The Chinese Iron Crane

A few years prior while traveling in Xian a tour guide shared a joke with our group. He pointed out the window of the bus where many new apartments were in the process of being built and said, “To your right you can see the national bird of China, the crane, as in building crane.” The simplicity is what made the joke great, but after the laugh there stood the simple truth that China’s rapid development cannot be hidden from view no matter where you go. This development has been uprooting all that is old to be replaced by new shoddy structures that look great on the outside, but in reality could be blown over by a good huff from the big bad wolf. I guess the saying Rome wasn’t built in a day does not exist in China, but this place is definitely not Rome.

Take for instance the facilities of the two campuses I work at. Zhaohui campus, which is in the city, is nothing special to look at, but is still accommodating. On the other hand there is the beautiful Pingfeng campus just outside the city of Hangzhou built roughly a decade ago. This campus is encapsulated by misty green mountains for as far as the eye can see, and the outside of the buildings on campus look crisp and clean with the natural mountain theme in the background. But you cannot judge a book by its cover. The buildings I teach in are lackluster given the crumbling infrastructure, but at least the outside still looks good. Parts of the inside have stained black walls, and some of the pithy English sayings painted or engraved on the wall are missing letters. For example students can read Descartes famous line in Chinese and English as follows, “I th nk t erefore I m. 我思故我在.” I’m sure the Chinese translation, which is missing no characters is the first thing Chinese students look at anyway. Another unfortunate looking scene is the bottom floor where remnants of stone carved letters lay next to one another out of order because they have broken off the original stone they were carved on. By the way this building I am describing is home to foreign language studies on campus, which seems to be broken down just like most of my students’ English.

Personally I see this rush to develop as quite a precarious situation. Bringing modernity to one-fifth of the world’s population under the roof of one country within two or three decades seems to be a lofty and outrageous mark to hit. But not enough can be said for the work ethic of Chinese people as I notice today’s culture here naturally brewing a brutal competitiveness amongst one another to stand out above the billions of competitors.

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