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October 15, 2012 7:48 PM   Subscribe

"The Wenzhou crash killed forty people and injured a hundred and ninety-two. For reasons both practical and symbolic, the [Chinese] government was desperate to get trains running again, and within twenty-four hours it declared the line back in business. The Department of Propaganda ordered editors to give the crash as little attention as possible. “Do not question, do not elaborate,” it warned, on an internal notice. When newspapers came out the next morning, China’s first high-speed train wreck was not on the front page." [How a high-speed rail disaster exposed China's corruption]
posted by vidur (22 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite

 
"exposed" is perhaps not the right word. "made it harder to ignore" would have been more accurate.
posted by Pope Guilty at 8:23 PM on October 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


Interesting read. This line struck me as funny though: 'eighteen thousand corrupt officials have fled the country, having stolen a hundred and twenty billion dollars—a sum large enough to buy Disney or Amazon.' Disney or Amazon?
posted by unliteral at 8:26 PM on October 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


This IS a horrible tragedy. I consider it small potatoes compared with the meatgrinder of western industrial rise, though.

Also, “There is an expression in Chinese: when you take too great a leap, you can tear your balls.” is the money quote.
posted by poe at 8:40 PM on October 15, 2012 [3 favorites]


Interesting read. This line struck me as funny though: 'eighteen thousand corrupt officials have fled the country, having stolen a hundred and twenty billion dollars—a sum large enough to buy Disney or Amazon.' Disney or Amazon?
Disney has a market cap of $91 billion, Amazon $110 billion. So, in theory, you could buy the outstanding shares of either company with $120 billion. In practice, probably not.
posted by b1tr0t at 8:45 PM on October 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


The sense of unrest and dissatisfaction in China is palpable. Not sure how long the government can keep a lid on it, but it's going to be messy.
posted by arcticseal at 9:06 PM on October 15, 2012 [2 favorites]


b1tr0t: " Disney has a market cap of $91 billion, Amazon $110 billion. So, in theory, you could buy the outstanding shares of either company with $120 billion. In practice, probably not."

In practice, you would have lenders falling all over you to get in on that deal if a few tens of billions is all you lacked. An established PE player could probably take both of them private with $60 billion in equity.
posted by wierdo at 9:45 PM on October 15, 2012 [3 favorites]


it's going to be messy

It might be. It might not be. Japan, Taiwan, and Korea have all democratized slowly and peacefully. Of course China is vastly larger, but that's true of every country save India -- and India has equal or greater political problems right now.
posted by miyabo at 10:08 PM on October 15, 2012 [1 favorite]


It might be. It might not be. Japan, Taiwan, and Korea have all democratized slowly and peacefully.
Japan has a long history of violent conflict among the upper and warrior classes. China has a long history of stable imperial regimes punctuated by violent civil wars. Japan doesn't really have a history of peasant revolts, China does.
In practice, you would have lenders falling all over you to get in on that deal if a few tens of billions is all you lacked. An established PE player could probably take both of them private with $60 billion in equity.
Bezos still owns 20% of Amazon. A hostile takeover attempt would be... interesting. With all their real estate holdings, Disney might be heavily leverage and more susceptible to a takeover. Regardless, Chinese investors seem to be very interested in public American companies. I wouldn't bet on a PRC-expat lead takeover of either company.
posted by b1tr0t at 10:40 PM on October 15, 2012


Japan's struggle for democracy took a world war, including two nuclear incinerations. Japan's first try at democracy happened during the Taisho era (teens to late 20s) and ended with the rise of the Japanese military industrial complex. Democracy didn't return to Japan until after WWII.

Korea had a brutal fight for democracy. The military government employed overseas hit squads of martial artists and also, the Korean government massacred at least 1,000 people in Gwangju. Not only that, but there were continual outbreaks of mass protest and rioting throughout the 1980s, culminating in free election in the late 80s.

There was nothing peaceful in either case.

Taiwan is a little different. The Nationalist party ruled Taiwan with an iron fist for decades. As part of their takeover, they massacred thousands of people. By the 1980s, however, the new dictator of Taiwan, Chiang Ching Kuo began to have a change of heart and did introduce democratic reforms, culminating in more open elections by the early 90s. Taiwan though had a much more consolidated leadership than the mainland. Chiang Ching Kuo had been the secret police (Soviet trained!) director for many years and he knew how to consolidate his power. Chiang was also an unusually far sighted man. The mainland just isn't like that. Corruption is somewhat random and there are many factions vying for power.

And even if there are suddenly multi-party elections, what is that worth alone, if the underlying political-economy continues to exacerbate the rich-poor divide? More than one person has said, looking at the corruption and the rich-poor gap, it's like the revolution never happened. So what if they get elections? Look at the Philippines. More than 20 years ago, Marcos had to step down from dictatorship. And today? Very little has changed. A lot of people still live in poverty. Corruption is rampant. Death squads murder political organizers.

