As the year comes to a close, it’s a good time to reflect. For China, 2012 was a tumultuous year politically, what with the Bo Xilai and the Chen Guangchen affairs, the Diaoyutai protests and tensions, and even Mo Yan’s Nobel victory which raised some criticism. Even then, China got through its leadership transition peacefully, and actually saw some successes. First of all, the most recent success was just yesterday with the opening of the Guangzhou-Beijing high-speed rail line.
Starting from yesterday, the journey from Guangzhou to Beijing will now be less than 10 hours, thanks to China’s impressive high-speed train system. The Guangzhou-Beijing line is the world’s longest high-speed train line at 2,298 km (1,428 miles), far longer than Los Angeles to Vancouver or New York to Miami and a bit longer than Paris to Istanbul. Certain segments of the line were already in operation, such as Guangzhou to Changsha, and Wuhan to Zhengzhou. Zhengzhou, the capital of Henan province, already had a high-speed line to Xian, which I rode on when I went to Huashan and Luoyang, also in Henan.
Mo Yan, as many people know, won the Nobel Prize for Literature this year, raising some eyebrows and getting a lot of criticism. He’s not the first Chinese to win a Nobel, not even the first to win the Literature Prize (that would be Gao Xingjian). However, he’s the first Chinese person to win it while working in China, unlike the first Chinese Literature laureate Gao, and basically he’s not a dissident. As such, some see him as a stooge of the regime. More reasonable voices have spoken out for him and in the end, the point is that he has chosen to stay and work in his country, and speak out as much as he can, while not straying beyond the limits. I think many of his critics should truly put themselves in Mo Yan’s shoes, and think about what choice they would make.
The Nobel Prize wasn’t the only internationally renowned prize won by a mainland Chinese, as architect Wang Shu won this year’s Pritzker Architecture Prize, the first time that a Chinese has won it. Famous architects like Rem Koolhas, Norm Foster, and Zaha Hadid have won it. Wang Shu‘s signature buildings include the Ningbo History Museum and the Ningbo Contemporary Art Museum (Wang is based in Hangzhou, Zhejiang).
China sent another set of astronauts/taikonauts into space earlier this year, but what was special this time was one of them was a woman. From all indications, this was not just for show and Liu Yang did a good job in helping with China’s first space docking mission with an orbiting space lab.
China’s military capabilities got a big boost with the launch of its first aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, which was followed shortly by the first successful take off and landings of jet fighters onto the carrier. Nevertheless, this is still a first step, but congratulations to China for making it.
In the 2012 Summer Olympics, China’s athletes did extremely well, earning 88 medals, 36 of which were gold. This was good enough for 2nd overall. In swimming, youngsters like 16-year-old Ye Shewen and Sun Yang blazed the way, with Sun being the first male Chinese to win swimming gold in the Olympics.
China fared less well in football internationally, but domestically the league saw its profile raised considerably with big names like Dider Drogba, Nicolas Anelka, and Seydou Keita coming to China. While there were some shenanigans in Shanghai, Guangzhou did very well to repeat their 2011 league win, and reach the quarterfinals in the Asian Champions League.
Of course, China saw a lot of serious problems, such as the aforementioned political soap opera involving fallen party official Bo and the escapade of the blind lawyer Chen. There’ve been corruption and sex scandals, and tragedies involving school kids. For many Chinese, life is still tough. Tensions have continued to grow over the Diaoyutais and in the South China Sea. Overall though, it seems like China is still going strong economics-wise, and it’s the one who the world is depending on to keep the ball rolling, so to speak.