With the Appetite of a Dragon
In the winter of 2005, I met a vice mayor of a Chongqing township, deep in China’s interior, in his voluminous but austere office in the countryside. The official seemed young for the position, in his mid-40s, affable if not disarming in his distracted greeting. He was casually dressed in a cheap pullover sweater and black faux-leather jacket. He said he would personally drive me out to the area where a client of mine could build a factory. The mountains in this part of the country are terraced rock where brick-wall shacks perch precariously above dusty shelves of vegetable plots. We drove 30 minutes from his office, then turned onto a dirt-and-pebble road. The vice mayor stopped the car between two hills. On one hill, a huge backhoe combed a bald pate smooth. On the opposing hill stood one of the ubiquitous ramshackle shacks, someone’s home. A mother was out front of the shelter consumed with a backbreaking chore while her son scrambled around in the front yard. It seemed to me there had once been an entire village where I stood, with the solitary hovel now the only evidence. The vice mayor spread a map on the hood of the black Volkswagen Santana. He gestured toward another backhoe more than about 800 meters away that was scrabbling at the land. He announced: “From here to that machine can all be yours.” He was offering up ...