First drawn in 1935, Hu Line illustrates persistent demographic split – how Beijing deals with it will determine the country's future.
- In 1935, demographer Hu Huanyong drew a line across a map of China.
- The 'Hu Line' illustrated a remarkable divide in China's population distribution.
- That divide remains relevant, not just for China's present but also for its future.
Consequential feature<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNTY5OTQxOC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzNTk3ODY0OX0.8-1X8cQiYysVBCN8rHZOAN70tW-TCvhQTjeSwZVqnmY/img.jpg?width=980" id="daaf6" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="bcfc6ba1b3b3723fa0fb613987f83777" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="A woman stands on an embankment of the Amur river, with Chinese town of Heihe seen in the background, in the Russian far-eastern town of Blagoveshchensk, on August 17, 2020. (Photo by Dimitar DILKOFF / AFP) (Photo by DIMITAR DILKOFF/AFP via Getty Images)" data-width="1024" data-height="683" />
A bather in Blagoveshchensk, on the Russian bank of the Amur. Across the river: the Chinese city of Heihe.
Credit: Dimitar Dilkoff/AFP via Getty Images<p>The Hu Line is arguably the most consequential feature of China's geography, with demographic, economic, cultural, and political implications for the country's past, present, and future. Yet you won't find it on any official map of China, nor on the actual terrain of the People's Republic itself.</p><p>There are no monuments at its endpoints: not in Heihe in the north, just an icy swim across the Amur from Blagoveshchensk, in Russia's Far East; nor in Tengchong, the subtropical southern city set among the hills rolling into Myanmar. Nor indeed anywhere on the 2,330-mile (3,750-km) diagonal that connects both dots. The Hu Line is as invisible as it is imaginary.</p><p>Yet the point that the Hu Line makes is as relevant as when it was first imagined. Back in 1935, a Chinese demographer called Hu Huanyong used a hand-drawn map of the line to illustrate his article on 'The Distribution of China's Population' in the Chinese Journal of Geography.</p><p>The point of the article, and of the map: China's population is distributed unevenly, and not just a little, but a lot. Like, <em>a lot</em>.</p><ul><li>The area to the west of the line comprised 64 percent of China's territory but contained only 4 percent of the country's population.</li><li>Inversely, 96 percent of the Chinese lived east of the 'geo-demographic demarcation line', as Hu called it, on just 36 percent of the land.</li></ul><p>Much has changed in China in the intervening near-century. The weak post-imperial republic is now a highly centralized world power. Its population has nearly tripled, from around 500 million to almost 1.4 billion. But the fundamentals of the imbalance have remained virtually the same.</p><p>Even if China's territory has not: in 1946, China recognized the independence of Mongolia, shrinking the area west of the Hu Line. Still, in 2015, the distribution was as follows:</p><ul><li>West of the line, 6 percent of the population on 57 percent of the territory (average population density: 39.6 inhabitants per square mile (15.3/km2).</li><li>East of the line, 94 percent of the population on 43 percent of the territory (average population density: 815.3 inhabitants per square mile (314.8/km2).</li></ul>
Persistent dichotomy<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNTY5OTQyMC9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1MDYzMjQwMH0.U6WZlL_YLrj2UWK54XMEszoVri9pW1rCN0k4Tp6uHD8/img.png?width=980" id="263c5" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="aca8cef9b29d250688bdb0c574339c7e" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="1500" data-height="1176" />
Hu Huanyong's original hand-drawn map of China, showing population density and the now-famous line (enhanced for visibility).
