A Tale Of Two Chinas

A Chinese boy begs in a subway while an adult homeless sleeps nearby in Beijing Sunday, July 7, 2002. Chinese escaping poverty in other provinces, sometimes bring their children to beg for them on the streets of Beijing.
This story was written by CBS News Correspondent Barry Petersen
Want to know what keeps China's leaders awake at night? Let's start with that good old Chinese proverb, shop 'til you drop.

The New York Times recently did a story about yet another new shopping mall being built in China, which already has the largest shopping mall in the world in Beijing.

As the Times' David Barboza wrote about the malls of China:

"Chinese consumers arrive by bus and train, and growing numbers are driving there. On busy days, one mall in the southern city of Guangzhou attracts about 600,000 shoppers."

Think of it this way: Boston has a population of about 600,000. It's as if everyone evacuated for the day ... just to shop. Everyone.

When people come to visit China, they are often swept away by the skyscrapers of Beijing and Shanghai, by the big-city streets clogged with new cars, and not a few of them BMWs or Mercedes Benzes.

They see an urban population with money to burn, looking hip and well dressed.

But they don't see the other side. They don't see the villages or the urban neighborhoods with unheated, one-room houses that lack plumbing. They don't see people who have no new clothes to wear. They don't see people for whom owning a car is a lifelong dream unlikely to ever be realized.

There are a lot of people in China - try about 900 million peasants out of a population of 1.4 billion - who may never see the inside of a shopping mall. They are too poor.