Explaining why China's economy has boomed so much over the past 35 years is a complicated endeavor more suited for a book, but one crude way to describe it is this: China has built a lot of things very, very fast.
How fast? Well, consider the example of this 15- story building constructed in six days in Changsha, the capital of central China's Hunan Province. In 2010, a city resident created this time lapse video showing the incredibly fast construction of the Ark Hotel:
Why are Chinese buildings built so quickly? One well-publicized factor is corruption: Chinese construction projects are prone to bribery and corner-cutting, and the resulting structures typically do not last very long. Newer Chinese buildings, though, also use prefabricated modular technology, something that has shortened construction time without a corresponding sacrifice of safety standards.
Then, there is the labor force, which usually consists of undocumented internal migrants working for very long hours at low wages. These workers lack the means to complain of unfair labor conditions, and construction strikes are rare in China -- something that helps keep building projects on schedule.
Reforming labor laws -- and enforcing building codes -- is one of China's long-term challenges, so eventually stricter laws might make such lightning-speed construction projects less common. But in the meantime, residents in cities such as Changsha can still have the unsettling experience of going on vacation for a week -- and seeing a brand new hotel pop up when they get back.
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Matt Schiavenza is the senior content manager at the Asia Society and a former contributing writer for The Atlantic.