China on the Rails
June 29, 2017 12:11 PM   Subscribe

A beautiful data animation shows the unprecedented development of China’s rail system. (Scroll down past the bar graph).

An interesting sidenote: "Despite the rapid expansion of metro systems in major cities, the speed of adapting to the new way of commuting has not kept pace. In Beijing, residents made about one trip every two days on average in 2015, or 167 trips a year. That number was higher in Guangzhou, with 189 trips, and lower in Shanghai, with 133. All three cities have systems that were established before 2000.
For the remaining 19 cities that started operating metro lines after 2000 and have complete ridership data, the average resident made only 26 subway trips in 2015. Using a similar method of calculation 1, New Yorkers made on average 230 trips per person in 2013, and Bostonians averaged 94 trips."
posted by storybored (10 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
 
It's a little weird that Taiwan is included in this map.
posted by Bee'sWing at 12:15 PM on June 29, 2017 [3 favorites]


I visited Shanghai in 2010, and was extremely impressed by the subway: it was shiny- modern with new, plasma TV screens everywhere. The lines went everywhere, the trains were clean, lightning fast & came every few minutes. There were 8 millions daily users then, If I recall correctly. Everything was clean, safe, efficient & user-friendly. Tickets were cheap. I learnt that this whole enterprise was new and that the massive construction underground (as well as the parallel construction of the giant 2-story highway system above ground) was done in a blink of an eye. Of the people who rode the trains, even then, most had smartphone and they were all glued to their screens. It was a real eye opener. At that time I lived in Riverside, CA where a re-built freeway ramp between the 91 and the 60, took 4 or 5 years to finish, nearly the same amount of time it took to build this whole system in China (exaggeration).
posted by growabrain at 2:23 PM on June 29, 2017 [1 favorite]


Definitely awe inspiring to witness the state power of eminent domain and debt fueled construction. Hauling people out of rural areas into cities comes with the burden of giving them jobs, of which this is a symptom.
posted by msbutah at 2:54 PM on June 29, 2017


It's a little weird that Taiwan is included in this map.

That jumped out at me too. 'One China' is the official Chinese government line, and one of the authors' bios (not the map designer) says she studied and is based in Hong Kong, so maybe that's where it came from? Or maybe they just added it because it's another city that fits nicely within a square plot...

I can say that the new metro that links Taipei's main airport to the city centre is very nice.
posted by Urtylug at 4:22 PM on June 29, 2017


So this Chinese rail thing is used in various ways to show how awesome China is and that the US is decadent and falling behind, but there's a lot not discussed. Mostly where who paid for it all. Did China print money? Maybe, who knows? There's zero transparency in their economy and they fix their exchange rates so it would be really hard to tell if there's a huge influx of new currency. They may be able to cap inflation in ways that western governments can't. Were there environmental impact studies done? Considering that Beijing is often blanketed in a thick layer of smog the point is probably moot but Americans are fussier about that stuff. Also China is raising a lot of its population out of stone-age poverty - China's industrialization has reduced worldwide overall poverty levels. So it's not surprising that they have built infrastructure. As much as I like mass transport it's difficult to say if the US economy would get a comparable boost.

At any rate, it's great for Chinese people that they're now living in a considerably more modern country.
posted by GuyZero at 5:01 PM on June 29, 2017


At any rate, it's great for Chinese people that they're now living in a considerably more modern country.

Talking about China is like talking about Europe - you could be talking about somewhere like Germany, or somewhere like Serbia, there's such a gulf between the rich and poor areas.

China is doing a lot better than outsiders think... I work and live in Melbourne and regularly talk to Chinese nationals in Shanghai who earn equal salary to me for the same ranking position. Even the way the economy is organized is similar with high taxes providing great infrastructure and healthcare - I pay about 40% marginal tax in Australia while they pay 45% in China. The ones that have visited Melbourne have all commented that the healthcare and public transit system in China is equal or superior to what we already would consider world class in Australia. (re: healthcare, mostly they've commented about trend of overspecialization and fragmentation of services rather than trying to unify them, and I would mostly agree with their assessment)

My friend in China says she's never visited a supermarket for years because every day her fresh vegetables and meat get left at her apartment door knob, she just gets home from work and starts cooking.

