China has just opened the world’s longest bridge and accompanying series of tunnels linking Hong Kong, Zhuhai and Macao in southern China. The successful completion of the project marks the end of a period that began with the initial groundbreaking in 2009. Not only will the bridge make the transport of goods and travel far more streamlined, but the engineering marvel is a further demonstration of China’s innovative confidence and ability to pull off ultra-modern mega projects in the 21st century.
Chinese President Xi Jinping stated “I declare the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau bridge officially open” before a fireworks display inaugurated the formal opening of the megaproject which opens to regular traffic in less than twenty-four hours.
The completion of the bridge and tunnel project is a prominent visual demarcation of a new era for Chinese society in which President Xi has encouraged Chinese to dream big for the future. But while China looks to the future with a spirit of optimism, other major powers seem stuck in a state of lethargy that prohibits them from taking on the challenges that China has surmounted with stunningly effective results.
A frequent refrain among much of western media on all sides of the ideological spectrum is that “things aren’t what they used to be”. Donald Trump’s winning campaign slogan “Make America Great Again” was in fact a variation on this common theme – the clear implication being that things have gone wrong and a new style of leadership is required to make things great again. For some parts of the world, things have grown objectively worse in recent years. The Syria of today is a worse place than it was before the present conflict began in 2011. Likewise, while Libya was once Africa’s wealthiest nation, today it is a failed state that is rife with terrorism, piracy, a slave trade and rampant lawlessness.
But for China, things are not only better than they have ever been but in-line with Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism With Chinese Characteristics for a New Era – the best is yet to come. This is manifested in Xi’s goal to transform China from an industrial powerhouse to an innovation powerhouse, all while eliminating poverty completely by 2020 in a push to create a moderately prosperous society.
Another aspect of the spirit of optimism within Chinese society is derived from the fact that China’s market socialist system is uniquely placed to take advantage of the revolution in artificial intelligence (AI). Unlike in western market systems, the Chinese market socialist model allows the profits generated both by men and women as well as those generated by AI to be re-invested back into society. This fits in with the broader goal of increasing investment and educational priorities in order to further develop China’s already strong hi-tech sector, medical research initiatives, consumer and professional innovations, green energy generation, transport infrastructure and vehicle design, space exploitation, security hardware development and communications research and development.
In a recent speech before the Communist Youth League of China (CYLC) Central Committee in Beijing, Xi stated,
“A country will have a great tomorrow, and a nation will be full of hopes, when the younger generations have ideals, ability and a strong sense of responsibility. Representing the youth, winning the support of the youth and counting on the youth has been a crucial guarantee for the Party’s advance from one victory to another.
The Chinese dream of national rejuvenation will be realised ultimately through the endeavours of young people, generation by generation”.
During his speech, President Xi encouraged the youth to set substantial goals themselves while always aiming to strengthen the nation according to socialist values with Chinese characteristics. Xi’s attitude itself suggests the words of Chinese foremost philosopher and social thinker Confucius who stated,
“When it is obvious that the goals cannot be reached, don’t adjust the goals, adjust the action steps”.
Whether eliminating poverty, creating new efficient production techniques, transforming old towns into mighty cities and becoming a world leader in innovation – modern China’s success has proved that the strategies and thought of modern Chinese leaders including Deng Xiaoping and Xi Jinping are consistent with the wisdom of Confucius that continues to play a vital role in a Chinese “can-do” attitude that is both broad in its scope but rational in its application.
It is very rare that a culture is able to change history more than once. Generally, after a period of intellectual, inventive, military, scientific and cultural greatness, civilisations face declines of one form or another, either through internal lethargy, foreign conquest or political amalgamation into an erstwhile external sovereign. The Classical Hellenic societies changed the world and much of the modern world owes much to ancient Hellenic triumphs. However, Greece today, for all its charms, is not the conquering behemoth of Alexander the Great, the intellectual capital of Socrates or the fertile ground of polymaths the likes of Pythagoras.
