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The China Conundrum

Posted by Kara Miller, Culture Club  June 27, 2011 08:01 AM

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After two weeks in Asia - my first trip - it's clear why Americans are worried about China.

Indeed, in a National Journal poll last year - just before Amy Chua popularized the term "Tiger Mother" - almost half of those surveyed said they believed China to be the world's largest economy.

That was wrong by a long shot. The U.S. economy is at least twice the size of China's, but the poll reflects a deep-seated concern about America's ability to compete in a new, no-borders economy.

And barreling along on a high-speed train from Shanghai to Hangzhou, I started to worry too. China's growing network of state-of-the-art stations and super-fast trains put Amtrak to shame. A jaunt to the tea-perfumed, temple-filled city of Hangzhou - 120 miles from Shanghai - takes less than an hour.

But, even more impressive, a new rail line will shuttle passengers between the metropolises of Beijing and Shanghai in under five hours. As Reuters notes today, the just-unveiled train "zips along its elevated track at 300 km (185 miles) per hour" and aims to "carry 80 million passengers a year, providing heady competition for the airlines on a route notorious for delays."

The Beijing to Shanghai route is a long one - like traveling from Portland, Maine to Raleigh, North Carolina. Can you imagine zipping from Portland to Raleigh (a more-than-14-hour drive) in less than five hours, without the hassle of driving to the airport and standing in long security lines?

Given our struggling housing market, that kind of mobility would allow Bostonians to snap up jobs in New York without worrying about taking tremendous losses on a house. A Chinese-style train from Boston to New York would get you from start to finish in about an hour and twenty minutes - not so different from the length of a traffic-filled crawl into Boston from a 495-adjacent suburb. Trains to Providence and Hartford, meanwhile, would be a breeze.

And Washington, DC - a trip that currently takes about six-and-a-half hours on our fastest Acela train - would eat up just two-and-a-half hours. Lunch meeting in DC? No problem.

But, along with tremendous innovation and a devotion to improving the flow of commerce, China also has some institutional problems. A spotlight on one of them - hospitals and medical care - in a future blog post.

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.
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About the author

Kara Miller is an Assistant Professor of English, specializing in journalism, at the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth. She also serves as a guest panelist on WGBH-TV's “Beat the Press” and contributes to 89.7 FM WGBH (NPR). More »

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