Bike sharing tech is so next level compared to what exists in the rest of the world - the bikes don't need to be docked, they can be left anywhere, and they're all GPS enabled so you can see all the nearest bikes, you pick one up, drive it anywhere and just leave it wherever you like. Here (and in other cities I've seen) you need to return bikes to a specific docking station, and if you get to a destination with a full docking station, you're screwed, since you can't return the bike, and you're still getting charged for it.

Their casual use of electronic cash payments is also mind boggling. I barely transact any money electronically between friends even though the ability to do so is technically there - it's just that the infrastructure and UI built for it is so painful to use. For example if I owe someone $30, I would usually wait until I'm in the same physical location and give them $30 cash rather than try get into my banking app and send them money.

Overall it feels like China is leapfrogging the rest of the world in their use of technology for whatever reason - My theory is that the government doesn't mind firms obtaining huge market power (that would be disallowed in the West) and this creates huge synergies which would otherwise go unexploited.

For example, imagine an app made by a single corporation that was Ebay, Amazon, Uber, Whatsapp, Facebook, Paypal and Youtube all at once.... even if you only used one aspect of the app, you would very easily try out the other features because they were only a single touch away. Whereas for me, here, in Melbourne, I have yet to try Uber, because I would have to go through the trouble of getting the app, making a new account and login and password, then I'd have to link up my credit card account, etc, so for the rare time I need a taxi, I still utilize the existing taxis even though they cost a bit more.
posted by xdvesper at 7:20 PM on June 29, 2017 [2 favorites]


"The future is already here, it's just unevenly distributed."
"I'm from the future. You should go to China."

xdvesper sums up mu own experience. It is science fiction over here, very interesting to witness first hand.
posted by Meatbomb at 10:20 PM on June 29, 2017


So I'm totally not an expert on China. I will admit to knowing very little. But I know a few things.

Talking about China is like talking about Europe - you could be talking about somewhere like Germany, or somewhere like Serbia, there's such a gulf between the rich and poor areas.

Sure. But note that China's 2015 per capita GDP was about $7,900 vs Serbia at $5,100, Germany at $41,200 and the US at $55,800. The poor parts of China aren't like Serbia, they're like sub-Saharan Africa. China is unarguably very big and the cities are very advanced but in aggregate China still has a very long way to go. They've had years of 10%-ish GDP growth which is amazing and is radically transformative but at the same time they were starting from a very, very low starting point.

I usually see a narrative in pieces like this that is more about how the US is falling behind somehow but the reality of the situation is that it's simply harder for the US to grow when it's 7x the size of China's economy. Assuming there's no environmental or resource collapse along the way China's raw size means that it will inevitably outgrow the US and perhaps even the entire West before too long. Massive infrastructure buildouts like these are the reality of those abstract numbers.

Overall it feels like China is leapfrogging the rest of the world in their use of technology for whatever reason - My theory is that the government doesn't mind firms obtaining huge market power (that would be disallowed in the West) and this creates huge synergies which would otherwise go unexploited.

There are some natural barriers - localizing apps to Chinese is pretty different from localizing English to German (say) but for the most part the Chinese government simply outright blocks foreign competitors. Which, as you say, leads to interesting and very different outcomes from what we see in the US.
posted by GuyZero at 10:05 AM on June 30, 2017


In the meantime, here in NYC, we can't even keep the goddamn F train running.

We are so totally screwed.
posted by panama joe at 6:00 AM on July 2, 2017


The thing with trains really sums up for me the whole "leapfrogging" thing going on here. I have read since I was a young man about the US plans to some day build this or that piddly little high speed rail line... And in the interim, China has thrown together a massive country-spanning network of high speed rail service, all within the last 15 years or so. Nanjing to Beijing in 4 hours, similar conductivity to all main Chinese cities.

Remember that Bill Gates concrete graph, comparing all concrete in last century of US development vs. last 20 years in China? It is like that with everything technology and infrastructure related. "Ooh, how cute, they built a new subway line in London? We have built entire cities' worth of brand new systems, 10 lines each, with 15 more projected (and actually built pretty much on schedule) in the coming decade."
posted by Meatbomb at 12:04 AM on July 3, 2017


« Older “Yeah” he said with slight irritation “that’s me.”   |   I got dibs on Snox Boops Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments