China Is Literally Moving Mountains to Build New Cities

China is on a giant building spree and nothing is going to stop it—not even mountains. Entire mountaintops are being razed to fill in valleys, paving the way for future cities. The problem is that no one really knows what they're doing. "[E]arth-moving on this scale without scientific support is folly," warn three Chinese engineering professors in Nature.

As China plans to move 100 million rural people into cities, quick and dirty construction has become the norm. You see buildings that are barely finished fall apart. These mountain-moving projects are similarly hasty, but they're being carried out on an even more massive scale by engineers with little experience in flattening mountains. What if, for example, a city built on unstable soil collapses in the rain?

That's a legitimate fear in Yan'an, just one of several cities being created on flattened land. Valleys have been filled with silt—soft soil that can easily collapse when wet. Dozens of hilltops all over China are being razed with little regard for other environmental concerns like air pollution, soil erosion, and groundwater loss. There's so much money to be made—for certain people—that the risks are not being properly studied, argue the professors in Nature.

The whole situation is reminiscent of a Chinese fable in which an old man defies all expectations by slowly digging away two mountains in front of his house. It's meant to be a story of perseverance. (My Chinese immigrant parents, in fact, drilled the story into my head all the time when I was a kid.) But when fable becomes literal fact, you might want to check your science. [Nature]

Top image: The skyline of Chongqing, one of the cities where mountains have been removed to allow for expansion. faunng/flickr