Ten Chinese superlatives

In The Economist this week, there’s a fascinating feature about China and the country’s development of its infrastructure – roads, railways, airports, etc.

As with much of the writing in The Economist, it’s a well-written and compelling piece that draws you into the story.

And what a story.


With almost every paragraph, I felt bombarded, smacked in the face with fact after fact of which many are real eye openers.

For instance:

  • Beijing’s new airport terminal – the world’s largest – was planned and built in four years by an army of 50,000 workers. It’s due to open on Feb 29, ahead of schedule.
  • And to put that in perspective: the terminal is 3km (1.8 miles) long with floor space that’s 17% bigger than all the terminals at London Heathrow combined including the new Terminal 5 due to open next month.
  • Between 2001 and the end of 2005, more was spent on roads, railways and other fixed assets than was spent in the previous 50 years.
  • Between 2006 and 2010, $200 billion is expected to be invested in railways alone, four times more than in the previous five years.
  • The world’s longest sea-crossing bridge is due to open in June: a 36km (22 miles) six-lane highway across Hangzhou Bay (about the same length as the undersea portion of the Channel Tunnel linking Britain and France).
  • From August the 115km (71.4 miles) journey from Beijing to Tianjin, its nearest port, will be reduced to half an hour with the inauguration of a bullet-train link, China’s fastest intercity rail service.
  • Until 1993, buying a plane ticket required a letter of authorization from an employer.
  • Since the 1990s China has built an expressway network criss-crossing the country that is second only to America’s interstate highway system in length. By the end of 2007, some 53,600km (33,300 miles) of toll expressways had been built; the aim is to have 70,000km of expressways by 2020.
  • The Chinese government’s "new socialist countryside" programme includes the planned construction of 300,000km (186,000 miles) of new rural roads between 2006 and 2010.
  • To deal with the rapid rise in air travel, the Chinese government plans to add another 97 airports by 2020 to the 142 China had at the end of 2006. The number with an annual handling capacity of over 30m passengers will grow from three to 13.

All that asphalt, concrete and airplane and vehicle emissions. Wonder what the environmental impacts will be in such a short time period.

An interesting aside on the appalling weather that affected much of China in January and earlier this month and what that means for infrastructure development, from The Economic Observer Online, the website of the independent Chinese weekly:

The slew of snowstorms and deep freezes that have swept across China have had contained but significant effects on businesses, infrastructure, and the economy as a whole. As power grids, roads, and rails were strained or shut down entirely, already-high prices on everyday goods continued to climb. But it’s not bad news for everyone – rebuilding efforts may mean better infrastructure, looser price controls, and windfalls for companies that win government projects.

Anyway, do read the full story in The Economist if you want to get a sense of just how China is bootstrapping itself into the 21st century.

And still read it notwithstanding any critical thoughts you may have about a country that has a poor human rights record and a government that routinely tramples on its own citizenry, as The Economist’s story points out.

Yes, it’s quite a story.

Neville Hobson

Social Strategist, Communicator, Writer, and Podcaster with a curiosity for tech and how people use it. Believer in an Internet for everyone. Early adopter (and leaver) and experimenter with social media. Occasional test pilot of shiny new objects. Avid tea drinker.

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