Dreaming big

Dreaming big

The Chinese do not allow their imagination to be circumscribed by the impossible and their aspirations to be limited by adversities.

Throughout history the big and the spectacular have always had a fascination for the Chinese mind. The Great Wall, the conceiving of which itself was an act of great mental leap, and the Great Summer Palace, which was the  biggest imperial complex of its time on earth and which took 3500 English and French soldiers to wantonly burn down, testify to this. The attraction of the impossible has continued to the present day, with the Long March, the building of the Three Gorges dam, the biggest in the world, the construction of the highest rail line and the tallest towers in the world. Everything is in the superlative scale in size, space and time.

The plan for a 13,000 km rail line across continents and under the Pacific Ocean is the latest dream turning into a proposal. While it is on the drawing board, other lines  linking Beijing with London through Europe, a rail line along the old Silk Route and yet another one to Africa are also being pursued. While these will take time,  work on an ambitious trans-Asian railway linking the country to all south-east Asian countries including Myanmar, Vietnam, Malaysia and Singapore is to start next month. China had proposed taking this line across India and Pakistan to Europe but the idea is in cold storage now perhaps for political reasons. Rail lines are life lines of the economy and great social connectors, and the benefits of the trans-Asian railway to all the countries that it connects will be immense. India and Pakistan should jointly pursue the project, which can transform the north-eastern and northern states and much of Pakistan, with China. Political dividends can follow
economic cooperation.

China’s grand projects do not just feed the fancy, promote its self-image and enhance its sense of importance. It is also arguable if they are symbols of superiority or of a desire for dominance. But they are first of all hard-headed, utilitarian ideas which bring returns. Business comes first, and the world’ awe is bonus. They are all marvels of technology of their times too, as the railway projects too will well be. They push the limits of the possible, with an ambition backed up by the will to do.

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