Credit: Chinese Journal of Geography (1935) – public domain.<p>Why is this demographic dichotomy so persistent? In two words: climate and terrain. East of the line, the land is flatter and wetter, meaning it's easier to farm, hence easier to produce enough food for an ever-larger population. West of the line: deserts, mountains, and plateaus. Much harsher terrain with a drier climate to boot, making it much harder to sustain large amounts of people.</p><p>And where the people are, all the rest follows. East of the line is virtually all of China's infrastructure and economy. At night, satellites see the area to the east twinkle with lantern-like strings of light, while the west is a blanket of near total darkness, only occasionally pierced by signs of life. In China's 'Wild West', per-capita GDP is 15 percent lower on average than in the industrious east.</p><p>An additional factor typifies China's population divide: while the country overall is ethnically very homogenous – 92 percent are Han Chinese – most of the 8 percent that make up China's ethnic minorities live west of the line. This is notably the case in Tibet and Xinjiang, two nominally autonomous regions with non-Han ethnic majorities.</p><p>This combination of economic and ethnic imbalances means the Hu Line is not just a persistent quirk, but a potential problem – at least from Beijing's perspective. Culturally and geographically distant from the country's east, Tibetans and Uyghurs have registered strong opposition to China's centralizing tendencies, often resulting in heavy-handed repression. <br></p>
Long-term strategy<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNTY5OTQzMC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzMjI2MDM5Nn0.snaVUeTX38-YjR567pzTOSOUKBh320wrSD6mat90R-M/img.jpg?width=980" id="ce6bf" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="daeae9f5179eb1de69fd641c3fb5d1cf" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="TENGCHONG COUNTY, CHINA - MARCH 12: (CHINA OUT) A woman knits a sweater aside a street at Heshun Township on March 12, 2006 in Tengchong County of Yunnan Province, China. Heshun, the remote town on China's southern border, once had very close contacts with the outside world. Since ancient times, it has been a trade center due to neighboring Myanmar famous for jade. As many overseas Chinese ancestors lived in 600-year-old Heshun, almost every resident in the town has friends and relatives abroad. (Photo by China Photos/Getty Images)" data-width="1024" data-height="689" />
Street view in Tengchong, on China's border with Myanmar.
Credit: China Photos/Getty Images<p>But repression is not the central government's long-term strategy. Its plan is to pacify by progress. China's 'Manifest Destiny' has a name. In 1999, Jiang Zemin, then Secretary-General of the Chinese Communist Party, launched the 'Develop the West' campaign. The idea behind the slogan retains its political currency. In the last decade, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang has repeatedly urged the country to "break through" the Hu Line, in order to modernize China's western half.</p><p><span></span>The development strategy has an economic angle – adding industry and infrastructure to raise the region's per-capita GDP to the nation's average. But the locals fear that progress will bring population change: an influx of enough internal migrants from the east to tip the local ethnic balance to their disadvantage.</p><p><span></span>China's ethnic minorities are officially recognized and enjoy certain rights; however, if they become minorities in their own regions, those will mean little more than the right to perform folklore songs and dances. The Soviets were past masters in this technique.</p><p>Will China follow the same path? That question will be answered if and when the Hu Line fades from relevance, by how much of the west's ethnic diversity will have been sacrificed for economic progress.</p><p><strong>Strange Maps #1071</strong><br></p><p><em>Got a strange map? Let me know at </em><a href="mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org">email@example.com</a><em>.</em><br></p>
A new MIT report proposes how humans should prepare for the age of automation and artificial intelligence.
- A new report by MIT experts proposes what humans should do to prepare for the age of automation.
- The rise of intelligent machines is coming but it's important to resolve human issues first.
- Improving economic inequality, skills training, and investment in innovation are necessary steps.
