China · Travel

Random links- high-speed rail issues, old Beijing, and Arundhati Roy profile

China’s high-speed train network is the envy of many, but apparently not everything is as sound as it’d seem. It is impressive, having started in 2007, it’s become the largest high-speed rail network in the world, and traverses many major cities from north to south. China’s expertise and manufacturing capability now sees Chinese firms going across the world bidding for construction contracts, including even the US. One can take the train from Beijing to Guangzhou in 8 hours, a distance of over 2,200 km. However, you can also take a plane which would be much faster and only a little more expensive, as the article points out. And this is just one of the big problems with the high-speed rail, as the article explains. The network isn’t making money and the rail authorities are finding it hard to maintain financing and pay for construction and operations. Even worse is that some tracks are unsafe, owing to shoddy construction materials and hasty construction. Personally I’ve taken the high-speed rail several times, and find it good to use, however this article does raise some valid points.

A man goes back to Beijing after 75 years with his son, stunned by all the changes he sees, while remembering his life in the city when Peking (as it was then called) was still surrounded by an old city wall and was about to be invaded and occupied by the Japanese. It’s an interesting read that provides a picture of what old Beijing was like, albeit from a sheltered Western perspective, and reflects a disappointment and disapproval of the political and social changes in China. It’s not surprising that so much has changed in 75 years, though events like the Cultural Revolution, by literally destroying so much physical aspects of the past, caused a lot of the change.

Arundhati Roy won a Booker Prize for her novel God of Small Things, but she is far better known as a forceful Indian social activist who has no qualms about taking her government on about major issues like an ongoing rural rebel movement, indigenous rights, giant dam project and Kashmir insurgency. Even the late Mahatmas Gandhi is not safe from her criticisms, which you can read about in this fine NY Times profile of her. She’s also been outspoken about international issues such as the US invasion of Iraq in 2003. Her fearlessness extends, not surprisingly, to her writing in the form of several nonfiction books of essay, which I read a few of back in my university days, and it’s fair to say she pulls no punches as her anger is palpable throughout her writings. She’s currently writing a new novel, which she refuses to say what it’s about.


2 thoughts on “Random links- high-speed rail issues, old Beijing, and Arundhati Roy profile

  1. I quite like the high-speed rails of China, but it’s true they basically cost the same as flying. The advantage is that you don’t have jet lag, not so many long lines, the general avoidance of terrible airports (my personal peeve).

    I wouldn’t go all the way from Guangdong to Beijing, but I have went as far north as Wuhan and that was a fine trip. I’m looking forward to using the Shenzhen-Xiamen one in the summer–which was recently closed down for a week or so due to safety concerns. Hope I survive the ride!

    As usual, China is heavily investing in infrastructure almost for its own sake. Some projects fail indeed. I’m not going to make any major predictions, yet for now I like the high-speed rail aspect…


    1. I like the high-speed rail as well. It’s quick and efficient, and it saves you the trouble of going to the airport and having to check in and all that. The article raised worrying points about the construction and structural quality of some of the tracks, and that’s the kind of problem that might materialize in the future.
      I heard about the new Shenzhen-Xiamen line; I wonder if the closure was due to weather/environment or to the lines themselves.


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