its economic growth. Moving farmers into urban environments will hopefully allow the country to become the visible economic global powerhouse. This will necessarily involve massive infrastructure projects and residential building.

“The 2020 plan calls for major extensions to railways and expressways so that all cities with more than 200,000 people are connected. High-speed rail will join cities with at least 500,000 people …Since 100 hundred million people need a place to go, the country’s plan has been to merge major cities with large suburbs to create so-called megacities. Formally, megacities have populations greater than 10 million. Several are already underway, including China’s Pearl River Delta to the south and Jing-Jin-Ji, which surrounds Beijing, to the north.”

Of course when you are trying to urbanise so many people so quickly, things do not always run smoothly:

“Many Western countries took centuries to build up the necessary infrastructure to support populations of 100-million-plus, and some are still in the process. In its rush to build, however, the Chinese government has hit some logistical walls.

In only a year since the plan’s unveiling, many bridges and highways are already lagging behind their scheduled completion. High costs of living keep people confined to the outskirts, as public transportation remains their only means of access to working in the city.

Some residents in older urban areas even get caught in the crossfire. In preparation for the 2010 Asian Games, the city ordered the widespread bulldozing of houses to make room for new developments. Rising real estate prices forced the evictions of many, though few were compensated for the move.”

Things may be bigger in Texas, but in China they seem to be colossal! No other country in the world would consider trying to move 100 million people into towns whether they want to or not. But that is what many Chinese rural dwellers are facing.

“‘It’s a new world for us in the city,’ Tian Wei, a wheat farmer-turned-factory watchman told the New York Times in 2013. ‘All my life I’ve worked with my hands in the fields; do I have the educational level to keep up with the city people?’

In shifting the country’s mission, the Chinese government effectively told its citizens that their current way of life was outmoded. It was time to fix what was broken, even if millions of rural inhabitants never saw it that way.”

When the state controls every aspect of your life, from contraception to death, moving a few million reluctant farmers into cities at breakneck speed is merely par for the course I would think.

Marcus Roberts was two years out of law school when he decided that practising law was no longer for him. He therefore went back to university and did his LLM while tutoring. He now teaches contract and...