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The pace with which China has evolved from a rural to an urban society has left many international observers perplexed. Although agriculture remains the main source of income for millions of people, the growing urbanization of the country has seen a surge in the demand for buildings of all shapes and sizes.

It has been said that up to three-quarters of all cranes worldwide operate in China these days. It is the sort of urban legend that has caught the imagination of the public and made the world aware of the giant steps taken by Mao’s country. As capitalism – or “Socialism with Chinese characteristics” – spreads in the Middle Empire, so is a new breed of buildings taking root along with it.

The past decade has seen impressive growth year after year in various sectors such as cement, steel, real estate and textile, which eventually prompted fears of an economic bust. The government, which remains highly involved in the economy, stepped in and managed to slow down the pace of growth, thus avoiding a damaging overheat while reassuring foreign markets.

The country’s production and import of steel, petrol and other supplies needed to sustain the economic boom had remained on an upward trend indeed over the past few years. But China’s State Information Centre believes the momentum is finally slowing down, with industrial investments being stabilised or slightly reduced. According to a poll of economists, this year’s GDP is expected to reach somewhere between 8.5 and 9%.

But beyond the statistics and shady figures, a sturdy melange of traditional buildings and edgy skyscrapers is shaping the China of tomorrow. Influenced by the cities of the West as much as the country’s glorious and eventful past, both Chinese and foreign architects have let their imagination run wild. To the visitor passing through the country, it is difficult to see in the skyscrapers and towers they built from Shanghai to Chengdu anything else but a nation’s coming of age.

--benoit simoneau