Stretching into a disputed area between India and China, the Lhasa-Nyingchi Railway is just a small part of China’s rapidly-expanding high-speed network.
Close to 40,000 kilometers of lines crisscross the country, linking all of China’s major mega-city clusters. The network is expected to expand to 70,000 kilometers by 2035
Much like Japan’s Shinkansen bullet trains in the 1960s, the Beijing government views its high-speed railway as symbolic of the country’s economic power and increasing prosperity.
For China’s ruling Communist Party and its leader Xi Jinping, high-speed rail is also a powerful tool for social cohesion, political influence and the integration of disparate regions with distinct cultures into the mainstream.
It is fully possible that the prospect of flying a plane or driving an automobile was once considered a complete departure from sensibility and caution. And yet most of us have already done it. The days of kites and horses are now well in the rearview mirror. This does not mean the concern about safety was entirely mistaken; we’ve just accepted the risk the same way we approach stepping out the front door of our homes every day of our lives. Now even the most entertaining options – such as a festival ride – are tolerated despite the demonstrable risk.
When I lately questioned why anyone would want to rocket themselves into space, the reply was, “It’s something different”, an assertion I personally find wanting – though it probably only betrays my archaic and unseasoned reservation about anything new. Though I for one am willing to bear the deprivation of rocketing to outer space, I must confess I am not known for my passion for novelty even though I imagine myself a champion of independence. A recollection of my reaction to internet technology tells the true story. I was initially proudly hesitant about electronic word processing, attaching to my admission a collection of thoughts which I portrayed as intellectual and fact-based. Nothing could have been more inaccurate. Within months of getting my first computer I was soaring into my own atmosphere of discovery and ingenuity. I quickly transitioned to the now acceptable habit of buying a new computing device every year just to keep up with the continually evolving pace of renovation. Having said that, I am now no more able to explain the internet than the mechanics of an automobile. If I have any celebrity in this matter it is confined to having adopted changing technology.
Like most people my age I marvel with ever-widening eyes at the continuation of scientific discovery and innovation. Already I am beginning to feel I am falling back into the crowd of dust which follows these matters. Every day there are new technological options – the most recent having been Zoom which is another step above the already popular FaceTime. The prospect of holographic images of remote people in our immediate environment is no longer unforeseen.
At the same time there remain the elemental truths concerning this wild ride we call life. The historical images of people in funny clothes transported in horse-drawn buggies; people talking on pink telephones; secretaries typing on Smith-Corona machines; flip-phones and Blackberries; fax machines; these are all relegated to the past. Yet nothing much has changed about the people that use them. We have still to accept the overwhelming need and possibility of universal cooperation. The disturbing conclusion is that we’re far from substantive progress. The lingering question always arises regarding the expense to get to the moon while ignoring the plight of people on earth. Our contamination of this planet is a sorry reason to go to another.
As inspiring as technology is, I find it difficult to persuade myself that having an iPhone is compensation for all else. The immediacy of email and cellular communication is small competition for world peace. It is an existential worry which has not been tempered or cured by modern progress.