China is an unrivalled powerhouse in the global economy. For the last three decades, its growth has outpaced that of all other nations.
Entire industries that took decades to mature in the West have sprung up in just a few years.
Much of this activity takes place in designated industrial zones where new cities have been built from scratch to accommodate the workers flooding in from rural regions to be a part of the boom.
Between 1984 and 2010, the amount of built-up areas in China increased nearly fivefold – from 3,413 square miles (8,842 squrae kilometres) to 16,126 square miles (41,768 square kilometres).
To construct these new urban zones, China used more concrete in the three years between 2011 and 2013 than the whole of the United States used in the 20th Century.
Yet even in the world’s second largest economy, the rate of development has overtaken demand.
Faced with falling prices and slumping sales – partly due to overproduction — the Chinese government has had to step in to cut back some industries.
It has meant huge lay-offs. In areas like Hebei, a northern province that surrounds Beijing, the impact has been especially hard. This was once a thriving region, long regarded as the country’s steel belt.
Many of its state-owned plants have been shut down and now lie empty. Privately owned steel mills are struggling to survive.
The same fate has befallen other low-tech sectors, creating so-called “zombie factories” across the country.
In China, the shift from industries like steel production to electronics, telecommunications and biotechnology has happened very quickly.
Europe and the United States underwent a similar shift over the course of several decades, as industries expanded and matured. China’s high-tech revolution took just a few years.
Driving some of this change is the Chinese government’s own attempts to restructure its country’s economy, leaving traditional sectors like mining, steel production and cement manufacturing to bear the brunt of the job losses. In the cities of Changzhi and Luliang, close to the Yellow River in the northern province of Shanxi, the shells of cement factories that have been unable to survive these changes lie empty.