The city of Kunshan is positioned in Jiangsu Provincejust between the major metropolitan areas of Shanghai and Suzhou, and can be reached in just 20 minutes via high speed rail service in either direction. Kunshan, a third tier city famous for it's autumn crab season and Zhou Zhuang ancient water town, is governed under the supervision of the Suzhou city officials. However, the proximity and connection to Shanghai via city metro cannot be ignored as many often rumor that Kunshan may eventually be annexed by Shanghai permanently. This is largely due to the fact that many Shanghainese families have invested in real estate here and commute to the city daily for work.
Kunshan, known for being one of the most wealthy municipalities in all of China, still is experiencing the tension of development as constructions crews and cranes tower over farmland and the ancestral homes of local communities whom have been bought out and relocated into new high rises or small low income districts on the periphery of the city. The Kunshan downtown area has been established for years, but on the east and west sides of the city the push is to connect the grid between Shanghai and Suzhou and to continue to modernize this city that employs one of the highest number of immigrant labor of any city in China per capita.
I too was as an immigrant laborer working in Kunshan from mid-2014 to mid-2015, although my cushy university job certainly had many luxuries not afford to those working at Foxconn or the Zhongrong Metal Production Company that exploded and killed nearly 150 people a little more than a year ago to date. However, my existence in Kunshan alone demonstrates a desire by the local government to transition from production to science, research, and education - a model that has been very successful for Suzhou in the recent past. Many other second and third tier cities in China are also pushing for their economic and international aspirations and may encounter similar struggles. Kunshan has the money to build the public infrastructure found in cities such as Suzhou, Hangzhou, and Nanjing and may eventually catch up to these local big brother and big sister cities. Yet, with all of the international manufacturers and investors, real estate exploding to the far reaches of the city, it still should be known that businesses such as Subway, Wal-Mart, and Carrefour were not able to survive here even within the thriving downtown area. But on the other hand, there are still more than 11 Starbucks thriving within a 15KM radius of the city. So, at least, someone is drinking lattes.
All images above were made using 120 black and white film on the street just outside my Kunshan apartment during the summer of 2015 . This was the second time I encountered local farmers reclaiming public roads to dry their grain seed that was spread across the four-lane road, leaving only one single lane for cars to share. After several days the seed eventually migrated to the center of the road, leaving a single lane in each direction -- a nice innovation for traffic fluidity.