Free Republic
Browse · Search
Topics · Post Article

Skip to comments.

Intelligent Design: Two Weeks in Chengdu and Environs
Scurrilous Commentary by Fred Reed ^ | November 12, 2018 | Fred Reed

Posted on 02/12/2019 4:20:25 AM PST by vannrox

Vi and I have just returned from Chengdu, a Chinese village of seventeen million and the gateway to Tibet. Since China is of some interest to the US these days, I thought a description of sorts, actually more in the nature of a disordered travelog,  might be of interest. I hadn’t been to the country for twelve years and, before that, not since living in Taiwan in the mid-Seventies. Each time, the changes were astonishing. Herewith some notes:

A caveat: we never got more than three hundred miles from the city and do not pretend to describe the country beyond what we saw.

Despite Trump’s trade war we had no problems in getting visas in Guadalajara or getting through customs in Chengdu. Nobody showed us the slightest hostility. Although China is assuredly a dictatorship and vigorously represses dissent, we saw virtually no police. A friend who lived in Chngdu for several years until recently asserts that there is close to zero street crime. (White collar crime is a very different matter, he said, and seems built into Chinese culture. There are books on this.)

China is often described as a developing country. Well, sort of. Chengdu is decidedly of the First World, modern, muscular, appearing to have been recently built because it was. The downtown is beautiful, at least as cities go,  and livable. In many hours of walking aimlessly we encountered everything from elegant high-end stores selling upscale Western bands to noodle shops. It is not a poor city. A considerable number of people wear worn clothes and clearly are not overly prosperous, but nobody looked hungry and most appeared middle class. We saw no beggars or homeless people of the sort common in the US. Whether this is because there aren’t any, or because the government doesn’t allow them on the streets, I do not know.

For anyone who knows what China was before Deng Xiaoping took over in 1978, after Mao made his greatest contribution to his country–he died–the growth of prosperity astouds. Many criticisms may be made of the Chinese government, some of them valid, but no other government has lifted so many people out of poverty so fast.

When I lived in Taiwan, I wondered why the Chinese, especially the mainlanders, were so backward. They seemed to have been so almost forever, certainly since well before Legation days. At the time Taiwan had a Five Year Plan for development, but so did all sorts of dirtball counties, mostly consisting of a patch of jungle, a colonel, and a torture chamber.

I noted, though, it the reader will forgive me a digression:  Taiwan was actually meeting its Plan. In the Thirld World of the time, this was a novel idea. The Jin Shan reactors were going in, the new port, the steel mill.,the highway. I interviewed the  head of the nuclear program for the Far Eastern Economic Review–Harvard guy. Other officials were from MIT. Idi Amin they were not.

Young and dumb as I was–the two being barely distinguishable–I thought Hong Kong looked like Manhattan with slanted eyes, hardball financial turf, and I knew Taiwanese students in America were excelling in science courses. I concluded that Mousy Dung was the greatest American patriot who ever lived since, if he ever stopped holding these people back, what has happened might.

But back to Chengeu.

A perfectly stunning number of clusters of apartment buildings like theseis swarm on the horizon. The only roundeye  I met who lived in one said that her apartment was quite nice.

The first thing we noticed in the city was the enormous scale of everything. Buildings downtown were huge. The elevated highways everywhere were huge. The numbers of people were huge. There were literally hundreds of hugely tall apartment buildings. The principle seemed to be that if you have too many people to spread them out, stack them up. Said a Chinese guide we hired, they weren’t there twenty years ago.

Conspicuous to both Violeta and me was evidence of Intelligent Design. Chengdu clearly did not evolve randomly as cities do in the West. Somebody thought about things beforehand. The overhead highways kept heavy  traffic flowing. Very wide sidewalks downtown made pedestrianism pleasant. The subway was nothing special but well designed to be easy to use even if you don’t know how. (Well, it does have sliding glass doors to keep you away from the tracks until the train comes. This way,  you ccan’ t throw things onto the tracks, such as your mother-in-law.)

Video Player

This is my second column on the two weeks that Vi and I just spent in Chengdu, China. It is meant not so much as a travelog as a snapshot of what is going on in an economic juggernaut. Judging by email from readers, many do not realize the scope and scale of China’s advance. Neither did I: Since I was last in the country twelve years ago, much has changed. Reading journals is one thing. Walking the streets is another.

Having heard much about China’s high-speed rail, we bought tickets to Chongqing, a mountain town of thirty million at a distance of 250 miles from Chengdu.

Chongqing. Well, a small part of it. Like Chengdu, it is largely new and, as cities go, quite agreeable.

