HONG KONG -- As the Chinese economy continues to power ahead, everyone in the country is pleased with the visible improvement in standards of living, but very few people are counting the cost in terms of the loss of China's historical legacy, the growing sense of alienation and the loss of the cohesiveness that used to mark society, particularly rural society.

Take my own family. Over the Easter holidays I went to Wuxi, which was my family's home for centuries.

On my last visit in 1999, I was told that the grave of my ancestor from 12 generations ago, Qin Yao, a high Ming dynasty official who died in 1604, had been dug up. The grave had been preserved for almost 400 years, but the government decided that this part of its cultural heritage was less important than a parking lot.