With average GDP growth rates of 10%, China¡¯s rapid economic development is seen around the globe. Such exponential growth is only one of the many ¡°number ones¡± China has achieved in recent years. The 2008 Beijing Olympic Games itself broke several records: the torch relay ran the longest distance, covered the greatest area and included the largest number of people. In addition, the flame was sent to the highest peak in the world, Mt. Qomolangma. The opening ceremony was also considered the grandest in the history of the Olympic Games; moreover, the actual games had the largest number of teams and reporters and the highest percentage of female athletes.
Similarly, the high-speed railway system reflects China¡¯s obsession with quickly developing the world¡¯s No. 1 railway industry. According to AFP, China boasts the world’s longest high-speed rail network, with 8,358 kilometers of track at the end of 2010 year. Experts and officials expect to have 13,000 kilometers in operation by 2012 and 16,000 kilometers by 2020.
Unfortunately, the development of China¡¯s high-speed railway network suddenly appeared too fast for the country to handle three days ago, when a train crash took the lives of 39 people and wounded 192 more. The accident, along with rolling power outages on the railroad in the past few weeks, fueled public concern. As a 47-year-old clothing industry worker told AFP, “I’m worried. Yesterday when I was booking my ticket I wondered whether to take a bus instead.” Others doubted the argument that the expansion of China¡¯s high-speed railway network is a correct means of economic development. One anonymous man said to a reporter, “You need to expand to develop, (but) it needs to be done in an orderly way, and I don’t think it is. Before, there were no high-speed trains. It’s too quick. This is not something that should happen.”
Why so quick? Some people speculated that China¡¯s bullet train project is designed to show off the country¡¯s rising wealth and technological prowess; in particular, many Chinese microbloggers claim that the opening of the Beijing-Shanghai high-speed railway on June 29 is said to be a gift for the 90th anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party.
Such ¡°face¡± projects, such as the Beijing Olympic Games, the high-speed railway system and the Shanghai Expo, are not uncommon in China, and they ¡°surprisingly¡± receive substantial financial support from the government. Billions of dollars have been spent on this cutting-edge train technology as well as on the Olympic Games. As critics point out, the multi-billion-dollar high-speed rail plan is too expensive for a country where millions of people live in poverty, and the rail lines are being built primarily to boost Beijing’s prestige.
Nevertheless, China¡¯s pursuit of No. 1 can benefit the public. Instead of wasting money on constructing the fastest railways, the country should look forward to providing the safest and the most accessible transportation equipped with the best service for its citizens. As one critic argued, ¡°when the train is flying near the ground, it will only deserve to be called number one when it is fastened with the safety belt of management, system and responsibility.” Also, there should be price cuts on bullet train tickets and plane tickets to facilitate travel to the average citizens and better service to make the journey more pleasant, especially in times of emergency.