1. Increase private sector investment in skills and training<p>The group pinpoints the importance of private sector investment in training employees, especially with the purpose of increasing the upward mobility for lower-wage and less-educated workers. This will particularly affect minority workers, who are overrepresented in this group. The report estimates only about half of employees get training from their employers in any given year. </p>
2. Significantly increase federal funding for training programs<p>The report advocates getting the government to fund training programs that can help lead to middle-class jobs for workers who don't have a four-year college degree. </p>
3. Support community colleges<p>The research team thinks community colleges should be supported by the federal government's money and policies to advance programs that connect employers to the education being received by students. The policies should be aimed at raising degree completion rates at community colleges. </p>
4. Invest in innovative training methods<p>Demonstration and field testing programs that work out new retraining and reemployment ideas should be given particular focus, according to the MIT scientists. </p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Innovation improves the quantity, quality, and variety of work that a worker can accomplish in a given time," <a href="https://workofthefuture.mit.edu/research-post/the-work-of-the-future-building-better-jobs-in-an-age-of-intelligent-machines/" target="_blank">wrote</a> the report's authors. "This rising productivity, in turn, enables improving living standards and the flourishing of human endeavors. Indeed, in what should be a virtuous cycle, rising productivity provides society with the resources to invest in those whose livelihoods are disrupted by the changing structure of work.</p>
5. Restore the real value of the federal minimum wage<p>The report spotlights the growing economic disparity between low-paid workers and the rest of society. Compared to Canadians, for example, low-paid Americans earn 26 percent less. Government policy should make sure people in traditionally low-paid service jobs like cleaning, groundskeeping, food service, entertainment, recreation, and health assistance get adequate pay and some economic security. To that end, the researchers propose that the minimum wage should be raised to at least 40 percent of the national median wage. This value should also be indexed to inflation. </p>
6. Modernize and extend unemployment insurance (UI) benefits<p>Several measures are recommended to improve unemployment insurance and extend it to workers that aren't usually covered. The report suggests allowing workers to count their most recent earnings to determine eligibility, determining eligibility based on hours rather than earnings, dropping the requirement that unemployed seek full-time work (because many hold part-time jobs), and reforming partial UI benefits from the states. </p>
7. Strengthen and adapt labor laws<p>Labor laws need to be both improved and better enforced, states the report. Contraction of private sector labor unions makes it harder for rank-and-file workers to bargain for wage growth that matches the growth of productivity growth. How workers are represented needs to be innovated as much as the technologies. Current U.S. laws "retard the development of alternative approaches," write the researchers. For example, due to racial politics during the New Deal, sectors of the American workforce like domestic workers and agricultural workers are unable to participate in collective bargaining.</p>
8. Increase federal research spending<p>In a proposal aimed at fostering innovation and making sure its benefits are experienced by workers, the MIT group thinks it's key to increase government spending on research, especially in areas not addressed by the private sector. These tend to involve longer-term research that addresses the social impacts of new technologies, zeroing in on major national problems, climate change, human health and similar larger research topics. Investing into research on human-centered AI, collaborative robotics and the science of education should be a part of this approach.</p><p>Small and medium-sized businesses should receive targeted government assistance to allow them to increase productivity via the new tech, advises the MIT team. </p>
9. Expand the geography of innovation in the United States<p>Innovation is increasingly "concentrated geographically," think the researchers. For a country that has so many universities, entrepreneurs, and workers that are spread throughout, the benefits of innovation should be made available not only to more workers, but also to more of the country's regions. Each state can have its own Silicon Valley.</p>
10. Rebalance taxes on capital and labor<p>Innovation is necessary in the tax law as well, according to the report. It's important to change the manner in which the current tax code "unduly favors investments in capital" by eliminating accelerated depreciation allowances, applying corporate income tax equally to all corporations, and instituting an employer training tax credit.</p><p><a href="https://workofthefuture.mit.edu/research-post/the-work-of-the-future-building-better-jobs-in-an-age-of-intelligent-machines/" target="_blank">Read the full report here.</a></p>
The pandemic has given us an early glimpse at how truly disruptive the fourth industrial revolution may be, and the measures we'll need to support human dignity.
- The coronavirus crisis has acted as a catalyst for two powerful transformative forces: automation and universal basic income.
- These two intertwined forces will undoubtedly gain steam, writes Frederick Kuo, and the pandemic will hasten the acceptance of them from a scale of decades to years or mere months.
- This crisis has ushered in a glimpse of what a dystopian future could look like as a rapidly advancing fourth industrial revolution inevitably causes severe disruption in our economy and labor structure.
