The sight of China’s empty cities prompted colleague, Anne-Marie Voorhoeve to ask – “Why not house the refugees here?”


What a logical question – that provides a solution in one country (China) to a problem in another country (Syria).

Even if China were a democratic country, like the USA, housing refugees is a problématique that does not lie easy on the body politic.

And finding new housing in the often housing-poor West is a challenge even without an influx of refugees from the Middle East.

The question of “Why not house the refugees in China’s empty cities?”, presupposes a willingness, openness, values-set, compassion and charity that are generally part of the mindsets of northern Europe and North America.

But even those countries are balking at the challenges of importing Middle-East cultures that seem hostile to indigenous cultures of Europe and North America. The invasion of refugees with all their needs, traumas, expectations and “differences” has prompted right wing extremists in USA, France, UK and elsewhere to lash out against them.

And those factions balk, generally because their countries have admitted refugees and immigrants for many decades while resentments have been festering. (Some like Canada and the USA have been expressly built from mosaics and melting-pots of in-migrating cultures).

But when was the last time that you heard of China admitting any such peoples in peril? Who offered to help the hurricane victims of the Philippines? Or the boat people of Vietnam? Or the tsunami victims of southeast Asia? Or the starving of Ethiopia?

China has long nursed a history of isolationism and even as 20th and 21st century trade has opened its doors to the rest of the world’s inflow of financial exchange for its outflow of cheap goods, China does not have a reputation for assisting the less fortunate.

Expanding the Circles of Care from Self to Others to Cities to the Planet of Cities (Integral City’s Master Code) is an evolutionary trajectory that the state of China is only just beginning. China is still in a Self-centric mode of existence. And it may even fear the Other to such an extent that opening the empty cities to refugees would seem pure anathema to China’s sense of Self and its security.

I wonder what and how the rest of the world might offer a resource to China for shifting to a larger Circle of Care?? Might the trade for our energy and mineral resources (that have gone into the building of these new cities), in the future be linked to a condition of re-investment on behalf of the world’s greatest needs? How can we ask that the “sacred” soil and new cities of China be shared with refugees who bring skills, intelligence and experience that would bring an entirely renewable form of energy to China’s new cities?

This is part of a series of blogs on China’s empty cities that triggered a series of Integral City thought capsules and thought experiments. See also:

A City Without People is not a City 

Building a

[City] Bridge Without Walking On It.

Burtynsky and Caemerrer Photographs Haunt Cities