Likewise, the Arab world today is under constant siege from foreign enemies provoking local conflicts, when during the Islamic Golden age, the Arab world was able to create monumental innovations in architecture, mathematics, astronomy and law.
While societies like the Hellenic or the Arab world may indeed come back to greatness, history has proved such things to be rare. This is one of the many reasons why anyone who values resilience, invention, capacity for greatness and capacity for imagination within the human spirit, should gaze at modern China with both a sense of awe and humility.
Successive ancient and early modern Chinese cultures pioneered great innovations from the invention of paper, printing and movable type to gunpowder, tuned metallic musical instruments and the compass, to foodstuffs that later filled tables the world over. Additionally, ancient and early modern Chinese philosophy remains a guiding force for people throughout Asia and the wider world, while China’s silk-roads pioneered the concept of world trade thousands of years before the words car, train or aeroplane meant anything to anyone.
The late modern period saw China succumbing to foreign manipulation which led to cultural and political stagnation. While China was able to win its battle against Japanese imperialism in the 1940s, many people in the 20th century, wrote China off as a civilisation that was but could never be again.
Today, when people from throughout the world, including the developed world gaze at China’s great cities, they are not merely looking at prosperity – they are looking at the future. The China of today is not just a great producer, moderniser and educator, but it is also a great innovator.
China’s guiding modern political philosophy, Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism With Chinese Characteristics for a New Era, looks set to progress the revolution of imagination that will grip China in the coming years. Modern China, like many great civilisations before, has proved that a prosperous society is an optimistic society and that an optimistic society is an imaginative and inventive society. Economists and theorists in the west are not looking for the new Beethoven, Tesla, Jobs, Wozniak, Todd or Zappa, they are more interested in economic damage control. While there are innovators in all countries, when it comes to a civilisation that is uniquely propelled by innovation in the 21st century, this is China. Many still haven’t adjusted themselves to an era where it is not China looking to the US for inspiration, but that it is now a wider world that is looking to China in order to find out ‘what happens next’.
But while for China, the opening of the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macao Bridge inspires optimism, in the US, it seems that many have grown fond of belittling past achievements, thus making it more difficult to improve society for future generations.
While in the early 20th century, the world marvelled at America’s bridges, highways, skyscrapers and railways, in the 21st century, is the US still capable of pulling off a megaproject?
One of the most visually impactful changes to the city that the Big Dig created was the removal of the unsightly and congested “Central Artery” from the middle of Boston. A towering set of elevated road bridges that cut the city in half was to be demolished and replaced by underground tunnels which would free the city of pollution and a much hated eyesore.
Unlike mid-century projects in the US, most notably the highways in and around New York city created by Robert Moses, the Big Dig was intended to create a “win-win” model where goods and people could be moved around a dense urban area with ease, while freeing city streets and centres from traffic, all the while restoring unity among communities divided by giant metal bridges, as was typical of Moses’ projects which were as spectacular as they were reviled by many locals.
Today, the Big Dig is part of Boston’s everyday life and in many ways, the fact that such a project had as few accidents as it did during its construction and early stages of use, is itself quite a feat. Throughout the project not a single existing bridge, highway, metroline or railway was closed, thus making a complex construction project even more demanding on the part of engineers and master builders.
While ultimately, the Big Dig has largely delivered on transforming the way Bostonians travel and receive their goods, the attitude of people in the US towards the Big Dig is one that is thoroughly depressing to anyone who admires megaprojects.
Many in the US continue to question whether The Big Dig was worth it, as there are common accusations that everyone who participated in the project was involved in corruption, dishonesty and graft. Still, some claim that things were better the way they were before, in spite of the fact that large parts of the city have been opened up to new park-space.
By contrast, whether China’s internal megaprojects like the recently opened bridge or international connectivity projects like the history making China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, it is clear that China is open for more than just business: China is open for ideas, for optimism and for thinking big. These are the reasons why China is the 21st century’s leading nation and likely will remain so for the foreseeable long term future.