Guiyang: China’s City of the Future

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To what extent can Guiyang–a relatively obscure city in south-west China– be emulated by other cities striving for a slice of the ‘China dream?’

The term ‘city of tomorrow’ conjures up images of Superman’s Metropolis, or Ridley Scott’s futuristic vision of Los Angeles in Blade Runner. Very few people would associate with it Guiyang, a relatively obscure city in south- west China. However, its sudden and seemingly inexorable transformation into China’s ‘big data valley’ makes it deserving of such a title. The question for both policy-makers and economists is: to what extent is can its blueprint be emulated by other cities striving for a slice of the ‘China dream?’

The Chinese miracle continues

China’s economy grew by 6.5% percent in the third quarter of this year, falling short of economic forecasts. It was in fact ‘the weakest quarterly growth since depths of the financial crisis,’ according to IMF data cited by Forbes. However, on a provincial level, the Chinese miracle is continuing to unfold. In fact, for many people in the south-west city of Guiyang, it has only just begun.

Back in 2016, Bloomberg reported that Guiyang–the capital of China’s impoverished Guizhou province–had ‘edged out financial capital Shanghai’. This ranking, compiled by Milken, was predicated on a number of different metrics, such as the job market growth rate and GDP. Since then, Guiyang’s economy has continued to go from strength to strength. According to data cited by the ChinaDaily, Guizhou (Guiyang is the capital) recorded a 10 percent increase GDP in the first half 2018; the fastest growth in the entire country. There are a number of economic developments which underpin this impressive growth rate. The fact Guiyang is home to China’s best selling chilli sauce is certainly a contributory factor. However, most important is equivocally the city’s transformation into a hub for big data.

If one is accustomed to 21st century China’s sights and cityscapes, then an aerial shot of Guiyang reveals a fairly unremarkable landscape. It has a few archetypical gimmicks, such a skyscraper which features a 108 metre ‘cascading’ artificial waterfall. However, on the whole, it appears to be an archetypal Chinese urban landscape . Aesthetically, the city can hardly be described as futuristic. However, there is more to Guiyang that meets the (bird)eye. What gives this city a futuristic dimension is the presence of some of the world’s most high-tech companies.

How Guiyang was able to transform into China’s big data valley

Collectively, tax incentives , infrastructure developments, government support (at both a provincial and government level) and ‘preferential treatment’ have enabled this city to lure in some of the world’s most famous high-tech companies, such as Tencent, Miscrosoft and Huawei. ‘Guizhou is where Beijing hopes cloud computing and Big Data, and the Chinese whizkids who are the brains behind it, find a Chinese home.’

Big data is very much in Guiyang’s DNA. A new generation of entrepreneurs and pioneers are emerging It has become more than merely a shiny storage facility for big data infrastructure. In 2016, China Daily reported on the city’s first ‘internet plus hopsital.’ A joint venture between local government and (still searching for the company name) , this service harnesses big data to enable local patients to ‘be treated online and afar by top level doctors from leading hospitals in first tier cities. This synergy between private investment, entrepreneurship and state support is what has enabled Guiyang to develop its niche.

Local reports suggests that ‘big data’ classes are becoming available in high schools and middle schools across the city. It is clear that the local government are genuinely committed to cultivating the city’s niche.

A land of opportunity

The effects of the rise of big data are not only being felt by those who work in the field itself but also, by many local residents. The aforementioned synergy between private and public investment has transformed areas of the city beyond recognition. The changes are more than just aesthetic, but rather symptomatic of a genuine rise in living conditions. According to a 2017 report by the Guardian, ‘Programmes to improve housing saw 458,000 people resettled into new homes in 2016, and the government says it lifted 1.2 million Guizhou people out of poverty last year alone.’

“If you have missed the investment opportunity in Guangdong or Zhejiang 30 years ago, by no means should you miss that of Guizhou today,” proclaimed Jack Ma at the first ever big data expo back in 2015. In addition to investors, Chinese millennials–many of whom are priced out of tier 1 cities–are another demographic who may be able to capitalise on Guiyang’s transformation. According to a 2017 article published by the Guardian, the monthly cost to rent a down-town apartment is around 2,000 yuan. Investment in infrastructure and the vast swathes of newly- built apartments have turned Guiyang into a very liveable city, fit for an ambitious millennial.

Guiyang: a glimpse of China’s future?

Just before the turn of the century, there was fierce debate on whether poor countries would ever ‘catch up’ with their wealthier counterparts. In many ways, this historic debate is analogous to the current discussion as to whether China’s poorer provinces will ever catch up with their coastal counterparts. After all, China is the size of continental Europe and is very diverse vis-a-vis it geographically, economically and even ethnically.

Guiyang is truly China’s city of tomorrow, as it provides a blueprint for how the Nation’s impoverished land-locked counterparts can obtain their own respective slices of what Xi Jinping calls the ‘China dream.’ Other cities should not try and mimic what Guiyang has become but rather, emulate the way in which it was able to do so. Indeed, according to a report by the Financial Times, cities in China “must jostle with its neighbours for a leading place in these sweeping macroeconomic strategies.”

‘Big data is a relatively new field for China. According to a Bain & Co. report, spending on one part of it—cloud computing—is growing by as much as 45% annually and is projected to be a $20 billion business by 2020.’ Guiyang’s evolution into China’s big data valley makes it poised to capture much of this growth. While Guiyang might not be a city tomorrow aesthetically (at least, not yet), its policy makers clearly have the future in mind.

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