Friday, July 01, 2011
It's the fastest thing on land with a "Made in China" label — a bullet train that speeds past unfinished suburbs and broken farmhouses at nearly 200 mph between Beijing and Shanghai in a blur of national pride.
Opened to the public Thursday, the landmark line connects China's two biggest cities and is meant to showcase the country's innovative muscle and give the Chinese Communist Party a shot of legitimacy as it celebrates its 90th birthday.
In a nation obsessed with feats of engineering such as the Three Gorges Dam and the world's longest sea bridge (also unveiled Thursday), the national high-speed rail network is something akin to the U.S. space program.
"This has become a matter of national face," said Zhou Xiaozheng, a professor of sociology at People's University in Beijing. "We love building gigantic projects."
But it hasn't always been a smooth ride for the $32.5-billion project, which has become a controversial symbol in the country's growing divide between rich and poor.
Criticism abounds, mostly online, over the project's whopping price tag and the steep cost of tickets. The cheapest fare for the Beijing-Shanghai line is $86, equivalent to one-tenth of an average urbanite's monthly salary. And doubts have even been raised over that "Made in China" label.
But China's leaders say they've opened up a crucial artery that will expand the flow of people and commerce between the country's two most important engines — one its political center, the other its commercial heart.