The Pace of China Posted by Transparent Language on May 8, 2008 in Culture
Life in China is much as it is everywhere else in the world, but with a few subtle differences. Just as a proud culture of dog walkers exists in the West, China has its bird walkers. Old men out for a stroll carry with them their caged birds and congregate in the parks to listen to them sing. They covetously admire the superior song of another’s pet bird, speak boastfully of their own, and enjoy the companionship and camaraderie of other bird walkers. Taxi drivers, office workers, ticket collectors, and elevator ladies with their knitting all go to work in the morning, bringing with them not a cup of coffee but a thermos or fruit jar, and it is unfailingly filled with tea. Barbers and hairdressers pull up to the shop with their shop – a basket filled with the instruments of their trade and a stool on the back of their bicycle, setting up shop on the sidewalk. And while each of these scenes capture the inherent Chinese-ness of ordinary and mundane activities, nothing captures the state of transition that China finds itself in so much as its seemingly endless construction projects, and the unusual scenes that make them unique to China.
While the fact that China is developing, and developing at breakneck speed, is well known and remarkable only in its longevity, how these projects are completed is certainly noteworthy. Construction workers in the modern and bustling cities of China raise glass and steel skyscrapers from their foundations using bamboo scaffolding over steel superstructures. Donkey-carts loaded with girders maneuver amongst diesel-fueled heavy machinery. This clash of imagery is ubiquitous throughout the country and although unusual in today’s more modern cities, has not yet disappeared entirely. It is demonstrative of this unique time in China’s history, this intersection between old and new.
In both downtown business districts and outside town industrial areas of cities up and down the coast of China, from Dalian to Shenzhen and Kunming, to the interior cities of Wuhan, Chongqing and Xining to name a few, it appears that all of China is under construction, now more than at any point in its history. According to international statistics, of the top 20 most active cities in terms of building as of October 2007, eight are Chinese. Yet to witness this growth is to see the latest in modern technology working in conjunction with some of the oldest construction technology around. How did this come to be? The answer is a simple one, and practical: the Chinese don’t discard technologies just because they are old; they discard them if they no longer work. In the rush to build, tractor trailers and vehicle towed flatbeds may be at a premium or unavailable. Yet the donkey cart will get materials to the site as well. Tempered steel scaffolding and cables take time and money to acquire, while the technology of an older era – bamboo – is a proven quantity, readily available, and inexpensive. Safe? Perhaps not, but that isn’t the priority. While moving toward a modern future, China not only incorporates the building technology of previous eras, it also incorporates elements of its past into its architectural style. When complete, even the most modern of Chinese buildings remain stylistically tied to the traditions and history of the country.
While the pace of construction in China is remarkable, the juxtaposition of modern and ancient building techniques one can witness on occasion here exhibits the unrelenting speed and utilization of every available resource that China has undertaken in order to propel itself into the 21st century, while still remaining tied to its past.