Sunday, October 7, 2007

21st Century Great Wall of China

I have been doing a lot of thinking about the global economy lately and the things I saw in China when I was there in 2005. We traveled to Guangzhou and Beijing on the trip and I was amazed at all of the new construction, infrastructure and growth I witnessed. And the cars! My previous thoughts of China did not include that many vehicles.
South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford is criticized for quoting Thomas Friedman's The World is Flat, but I would guess that most of those critics have not read the book. I have; and what I saw in China makes it hit home even more.
In Guangzhou, we met with some logistic businesses centered around the brand-new Guangzhou-Baiyun airport, which we flew out of later. This airport had opened just 30 days prior to our visit. There was a new superhighway leading out to the airport, beautifully landscaped; there were tremendous logistic, custom and banking facilities surrounding the airport. You can GoogleEarth this airport and see what I am talking about. Wow! Here is the point:
While meeting with the logistics folks, jet-lag set in for me, so I got up and walked around this new office building. Looking outside into the logistics park, I noticed some Chinese workers installing a storm drain or sewer line - pre-cast concrete pipe probably 3 feet in diameter. We had seen the shanty area on-site where the workers lived earlier. This group of men were installing this pipe with shovels, wheelbarrows and hoes. In fact, I could see a good distance in this area where the new construction was taking place. The only modern equipment I saw was a roller packer. These guys were installing all this by hand.
Now, I juxtapose this with a quick side trip to the Great Wall on the Saturday morning before we left. The Great Wall runs high along the mountains' ridge in the Baldaling area where we were, just north of Beijing. This fortifying wall was built by hand, by peasant labor. Huge granite block by block, brick paving stone by brick paving stone, were carried up to the ridge and laid in place, all by hand. A tremendous task covering thousands of miles.
My impression was that the new Chinese economy is being built by modern-day Emperors using the labor of peasant workers, much the same way that the Great Wall was built. The buildings, the ports, the logistic areas, the airports, the highways. All being built the same way.