COVID-19 will expedite automation<p>As the mobility of human beings grinds to a halt due to public health directives and fears of infection, our need for food, resources and social connection has forced us to increasingly rely on technology to fill urgent gaps. In the United States, Amazon is seizing this opportunity to further entrench its <a href="https://nypost.com/2020/03/31/coronavirus-is-only-making-jeff-bezos-and-amazon-more-powerful/" target="_blank">domination</a>, while in China, robots are being deployed to serve those in <a href="https://www.cnbc.com/2020/03/18/how-china-is-using-robots-and-telemedicine-to-combat-the-coronavirus.html" target="_blank">quarantine</a>. In a world where fear of contact with other humans has become pervasive, businesses that can adapt quickly and significantly automate their supply lines and cut points of human contact stand to thrive in this new market. </p><p>Whereas before this crisis, the need for automation was mainly driven by the desire for increased profits and improved efficiency, the momentous shift in public consciousness today regarding simple human contact may make automation almost a necessity for many businesses to survive. When humans trust a robot to handle or deliver their food or goods more than they trust another human, or when crowded workplaces present public health hazards, jobs for humans will be unceremoniously eliminated. Given existing technologies, experts have estimated <a href="https://www.brookings.edu/blog/the-avenue/2020/03/24/the-robots-are-ready-as-the-covid-19-recession-spreads/" target="_blank">36 million jobs</a> may be vulnerable, ranging from trucking and delivery to food service and repetitive white collar jobs, the labor market may face a significant restructure driven by <a href="https://www.vox.com/recode/2020/3/31/21200010/coronavirus-recession-automation-brookings-mark-muro" target="_blank">new technology</a> and a radically altered market for those technologies. In a recent survey conducted by auditing firm <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/mar/30/bosses-speed-up-automation-as-virus-keeps-workers-home" target="_blank">Ernst & Young</a>, more than half of company bosses throughout 45 countries had begun implementing existing plans to fast track automation.</p>
Mainstream acceptance of UBI<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="44c33c426c79ad9f2c6148d8f9f63bc4"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/UEsK7hpIkVI?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>In early 2019, <a href="https://time.com/5804656/ubi-yang-coronavirus/" target="_blank">Andrew Yang</a> began gaining news coverage regarding the central theme of his presidential campaign: $1,000 a month in universal basic income (UBI) dispersed to every American. His primary argument for the necessity of this safety net rested on the belief that the coming age of automation was about to inundate vast scores of our current jobs with a shrinking percentage of elite tech corporations gobbling up more and more of the profit. When Yang first introduced his vision, it seemed to belong to a remote dystopian future with little relevance to the booming economy and low unemployment figures that was the reality until only weeks ago. On the right, he was lambasted as a communist seeking to turn American citizens into dependents to the state. On the left, his ideas were dismissed as other Democratic hopefuls touted the Green New Deal and job programs.</p><p>Fast forward to today and Andrew Yang's UBI theory has moved straight into the forefront. Trump, perhaps cognizant that the "Yang Gang" pulled a great deal of support from his own supporters, quickly recognized the popularity of his ideas and the need to provide supplemental income to Americans as shelter-in-place directives began to take hold throughout the country. The massive <a href="https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/congress/coronavirus-checks-direct-deposits-are-coming-here-s-everything-you-n1168936" target="_blank">$2 trillion</a> coronavirus emergency stimulus will provide every American earning $75,000 or less, regardless of current employment, a check of $1,200 per person and $500 per child for the duration of the crisis. There has been little debate over the necessity of this measure because it has proven to be widely popular to the public, regardless of political standing. It lifts some of the immediate and pressing need to work and helps take some of the edge off from isolating at home, thus contributing to a quicker resolution of this health crisis by sending fewer people out into the streets.</p>
A bipartisan group of economists, technology and public health experts, and ethicists developed a three-part plan to swiftly and safely reopen the American economy. Could it work?
- The three key parts of the plan are testing, contact tracing, and supported isolation.
- The report calls for significantly increased COVID-19 testing, as well as the creation of a centralized Pandemic Testing Board with "strong but narrow powers."
- The plan would play out over four phases, the first of which involves stabilizing the essential workforce and prioritizing testing for these individuals.
Central banks face a Herculean task to keep economies right-side up.
- In the shadow of COVID-19, we're rapidly approaching the point where there's nothing to buy, and no one has any money to buy it with.
- Central bankers have responded to the coronavirus's economic fallout by tinkering with interest rates and instituting quantitative easing (QE) plans.
- Artificially lowering interest rates essentially incentivizes debt and discourages fiscal responsibility, whereas other measures, such as subsidized furloughs, may be more effective and better suited to the current situation.