IHAVE seen the future of much of the Pacific Rim, and I am scared out of my mind. One quarter of the population of the planet - certainly 1.2 billion Chinese - are about to transform their standard of living, and in the process, wreck a large proportion of the globe. In terms of material well-being and the words of He Keqin, chairman of Guangdong Enterprises (Holdings), a contributor to the Second World Chinese Entrepreneurs Convention held in Hong Kong last month, this is ''success''. But there seems to be little prospect for anything but rapacious industrialism and no rule of law. My visit was made with the Department of Architecture of Hong Kong University. From the moment that our bus driver started his engine at Shantou dock, he never took his hand off the horn. His driving seemed to be emblematic of general Chinese mentality. There are no rules of the road: you simply have to get where you are going by your wits. That means never giving way, total disregard for human life; you push your way through total chaos. In the city, sheer numbers and density limit vehicle freedom. Crossing the street as a pedestrian is perilous. There is a maelstrom of bicycles, motor bikes, cars, trucks and buses - raw, pulsating energy. The din is crushing. But once outside the city, in a dusty flux of former paddy fields becoming towns or industrial zones, roadside business and vestigial farming, the system reveals its nature. The only consensus is that you drive for the most part on the right. But trucks and buses stop anywhere; workers make coal bricks and peasants dry rice on the road. Bicycles, mostly overladen with goods, weave drunkenly; slow tractor-cart combinations, trucks and small buses go round them; fast buses and cars hurtle through everything. Every driver appears to playing a grotesque game of chicken. I witnessed three near-fatal accidents. A father's bicycle was hit by a bus and his small son thrown into the road. I saw a child lying on his back with the rest of his family, surrounded by their cycle-load of fruit, spilt into the path of these ferocious forces. Western concerns to protect civil rights appear academic in the extreme. There are approximately 290 million people in the southern provinces of Guangdong and Fujian. Through the Special Economic Zones, they are the engine driving the Chinese ''miracle''. In 1993-5 the Japanese economy is expected to grow three to four per cent; European economies will be fortunate to show half that. In 1993 alone China will grow by 13 per cent. China, as a whole, is the world's third largest economy. It is now the workshop to the world, as were Boston, Manchester or Birmingham in the 19th century. As writer Paul Theroux puts it: ''China is succeeding because China is at work. The world has put the country to work and has invested in it, and the world has received a return on its investment. Most people reading this article are wearing a Chinese shirt, or sweater, or trousers, orpair of shoes. '' 'Traditional' English baskets are Chinese. Carved Christmas decorations are Chinese. Our do-it-yourself tools, hammers, and socket wrenches, are Chinese. Our children's toys are Chinese. Our bikes. High fashion beaded dresses are Chinese. Ninja turtles are Chinese. The tyres on our cars are Chinese. Many of the Japanese electronic goods we buy are actually assembled in China.'' The port of Shantou, on the Haning River, has 1.5 million inhabitants. It seemed to have no monumental buildings, but 22 towers, and as many tower cranes as the City of London at the height of its construction boom. To the north, and beyond the regulation Moscow look-alike communications tower, is a plain in the process of transformation from agriculture to industry; sun-dried bricks, rammed earth and bamboo structures are being replaced by reinforced concrete. It is crossed by numerous canals and minor rivers. Bridges of hewn granite and perfectly triangulated bamboo are giving way to unlovely concrete spans. As mountains swim out of the heat-haze south of Chaozhou, activity changes to ceramics manufacture. There are roadside displays of pots, some huge and without any obvious function (decorated, they ornament Western hotel lobbies and, who knows, homes), and sanitary wares, churned out from brooding kilns. Crouched, asymetrically-curved roofs shelter massive brick bases. Pointing skyward are their great, haunched chimneys: ''tiger-kilns''. Although primitive they are adequate to produce low quality basins and WCs by the million. The whole area is in developmental ''lift-off''. My local architectural guide, a gentle Mr Wu, had to turn the bus round several times, as he found his maps overtaken by events. Paths had become tracks, tracks roads, roads highways. And hamlets were now towns, and towns cities. I went to Guangdong to study a village, but was left pondering the relationship between the sustainable way of life that it embodied, and the urban onslaught beyond. If drainage ditches are blocked, and ponds jammed with unspeakable pollution. Was it not always like this? In the first throes of industrialisation in Manchester or Liverpool, or the Back Bay of Boston must have looked very similar. It may feel offensive to a visitor to be pursued, physically grabbed, by hordes of beggars - while shining new Mercedes cars glide by. Karl Marx no doubt felt the same about Victorian London. Certainly no one commentator from the West has the right to deny the material comfort he experiences every day. It is simply frustrating to feel that nothing has been learned, that the old mistakes and excesses must all be re-made. Three million Victorians wrecked Shakespeare's ''sceptred isle'', fewer Germans created the Ruhr. In Europe, it has taken 150 years to restore only a glimpse of the natural world that was. The activities of some 20 per cent of the world's population has now created global warming, depletion of the ozone layer and massive deforestation. We still cannot decisively reverse these forces. Every human being will be affected. It is now not just nations, but the whole planet which is involved. As the undeveloped world gears up towards industrialisation - hopefully at a less furious pace than China - is it not incumbent on developed countries to demonstrate a sustainable industrial economy? Cities with bicycles and agreeable public transport. Cars, if we must have them, which last, do not pollute, and conserve fuel. Insulated, naturally-lit and ventilated buildings which use materials changed least from their natural state. ''Cradle to grave'' design. Clean air and water. China aspires to the good life embodied by Los Angeles. Who is to deny them, until we show that this is not good enough? John Sergeant, a practising architect in the United Kingdom and lecturer in architecture at Cambridge University, is at present a visiting professor at the Architecture Department at the Chinese University.