At risk of sounding like a shameless flack for Chinese infrastructure, I can report that the rail station in  Chengdu was huge, attractive, well-designed, brightly lit, and full of people. I know, I know, I keep saying things like this. Well, dammit, they are true. As a self-respecting journalist, I don’t like to tell the truth too often, but here I will break with tradition.

Having gotten tickets beforehand we waited until our train was called, in Mandarin and English, as was true also in the city’s subway. Apparently Chengdu wants to be an international city and someone thought about it.

Anyway, the train pulled in and looked like a freaking rocketship. We boarded and found it to be clean and comfortable, with most of the seats filled. Off we went, almost in silence, and shortly were sailing through countryside.

At a cool 180 miles an hour. It was like stepping into a future world. I thought about buying one of these trains and entering it in Formula One, but I suspect that it would not corner well.

You can book here.Fast rail is hardly unique to China, but the scale is. So  far there are 17,000 miles of fast rail in China, aiming at 24,000 by 2025. The UnitedStates couldn’t finish the environmental impact sttement as quickly. The Shanghai maglev line reaches 267 mph. 

The Chinese passengers seemed no more impressed by the train than by a city bus. They are used to them. They think such trains are normal. As an American, I was internally embarrassed. A few years ago Vi and I went from Chicago to the West Coast on Amtrak. It was not uncomfortable, but slow, appearing to use about 1955 technology. We went through the mountains often at barely more than a walking pace.

There were until recently regular flights from Chengdu to Chongqing. When rail went live, the flights died. Nobody wanted the hassle and expense of flying. Here is much of why the US has not one inch of fast rail: It would kill of a lot of business for politically well connected airlines.  

For example, Chinese fast rail from DC to Manhattan would close down air service in about fifteen minutes. Fast rail between many American cities would be faster than flying when you added in getting to the airport hours before, and from the destination airport to the city afterward. And much  more agreeable.

On another day we rented a car and driver and drove three hours to a town near the Tibetan border. A tourist burg, it was not interesting, but the ride was. The highways were up to American standards, when America had standards. The astonishment began when we reached the mountains. The American response to mountains usually is to go  over them or around them through valleys.

This is not unreasonable, but neither is it the Chinese way. They go through mountains.  We went through–I’ll guess and say a dozen–tunnels, all of four lanes, all miles long (one said to be nine miles) lighted and straight. This was done in two parallel tunnels, each carrying two lanes in one direction or another.

Valleys? We crossed them on bridges or elevated highways.  The result was that a heavy truck would not have to gear up and down. Yes, I know, this probably would not work everywhere, but it worked there.

If there is anything in the US remotely resembling this, I am unaware of it. There may be a long list of things the Chinese can’t do. Building stuff won’t be on it.

Internet: Almost everybody uses WeChat (“Connecting a billion people….” says its website) an app similar to WhatsApp that does the usual things but lets you pay bills electronically. You hold your phone up to the taxi driver’s, information is exchanged, and your account debited. (“I’ll show you mine if you show me yours.”) This is not new technology, but the scale is. People go out at night without cash, which may cease to exist in a few years. China seems to have leapfrogged the credit card. The government monitors WeChat and you can definitely get in trouble for plotting to kill the Politburo. (Both Alibaba and Baidu have competing systems.)

The country invests hard in electric cars, but you seldom see one. (They have green license plates instead of blue.) The reasons, say people here, are  the objections one hears in the West: Charge time, and expense without governmental subsidies, which exist.

Obesity does not exist. In two weeks we did not see a single example. Maybe porkers are arrested and ground into sausage–I don’t know–but they ain’t none in sight. The reason may be diet. Or bicycles. See below.

Bicycle deposits like this one are everywhere. Each ride has an electronic gizzwhich that lets you rent it using–what else?–WeChat. The system is not robustly communistlc: Different companies paint their bikes in different colors, and have sales to compete. Phredfoto.

Chengdu’s claim for international attention is its pandas. These were thought to be on the way to extinction when apparently the government decided extinction wasn’t a good idea. Boom, the panda zoo appeared. As my friend in the city says, when the government decides to do something, it happens.

Panda zoo. If you are a panda, you ought to look into this. ViFoto.

In the National Zoo in Washington, the animals live in smallish enclosures of glass and cement bearing little resemblance to their natural environment. By contrast, the pandas live in what seem to be acres of forest. This means that you cannot always see them. They do what pandas think proper in the manner they think proper. Visitors walk through, in forest gloom, on walkways overhung with branches. One never feels sorry for the animals. While I think we were the only round-eyes we saw, the throngs of locals were sometimes oppressive.  

