The grief of the speed

I was literally stuttering when I was told that there was a deadly bullet train accident just happened a few hours ago, last night in a friend’s birthday party. Being a strong supporter for the Chinese mega high-speed railway project, I immediately felt overwhelmingly defensive but couldn’t really have any solid points to argue back, since I wasn’t aware of the accident at all. As a result I immediately took up my Nexus One to look up for any news on the train crash, and was majorly astonished to read the horrible news again (the first one being hearing the Norwegian tragedy in the morning).

Here is what happened (sort of): a bullet train lost its power and halted (stroked by the thunderbolt under bad weather condition) on the railway close to Wenzhou on the Hangzhou-Wenzhou high-speed rail line in the southeastern China. Several minutes later another train came by. Instead of detecting the previous halted train and braking immediately, this train hit bluntly to the butt of the first train in full speed (around 200KM/h). To this point 39 dead bodies have been recovered from the accident scene. A full and thorough investigation is now being conducted for the detailed explanations of this horrible accident as we speak.

Like many other horrible accidents and disasters, this train accident was quickly followed by a series of alleged scandals regarding the suspected cover-up by the Ministry of Railways (for there seems to be contradictory stories about the collision and the controversial rescue efforts), as well as the exposure of incompetent officials in charge of this high-speed line. However, the most sensitive characteristic of this awful train collision is the fact that it happened on the new rapidly-expanding high-speed rail system that China has recently heavily invested with enormous public attention in and out of China. I am sure there are going to be tons of China skeptics and high-speed rail skeptics swarming to offer their interpretations and criticisms against the high speed rail project or even the Chinese product quality in general once again.

Sadly, fact is fact. Major evidence points out that it was an unbelievable thing to happen: first the train should have the signalling system to automatically detect the proximate train in the front and brake itself, instead of hitting on the still train with full speed; second it must be something went really really wrong to have two trains both derailed in the collision as the wheels of the train should be embedded in between the rail tracks as a protective measure to prevent derailing. As far as I see, there are two biggest possible factors that could lead to such terrible train collision: huge mistakes in the management and traffic control of this high-speed rail line or significant flaws in the safety measures of those bullet trains.

Sarcastically, I could already anticipate the investigation results of this tragic train collision. They will claim to find out some dudes, possibly of middle-level official position that are in charge of this high-speed rail line, to be fully responsible for the wrongdoing and neglecting of their duties and responsibilities for this avoidable “man-made” accident. At the same time there will be absolutely 100% assurance from all levels of government that the bullet train and high speed railway itself are perfectly safe and not to blame.

I am not pouring cynicism to China’s high speed rail project here like everyone else. Instead, I am infuriating at the fact that the infamous made-in-China scandal series has finally come to the newest episode: the magnificent Chinese high speed rail . I would rather grind my teeth to take those noisy derision again, just like many other times before.

Modern China!

The high level of impetuousness is getting incredibly infectious and destructive in every single aspect of the modern Chinese society. Or should I say every single aspect of the modern Chinese society is getting ferociously and obnoxiously more impetuous day by day. Merchants only care about maximizing their profit with the minimum capital input, many times at the cost of risking the well-being of the consumers. Officials step in as they are interested in how much cut they could get from the bribery… Then the next thing you hear from the media: crappy new residential apartment that went ridiculously up-side-down, the melamine-tainted milk powder that killed many toddlers, and this time – whatever it is that make the bullet train ridiculously collide at the cost of 43 lives.

Money, money, money. I disdain the money-worship vernacular fold culture in China. As soon as Chinese classicism got wiped out clean after the cultural revolution, money-worshiping becomes the supreme unchallenged dogma in every Chinese peasant’s mind (since most classic intellectuals got either persecuted or muted after the cultural revolution).

Money worshiping + high level of impetuousness = eternal awesomeness of the invincible speed of China.

Accelerated by a little bit of humble smugness from the Chinese governmental officials (We want to be the number 1! biggest, highest, fastest, and the best of the best!), this awesomeness can only go outrageously faster, faster than the speed of light. Don’t ask me how it is possible, modern Chinese believe it’s possible and therefore should happen in China. My heretic view of feudalistic conservative out-of-fashion Chinese classicism would be deemed a blasphemy and breach of the sacred modern Chinese prowess. Whatever it is, it’s epic.

In the end of the day, I wonder if people in China would even start averting taking shining bullet train like their aversion to Chinese-made milk powder. I guess it’s still possible at this moment, as far as our planes are still made by Boeing and Airbus (but China also has the ambition to insert its own big and small jets in the near future).

However, as much as I dislike the mentality and social atmosphere of modern China, my support for the rapid expansion of high speed rail network still stands firm. Regardless of this train collision and the shaky quality record of Chinese products, it is the RIGHT decision to build such vast high-speed rail network in China. As far as I concern one of the major secrets behind the soaring of Chinese economy is the parallel soaring of Chinese infrastructure system, especially the transportation system. One of the most successful examples is the expansion of the expressway system in China. the length of expressway in China grew insanely from null in 1988 to 74,000 KM in early 2011 (only second to the US). Though often times there were reports of absurd incidents associated with intimidating highway quality somewhere, its positive effects on the economic growth in connected regions are simply too big to ignore. The same applies to Chinese rail transportation system. The separation of passenger-transportation from existing old lines will double or even triple the freight capacity of the old lines, not to mention the economic implications of significantly shortening travelling time between major cities in China. Of course there’s no way that such mega infrastructure would be profitable in short term and China needs to adjust its affordability for normal Chinese to take such high-speed trains (still way cheaper than slow train in Europe!) at the moment. But in the long run, it is going to be the backbone of the prosperity of China in the future. Nevertheless, to run such huge project smoothly, one needs careful planning and long-term vision, associated with an effective, responsible, and trustworthy governance and monitoring system to carry on such project. This is exactly what China gets dwarfed at. As a heretic dissident who could exert little impact on actual political and social policy in China, it is disheartening to think that the current toxic trends are apt to continue and could only hope the elite ruling class of nowadays China could be well alerted to make some substantial improvements in these areas.

Though hope if frail, it’s hard to kill.

Quoted from one of my favor shows: I want to believe

and trust in modern China, current government, and those companies; and I am desperately looking for even a tiny slice of reason or excuse. Any will do.


  1. Your objectivity is highly commendable. China(PRC) is going through its growing pains. The 64000 dollar question is whether the new China can avoid the same fate of dynasties of the old China from being consumed by corruption and bullying of commoners by the privileged class. In my heart I hope so, but in my mind I don’t hold out too much hope.

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