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The Pace of China Posted by 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.

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  1. Jeremy Borne:

    When a leader truly leads, the people say “amazing! we did this by ourselves!”

  2. Dr. Satyendra Kumar:

    Nimen hao,

    Its great pleasure to write something about Chinese culture. I think anyone who are interested in Chinese language, they definetly should go through Chinese custom and culture because I experienced Chinese is not only language, it has Charachter (Han zi) and until unless you know the details of the character (its as important as human charachter) you can’t be confident in Chinese(because it explain cultural value as well as Chinese life style & their thinking). To understand or be lfuent with Chinese need lot of time because to achieve this, we need to go through process, no wonder why all foreigner they say Chinese is difficult. I would like to correct, its not difficult its very interesting and enjoyable because none of other language has this value addition.
    I have studied Chinese language and my Ph.D. from Xiamen University (one of best (romantic)University in China). I take Xiamen as my 2nd home.
    I still need to learn alot more about China..I feel this process will never end because its so interesting like ‘Real Life Novel’, next page is more exciting than first. May be it (foreigner) will take 5000 year to finish it (because its being written since then). If there is re-born phenomenon in life, I would love to born in China. I wanna enjoy every charachter of every line of every page of every chapter of every volume of this Novel.
    Thanks God, who designed my destination to study in China. Exploration of new knowledge has spiced up my life.
    In India, we too have rich cultural value which are very signficant to everyone life (India: another novel from another publisher). I think all culture are amazing. Chinese just very different and very special and very exciting, you should not miss it..try out !!!..beleive me you gonna enjoy it like anything.
    I request to Chinese teacher please include borad cultural aspect also in the Language course because I didn’t find this valuavle part in the class, instead I experienced this amazing & lovely culture from common Chinese people only.

    Zhu ni hao tian,

    Satyendra (Sa Ding De)
    Mumbai, India


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