Some of you may have missed that China completed two major projects just in time for the Party’s 90th birthday. These now stand like trophies along with the Three Gorges Dam and dozens of other massive works. These projects often come at massive prices, and require moving thousands of people (sometimes millions).
The Three Gorges Dam is one of the largest projects ever completed by man, with enough steel to construct 63 Eiffel towers. It along with many of China’s other dams were inspired by Mao Zedong, and were partially constructed simply to fulfill his dream (many have argued that several smaller dams would be more efficient, and cause fewer environmental problems).
Currently the dam is the center of a lot of debate in China, where it is filling with garbage, being blamed for causing droughts, and accused of causing a variety of disasters in nearby villages.
So why is it that China continues undertaking huge projects?
Today we’ll be looking at the first answer: Vanity.
The most widely discussed of these new projects was the much-anticipated high-speed train that connects Beijing and Shanghai, which is currently the fastest in the world. It cuts several hours off of the travel time by train, and often is faster than airplanes due to frequent flight delays.
While the train is certainly useful, a lot of people are wondering if the train was really worth the price tag of $33 billion, it may never recover the cost. The problem is that to keep the ticket price attractive to locals, it is very difficult to even match the cost of operating the train, this has been a problem for many of the other high-speed lines. This cost factor is part of the reason why the track was built for trains traveling at 350km/h but will only be running at 300km/h.
The High-speed rail project though has created a lot of buzz around the world, and has helped Chinese companies win several large contracts overseas. So while it not be financially successful here, it does make people say “Wow, China is passing everyone in technology”, and I think that was one of the motivating factors for building it.
The other major project was a bridge that connects Qingdao to Huangdao district, it is now the longest cross-sea bridge in the world. It will reduce travel time by twenty minutes, and cost an impressive $2.3 billion. This project seems a little harder to justify.
It only beat out the other contender by .48km, so I’m led to believe that the bridge was built partially by the desire to have the worlds longest bridge, not because it was the most urgent project.
A similar thing happened when the gov’t was remodeling the National Museum in Beijing (also the largest). One museum director in Europe received several phone calls inquiring about the exact square footage of the Louvre and other well-known museums. This was an important factor for those in charge of the redesign. Now the museum faces the task of filling the floor space.
You’ll notice though that there is one superlative missing from all of these descriptions though – Best.
Tomorrow we’ll be looking at the second reason China likes big infrastructure projects, corruption.