I'm hoping for a peaceful transition in China. But I'm not holding my breath.
posted by wuwei at 11:42 PM on October 15, 2012 [7 favorites]


I'd love to see a critical evaluation of Evan Osnos' reporting (for example, many, many people critique the NYT's Martin Fackler and Hiroko Tabuchi and their journalism on Japan, to say nothing of the stuff the Economist is writing).

Evan Osnos and his team do good writing and seemingly good reporting, but it would be cool to find out what other people knowledgeable about China think about the article.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:48 PM on October 15, 2012


It might be. It might not be. Japan, Taiwan, and Korea have all democratized slowly and peacefully.

Um. Two of those basically democratized at bayonet-point, under U.S. intervention. Even Taiwan's existence as an autonomous entity came about through violence, although the present government did evolve peacefully from authoritarianism.
posted by Malor at 2:13 AM on October 16, 2012


Sometimes you have to be a bastard to modernize your nation. At the end of the decade, the Chinese will have a high-speed rail and the USA won't. I have yet to see an omelet made without a couple eggs getting busted in the process.
posted by Renoroc at 6:29 AM on October 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


"exposed" is perhaps not the right word. "made it harder to ignore" would have been more accurate.

Yeah, this was my thought as well. If you didn't know about Chinese corruption by then you were probably living in a cave or a writer for a Western business journal.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 7:02 AM on October 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


KokuRyu: going by what twitter is saying, the article has been well-received. I haven't heard any murmurs of discontent with Osnos' other writings.
posted by flippant at 7:05 AM on October 16, 2012


I'd really, really, really like to prove Renoroc's flippant comment wrong, but.... thorium reactors are going to ship from China. And we're eventually going to buy them, because (1) they're necessary and (2) the US is more likely to legalize LSD than to lay serious development money on fusion research, in this climate.
posted by IAmBroom at 7:05 AM on October 16, 2012 [2 favorites]


Japan, Taiwan, and Korea have all democratized slowly and peacefully.

All three were also answered the United States because of special post-war arrangements. China doesn't do that.
posted by FJT at 10:05 AM on October 16, 2012


> (2) the US is more likely to legalize LSD than to lay serious development money on fusion research, in this climate.

Thorium reactors are fission reactors, not fusion.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 10:38 AM on October 16, 2012 [1 favorite]


I'd really, really, really like to prove Renoroc's flippant comment wrong, but.... thorium reactors are going to ship from China. And we're eventually going to buy them, because (1) they're necessary and (2) the US is more likely to legalize LSD than to lay serious development money on fusion research, in this climate.
Huh? The thorium cycle is a fission cycle, not a fusion cycle. And, if there is one thing that would change the minds of nuclear opponents, well I don't know what it is. But it won't be imported nuclear power plants from China.
posted by b1tr0t at 10:40 AM on October 16, 2012


lupus_yonderboy: > (2) the US is more likely to legalize LSD than to lay serious development money on fusion research, in this climate.

Thorium reactors are fission reactors, not fusion.
My bad. Those words are too similar; I knew they worked by taking atoms apart, not putting them together.
b1tr0t: And, if there is one thing that would change the minds of nuclear opponents, well I don't know what it is. But it won't be imported nuclear power plants from China.
Not the power plant; the technology. By the time the US is ready to accept thorium reactors, it will be much cheaper and easier to hire Chinese companies to build them than to spend 20 years reinventing the wheel (and relearning the mistakes to avoid).
posted by IAmBroom at 7:27 AM on October 17, 2012


Not the power plant; the technology. By the time the US is ready to accept thorium reactors, it will be much cheaper and easier to hire Chinese companies to build them than to spend 20 years reinventing the wheel (and relearning the mistakes to avoid).
If these hypothetical Chinese designs are actually cheaper to license/import than competing American designs, then it isn't such a bad thing to do so. Still, I'm skeptical that the regulatory and political environment would allow such a thing.

The best thing that could happen to civilian nuclear power may actually be new Chinese designs that don't originate from naval powerplants.

The bigger, and more off-topic question, is: what exactly is the US going to be good at in 20 years so that we can continue to trade for the good stuff that we want?


Consider the recent discussions on high-speed rail in the USA. Due to idiosyncratic and protectionist design regulations, high speed trains that can be used in the USA are quite a bit more expensive than the European and Canadian designs they are adapted from. Go America!
posted by b1tr0t at 9:25 AM on October 17, 2012 [1 favorite]


"Even Wen Jiabao, the Prime Minister, who will leave the Politburo next month, declared that corruption was 'the biggest danger facing the ruling party'—a threat that, left unchecked, could 'terminate the political regime.'"

Billions in Hidden Riches for Family of Chinese Leader: Many relatives of Mr. Wen became wealthy during his leadership

New York Times blocked by China after report on wealth of Wen Jiabao's family
posted by homunculus at 3:57 PM on October 26, 2012




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