OK, that’s the snapshot. The lesson to take away, or at any rate the one I took away, is that this is a very serious and competent country and not to be underestimated.

KEYWORDS: china; fred; report; trip
Navigation: use the links below to view more comments.
first 1-2021-25 next last
[This is a trip report by Fred Reed. He traveled to chengdu in china to look at the panda bears there. This is his full report.]

The guy is a liberal, and makes fun of conservatives. Aside from those MAJOR faults, his report is seemingly an honest one.

1 posted on 02/12/2019 4:20:25 AM PST by vannrox
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | View Replies]

To: vannrox

Show city based on central planning.

2 posted on 02/12/2019 4:28:38 AM PST by QuigleyDU
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: vannrox

I live there 50% of the time. It’s a fascinating city. Thanks for posting this!

3 posted on 02/12/2019 4:31:38 AM PST by Chengdu54
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: vannrox
Chengdu, a Chinese village of seventeen million ...


4 posted on 02/12/2019 4:34:40 AM PST by Tax-chick (They should have listened to Julian Simon.)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: Chengdu54

I visited chengdu, and chongqing back in 2013. I really enjoyed it there, and everyone was so nie and friendly. We went to see the pandas but we went at the wrong time of the day, and they were all resting and hiding. I really did like those little red pandas that looked like long tailed cats.

I like Zhuhai, but chungdu is a great place to live, and central to all sorts of outstanding natural and scenic sights.

We went to get a massage and the gals told us that they loved chengdu because the flight out were so fantastically cheap. This is because the panda bears are a world heritage site. cool huh?

5 posted on 02/12/2019 4:38:18 AM PST by vannrox (The Preamble to the Bill of Rights - without it, our Bill of Rights is meaningless!)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 3 | View Replies]

To: Tax-chick

villages in China are big because some of their factories employ 500,000, the factories are big because China has at least 1.3 billion people.

Scale is everything

6 posted on 02/12/2019 4:41:53 AM PST by PIF (They came for me and mine ... now it is your turn ...)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 4 | View Replies]


It sounds like “village” is being used as a term of art, rather than in its standard usage, which is “a municipality smaller than a town, which is smaller than a city.”

7 posted on 02/12/2019 4:44:28 AM PST by Tax-chick (They should have listened to Julian Simon.)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 6 | View Replies]

To: Chengdu54

What China has done in the last 30 years is impressive.

Is it a threat to the U.S.A.?

Much of the improvement was planned in the West, and was done with stolen U.S. technology.

But, the U.S. did similar things as we caught up to and surpassed Great Britain.

I have said the U.S. Interstate system is the greatest mass transit system in the History of Man.

But, 24,000 miles of fast train can give it competition.

8 posted on 02/12/2019 4:45:32 AM PST by marktwain (President Trump and his supporters are the Resistance. His opponents are the Reactionaries.)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 3 | View Replies]

To: Chengdu54

Over the past year, I’ve watched probably 20 hours of YouTube videos of Chengdu, South African guy who has settled into the landscape there and really talks to the positives of the city. As he hints strongly...the city authorities have an image that is beyond anything else in China and it’s based on people having few complaints to whine about.

The thing that gets me is that it’s in the middle of nowhere (nowhere near the coast), and since 1980 (at 2.5 million population then)’s grown at an enormous pace.

9 posted on 02/12/2019 4:48:38 AM PST by pepsionice
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 3 | View Replies]

To: vannrox

Fred is far from a liberal, at least in the modern sense. A modern liberal would be horrified by this:

Are White Men Gods? (II): Getting the Facts Straight

10 posted on 02/12/2019 4:48:39 AM PST by FreedomPoster (Islam delenda est)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: vannrox

Dujiangyan water system is also an amazing world heritage site.

11 posted on 02/12/2019 5:01:54 AM PST by Chengdu54
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 5 | View Replies]

To: vannrox

“They go through mountains. We went through–I’ll guess and say a dozen–tunnels, all of four lanes, all miles long (one said to be nine miles) lighted and straight. This was done in two parallel tunnels, each carrying two lanes in one direction or another. Valleys? We crossed them on bridges or elevated highways.”

They fooled him. They’re actually really short tunnels but on the highway they have you continue to go through the same tunnel multiple times, just so it feels long - like the old Soviet military parades in Red Square when the tanks and long guns went by, then went around the block and went by again and again, only to look like they had many more than they did. As to their long bridges over ravines and valleys - that’s all fake too, just painted backdrop 20 below road level. They don’t fool me!

