Criticism of China’s high-speed rail development is rampant, but I must take exception to Ian Johnson’s recent piece in the National Geographic. Before his article even begins, the defamatory lede reads: “Engineering blitzkrieg continues despite financial and human toll.” For Westerners, ‘blitzkrieg’ conjures Nazi aggression during WW2 as they trampled their way around Europe in domination. America’s NASA program had her human toll too in the Challenger disaster in 1986. I wonder if Johnson would dare to characterize the U.S. shuttle program as “engineering blitzkrieg.”
As a Pulitzer Prize winner, supposedly representing the cream-of-the-crop journalism in the West, Johnson shows us how easily it is to suspend intellectual faculty in dishing out cheap shots. What is even more disappointing is the National Geographic, whose mission is to “inspire” us about our world, in fact does the opposite. I find the gridlock in launching the Los Angeles to San Francisco high-speed rail project a sign that America has lost her ways. Seemingly, every project of significance in American society is politicized. Americans seem to have given in to mediocrity, allowing their politicians to show no result at the end of the day. Despite it’s flaws, couldn’t there be something in China’s high-speed rail project to learn from?
When Johnson writes, of the rail program:
It’s an engineering blitzkrieg meant to awe the Chinese people and show off the nation’s new industrial might.
His narrative is rather odd. If he simply said that there are many criticisms of China’s high-speed rail system development being too aggressive, that’d be an objective observation. However, compare China’s high-speed rail safety record against the Japanese, the Germans, or even the Americans, the Chinese system is very safe.
Aside from the Nazi reference, we are told the project is meant to awe the Chinese people and show off to the rest of the world? What about the simple fact that China desperately needs infrastructure to help move people as well goods around the country?
What are we to make of the rapid Internet development that has taken place in the last couple of decades in the United States? Is that “blitzkrieg” and to show off to the rest of the world too? What an idiotic statement to make!
Less impressive have been the costs—financial and human. Last year two events happened that continue to shake the railway system and China as a whole. One was the detention of China’s once powerful railway minister, Liu Zhijun, an old-style communist central planner who rolled out the high-speed network like a general using human-wave tactics.
Certainly, the Wenzhou crash was a wake-up call to examine the project’s development closely. How is China shaken as a whole? America has the resilience to deal with the Challenger disaster, the Katrina debacle, and certainly future mishaps. Can’t China be allowed to have a few of her own and be resilient too? If America can have her Rod Blagojevich’s, can’t China be allowed to have a few of Liu Zhijun’s?
And, what in the world is “human-wave tactics” when it comes to high-speed rail development?
Honestly, I couldn’t read the article further. National Geographic have inspired me in the past. However, I felt betrayed. I now wonder when it portrayed other peoples, other societies, and rest of our world, did it filter through a political agenda? Behind the gorgeous photography, is there selection bias?
It’s really too bad. Our world has many inspirations, but this National Geographic article clearly shows it found none.