Don't let the glittering towers, luxury houses and neon skylines fool you. While China has undergone a profound economic transformation in recent decades, the flashy facade of wealth hides a much more complicated reality that is currently being experienced by the country's non-elite classes. The Chinese Bubble, a documentary produced by the VPRO Backlight series, explores this conundrum through personal portraits and insightful analysis.
The country's current economic model has only deepened the imbalance between the rich and the poor. Early on in the film, we meet Li Jie, a young taxi driver who transports many of Beijing's richest inhabitants. Sadly, Jie feels that the Chinese dream they epitomize will forever remain out of his reach. The driver works himself ragged, but he can't afford even the most rudimentary life of comfort. He exposes a new custom among the area's rich; they buy up new apartments and leave them vacant until the market rises and they can maximize their profits. Angered by an inability to afford his own suitable housing, the driver pulls his taxi to the side of the road and snaps photos of these empty properties. These pictures almost serve as his form of forensic evidence.
A majority of the wealth in China is generated through real estate. We learn that 70% of properties in Shanghai are sold to either repeat customers or wealthy buyers who don't even live in the country. The wealth generated by these deals never trickles down to the hard-working impoverished citizens who need it the most.
The film features an interview with Wang Jianlin, the richest real estate tycoon in China, who proclaims that economic prosperity is available to everyone in the country. This assertion is intercut by scenes of Feng Lun, a construction worker who toils daily on the perilous scaffolding of Jianlin's tallest developments but struggles to support his wife and children on a meagre wage.
China's development has quadrupled over the past decade, yet the country's per capita income remains lower than most industrialized nations in the world. According to one of the film's interview subjects, this is unlikely to improve as long as China's political leaders continue to behave like "Wall Street traders." The Chinese Bubble shows us the tragic human costs of this growing disparity.