The Transforming Transport of China

Pimsleur Approach • February 5, 2013 • ChineseComments (0)

How would you like to get to work today? Perhaps you’d enjoy being catapulted at 186 mph from one city to the next, as mile upon mile of blurred countryside flies by your window? Or maybe you’d like to settle in the back of a pedicab with your China Daily as you’re pulled through the streets at a leisurely, wobbly pace? Transport in China has broadened by leaps and bounds in the previous few decades, but because of its size, tradition, and large patches of poverty, modes that started out centuries ago are still in mainstream use. This makes for an extra-exciting range of travel options. Here’s our pick of the bunch:

Rickshaw Ride in Hong Kong
Rickshaw Ride in Hong Kong (Image via Wikipedia)

Are You Shaw?

You may feel more than a pang of guilt sitting in the back of a rickshaw, as you watch an elderly gent use every fiber in his body to get you to the office on time. In China today, pulled rickshaws are much rarer than they were when they arrived in the late 19th century (it’s thought at one time rickshaw men and their families constituted 20% of Beijing’s entire population). But they can still be found wending through villages and cities, often pulled by men who look like they would have retired fifteen years ago were that an option. A more humane model of rickshaw is the pedaled version, which has been popular for ferrying tourists about since the 1990s, and can demand a pretty penny relative to distance traveled. Last year, the BBC reported on the wonderful story of Chen Guanming, a Chinese farmer who pedaled his rickshaw all the way from his hometown of Erchen to London in order to “spread the Olympic spirit.” Who knows how much he would have charged a passenger sat in the back for that ride.

China High Speed Railways
China High Speed Railways (Image via Wikipedia)

Rail-ly Fast

By the end of 2012, China’s mileage of high-speed railroad was higher than any other in the world. According to People’s Daily Online, it now notches up almost 6,000 miles and is branching out almost as fast as the trains themselves. The end of 2012 saw the opening of a new route between Beijing and Guangzhou. Not so long ago, this would have cost close to 24 of your precious hours to cover. Now, high-speed rail has turned the journey time into just eight hours. That said, the Guardian does cite that getting there wasn’t a problem-free ride: “a bullet train crash killed 40 people, a section of track collapsed in the rain and a top railway official [was] sacked for corruption.” Another high-speed route that’s just been completed is the Dalian-Harbin, which features trains equipped to deal with the huge fluctuations in temperature between these two disparate cities.  If you find romance in creakiness and steam, you’re out of luck as a passenger in China, as such services have been eradicated by a blindly-forward-thinking government. You can, however, still witness an impressive array of industrial locomotives running the lines, such as that which hauls coal between Shen Chi and Shuozhou in Shanxi Province. But hurry; it’s unlikely such sights will be around much longer.

A modern junk in Hong Kong
A modern junk in Hong Kong (Image via Wikipedia)

Load of Junk

As in any other country, water transport in China has diminished of late. The bat-winged junks that used to choke the ports and coastline of China are few and far between, although they can still be found, such as that in Hong Kong which plies its way through the Victoria Harbor. For those with the appropriate coffers, a five-star trip down the Yangtze—one of the largest rivers in the world—will take you past dramatic scenery: steep, tree-cloaked precipices; the Three Gorges Dam which spans the entire river; and stop-offs at China highlights like the Terracotta Warriors and Great Wall of China. In fact, the Yangtze cruise may well be the most eye-opening tour of China there is.

Electric bikes are very common in China
Electric bikes are very common in China (Image via Wikipedia)

Buzzing Bikes

Why pedal when you can get electricity to do the job for you? Electric bikes are big business in China; in fact, the country is the leading manufacturer of them, claiming to have sold around 16 million units in 2006. Such sales figures are also great news for the environment. If electric bikes can genuinely usurp petroleum-run scooters, it will have a significant impact on city pollution and smog, both of which are big problems at the moment. Although they can be great fun for whipping around a city, electric bikes are not without their dangers (especially considering how busy China’s cities are). There has been a recent rise in the number of accidents on these vehicles, so if you do rent or buy one, just be sure you know how to control it!

Donghai Bridge
Donghai Bridge (Image via Wikipedia)

Miscellaneous Methods

China has learned over the years that although nature is something to contend with, it is certainly not indomitable. That’s why structures such as the Donghai Bridge exist. One of the lengthiest cross-sea structures there is at 20 miles long, Donghai paves its way across the East China Sea, from Shanghai to Yangshan Island. Risk aversion from freak waves and typhoons has been implemented to the highest level, while only vehicles under a certain weight are permitted to use it. In all, the bridge cost $1.2 billion to make, an unreal amount of cash for a structure that is so impressive; it looks unreal itself.

At the bizarre end of the spectrum, you could take a shoe for a spin. As a one-off marketing stunt in 2011, Chinese shoe manufacturer Kang Shoe came up with the inspired idea of building a giant leather shoe and then motorizing it! The car shoe ran off batteries, could reach 30 mph, and most impressively could travel 250 miles before running out of juice. Apparently Kang Shoe were so proud of their product, they made another 40 of them, available for only $6,500 each—or $13,000 for a pair!

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