As to the high speed trains, they only make you THINK you’re going fast, but that’s because the cities are actually really close to each other, despite what they publish on their fake maps. For example, Google Maps says it’s 720 miles between Beijing and Shanghai, but it’s really only about 150 miles according to my sources, so when their so-called high speed train gets you between these backwards cities in 3 hours, you really only traveled 50 miles per hour, not the 240 miles per hour they claim. Heck, Amtrak even does better than that. They don’t fool me - not for a minute!

(At some point it might be a good idea to take China seriously, they’re not hiding what they’ve done - pretty much any American can visit there, and it can be extremely cheap, just look on Groupon, for example)

12 posted on 02/12/2019 5:10:59 AM PST by BobL (I eat at McDonald's and shop at Walmart - I just don't tell anyone.)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: vannrox

How much of China’s progress was paid for with American trade debt?

The same can be said of India.

13 posted on 02/12/2019 5:31:18 AM PST by IronJack
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: vannrox

Interesting report. Describing most of the Chinese as middle class is a bit of a stretch. The per capita income of China is only about $8,827 (2017), while the U.S. per capita income is $60,200 (2017) and Japan’s is $45,470 (2017). Even Russia’s is higher at $11,441.

China’s purchasing power parity per capita income is higher at $16,760 (2017), as is Russia’s at $24,893 (2017)

I have traveled into the hinterlands of Liaoning one of the three Manchurian provinces in the far northeast. It is quite primitive and the standard of living is much lower than what you see in the provincial capital of Shenyang. The modern highways are far away and the roads are third world quality. Farming is still done with oxen.

The quality of housing and life is much lower, too. Even in Shenyang, exterior and interiors of many buildings appear to have never been painted since the original coat of paint. You quickly get used to having dirty walls as a backdrop.

Liaoning is part of China’s traditional industrial heartland, an important center of coal, steel and equipment manufacturing, which has suffered from restructuring in the modern era, pushing up unemployment to very high levels. The economy shrank in 2016, but rose in 2017 with new investment. Its per capita income, 8,108, is 8% lower than the national average. Reminded me the dirt interior walls and neglected exterior facades of buildings in East Berlin before the wall came down.

By the way in Liaoning, ostensibly a province of Manchu people, 84% of the people are Han Chinese. Only 13% are Manchu. Even so, the mannerisms and culture of the people is still mostly Manchu. Many of the people I met in Liaoning are very outgoing, use their hands a lot when they talk, are expressive. A few are hot-headed but in a delightful, endearing way.

14 posted on 02/12/2019 5:31:54 AM PST by WashingtonSource
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: vannrox

Ping for later.

15 posted on 02/12/2019 5:34:02 AM PST by Chainmail (A simple rule of life: if you can be blamed, you're responsible.)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: Chengdu54

i was only there for 2 days on business last year. What I was able to see was very impressive. It is the one city in China I want to take my wife to if possible. Shanghai was interesting but Beijing was an overpopulated dump. With about a 1/2 mile visibility on most days.

16 posted on 02/12/2019 5:37:03 AM PST by okkev68
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 3 | View Replies]

To: Tax-chick

Again scale - in the west we are used to villages consisting of hundreds or a few thousand but the US population is barely a third of China’s which makes all the difference in the expected population size of a village.

Standards of scale expected in the US, with a population of slightly over 320 million, are different from standards of scale existing in Asian countries with populations over one billion.

17 posted on 02/12/2019 5:37:19 AM PST by PIF (They came for me and mine ... now it is your turn ...)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 7 | View Replies]

To: vannrox

There is a you-tube channel worth watching by a guy who has lived there for years...

Its, to me, fascinating. I’ve watched dozens of them.

18 posted on 02/12/2019 5:38:15 AM PST by marron
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: vannrox

Yes. China is a wonderful place.

Safe and clean. Peaceful and non threatening.

There are hundreds of the articles from Europe in the 1930s.

19 posted on 02/12/2019 6:10:54 AM PST by Vermont Lt
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

To: okkev68

If you go back let me know and I’ll give you some tourist ideas. I’ll be back there in 2 weeks.

20 posted on 02/12/2019 6:44:33 AM PST by Chengdu54
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 16 | View Replies]

Navigation: use the links below to view more comments.
first 1-2021-25 next last

Disclaimer: Opinions posted on Free Republic are those of the individual posters and do not necessarily represent the opinion of Free Republic or its management. All materials posted herein are protected by copyright law and the exemption for fair use of copyrighted works.

Free Republic
Browse · Search
Topics · Post Article

FreeRepublic, LLC, PO BOX 9771, FRESNO, CA 93794 is powered by software copyright 2000-2008 John Robinson