October 17, 2012

OVERRATED: China’s High-Speed Rail Boom Has Echoes of Great Leap Forward. “If this story were about irrigation projects and featured a different cast of characters it could have been published back in 1952. It has serious and scary echoes of the Great Leap Forward: the shoddy workmanship of huge construction projects, top officials pressuring lesser officials to get things done faster than humanly possible, workers cutting corners and using unsatisfactory materials to meet tight deadlines, pervasive bribery and ballooning budgets, leading to destruction and tragedy. There is one important difference between the July 23 rail crash and comparable disasters during the Great Leap Forward: the role played by the Chinese public in compelling Beijing to investigate the tragedy. Widespread anger about a blatant cover-up led officials to fire those responsible, slow trains to more reasonable speeds, issue new safety precautions, and review the entire high-speed rail network. The public outcry was so strong that Prime Minister Wen Jiabao was forced to visit the site, where he vowed to continue the investigation and crack down on corruption.”

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