Electricity Comes to Rural China

China’s economy is exploding, with consequences that may only be understood decades from now. In addition to massive hydropower ventures — like the $25 billion Three Gorges Dam — the government is encouraging smaller hydro projects, which are bringing electricity to southwestern rural villages where life has scarcely changed for generations. Now, the past century or two of Western development will likely unfurl in those villages in a matter of decades. Already villagers are lauding the benefits: artificial light for working or socializing by night, and food kept fresh by the miracle of refrigeration. They are also wondering, thanks to the introduction of satellite television, why they are receiving such a small slice of China’s growing economic pie. Now the question is this: Will this rural development bring the same hopelessly mixed blessing to China as it did to the West — health and economic improvements at the price of ravaging urbanization, overconsumption, and environmental damage?