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Underground Movement

Everywhere in China, there's evidence of economic and social transformation. Change is in the air. It's even in the subways.

Since 1998, Steven Lewis, director of the Transnational China Project at Rice University (www.ruf.rice.edu/~tnchina), has collected photos of more than 4,000 advertisements from Chinese city subway systems. The ads, he says, reflect China's evolution toward economic decentralization and social liberalization—as well as an increasing sophistication about public-service messaging. In Beijing, Lewis photographed this AIDS awareness ad featuring actor Cunxin Pu, one of many in China now promoting social concerns such as family planning, education, and racial tolerance. Beijing is planning five more subway stations in preparation for the 2008 Olympics. Which means a lot more advertising space will be up for grabs.

A version of this article appeared in the July/August 2006 issue of Fast Company magazine.