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Who Is Chen Guangcheng – A Celebration of Life on His 40th Birthday

By Yaxue Cao, published: November 12, 2011


To say life didn’t start promisingly for him is a vast understatement. He was born on November 12, 1971, in the impoverished village Dong Shi Gu (东师古) in Yinan County, Shandong province, the youngest of five boys. He lost his vision to high fever when he was around one year old. He didn’t go to school until 18 years old. In the Chinese countryside, where living is at its barest, expectations are a rare commodity to begin with, and for the disabled, there are none. For most of the part, they are seen and treated as a family scourge that must be borne.

chen-guangchengA Naughty Boy

Despite blindness, he told friends he had a happy childhood. His father read to him centuries-old Chinese classics such as Outlaws of the Marsh (《水浒》) and The Three Kingdoms (《三国演义》). He helped his parents in the field. Of the two popular boys’ sports, snatching eggs out of bird nests and catching fish in the river, he exceled in both, using his hearing as guide. “I couldn’t see fish, but I knew where fish were and under what rock they liked to stay.”

Being blind, sometimes he got picked on. He couldn’t catch the offender, but he could remember his voice. Next time he heard it again, he would grab him and teach him a lesson.

He grew up to be a young man who liked to talk and liked to laugh, who was tall, strong and, by all standards, handsome.

At 18 years old in 1989, he entered Linyi Elementary School for the Blind. From 1994 to 1998, he attended the School for the Blind in Qingdao (青岛), Shandong. From 1998 to 2001, he studied in Nanjing University of Chinese Medicine. At the time China had only two universities that accepted blind students, and, nationwide, only 40-50 blind people were admitted each year, all studying Chinese medicine and massage, the only subject deemed suitable for them. Still, he was one the luckiest to have gone that far in life.

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Infrastructure follow up – Nanjing’s brand new station needs repairs

I was just told by a Chinese friend that the Nanjing South Railway Station, which was opened just over 10 days ago is already in need of massive restoration. Apparently the opening was rushed for the 90th anniversary, and tiles were either poorly laid, or the concrete had no completely dried (he was unsure of specifics). The result is that they are having to redo thousands of square feet so that the quality can reach an acceptable level.

Showing part of the area being restored in Nanjing Station

I had mentioned that the bridge in Qingdao had also been rushed for the Party’s anniversary, but a day later it came out that it had opened without all of its guard rails in place.  The Global Times and CCTV were quick to criticize the local gov’t of making a play to gain face. Their efforts to blame the local gov’t seem a bit misplaced, since the bridge had passed the safety inspection! Apparently only the metal posts need to be in place, but the rails and lights are not considered “primary” structures of the bridge.

Here is the best quote from the article:

Unscrewed nut caps would not affect the safe operation of the bridge, Han Bin, an associate professor with the department of bridge engineering at Beijing Jiaotong University, told the Global Times on Wednesday.

“However, if accidents occur and hit the guard rails, problems might rise,” he said.

Like I have said these problems are widespread, and apparently it is not only the local governments interested in making sure that these structures opened in time for the big celebration.

update to the update: Last night the HSR line broke down due to “thunderstorms”, which led to electrical failure. Fortunately the trains stopped safely, but this is a bit worrying for the week old system. Read more at China Media Project.

2nd update: Apparently I had near perfect timing with this series, today a 2 day old highway in Yunnan province gave way killing two. Pictures of the collapsed freeway are available here (not gruesome).

Biggest, Fastest, Longest – China’s Infrastructure and Love of Superlatives

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.