Vishwan Pamarthi

Major: Biology

Hometown: Cary, NC

Study Abroad Program: CIE in Beijing Summer

Posted on 24-07-2007

A Discussion of Chinese vs American “Maturity”

I had a discussion with my roommate the other night that started when he mentioned his professor telling him that Chinese GDP would take 100 years to climb to the level of American GDP. This brought up an interesting point - not about GDP, but about China in general. When most Americans are asked how long China will take to develop into an economic superpower like the USA, 20 to 25 years is a common answer. China only started rapidly developing about 20 years ago - if it does reach parity with the United States in 20 to 25 years, China will have done in 40 years what the USA spent over 200 years doing. Although this seems very feasible considering China’s rapid development, something tells me this won’t happen in even 70 to 80 years. I started calling this difference between the two countries maturity, mainly because of the benefits that become evident when considering gradualness of development. I noticed these benefits in a few areas - here are some of them:

Pollution - no American city is or has ever been as polluted as the Chinese capital of Beijing. A gradual development allowed Americans to spread polluting factories evenly, while the rapidly developing Chinese had several factories installed within major cities to jumpstart their job market and economy. Factories are currently being moved and few (if any) are being built within cities, but the damage is done and cars (discussed later) are now taking their turn to pollute. Currently, the Chinese don’t have the money to spend on pollution-reducing technologies present in first-world countries (like the USA).

Roads - All of the United States is covered with first-grade roads, thus allowing development to spread relatively evenly throughout the continental USA. Major Chinese cities tend to have good roads within the city, but medium-sized to small cities have gradually worsening low-grade and gravel roads. Road links between cities is still very limited, and car is not considered an option for inter-city travel. This has limited the evenness of development in China, with cities being relatively well developed while the rural areas remain without any hint of industrialization or modernization.

Drivers - some Chinese cities have new drivers registering their cars at a rate of 400 per day, and this is causing crashes, fatalities, and congestion that is and has been unheard of in the USA. Fatalities occur at a rate of 26/10000 drivers, compared to 2/10000 drivers in the USA. Six hundred Chinese lives are lost daily in road crashes. Stricter driver tests (the necessity of which became evident over time) and a smaller population has allowed the United States to develop an effective driver licensing system and well-enforced road laws that prevent such disasters.

To reach the economic power or development level of the United States, all of these are problems that the Chinese will have to address over the next several decades. It’s important to remember that the United States is more powerful than any European country despite being significantly less “mature” than most of them and that Japan, despite bright forecasts a decade ago, has hit a few expected roadblocks in its economic development - something that China has yet to do. China also lacks the global military reach (and advancement) of the United States: the US has 13 aircraft carriers, while the Chinese have none. I think my roommate’s professor had a point with the 100 years comment, and it may take much longer than that for China to represent any remarkable challenge to the USA.

Posted on 24-07-2007

Forbidden City, Roast Duck, and Word Choice

I finally had the chance to visit the Forbidden City last weekend, and I was honestly disappointed. Half of it seems to be under renovation for the flood of tourists to come during the Olympics next year, and the half that remained was quite homogenous in design and purpose. The treasures kept there were very similar to the treasures kept in many other Chinese historical areas, although there were a few surprises - Tibetan script on some of the Buddha pagodas (that I mistook for Sanskrit at first) and a screen of nine dragons (there are only three in China). The city is still a must-see, but don’t expect too much - at least not this year.

Posted on 31-07-2007

Xi’an and the Terra-Cotta Army

First of all, if anyone tells you that the Terra-Cotta soldiers are a wonder of the world (especially the 8th wonder), don’t believe them. There are only seven wonders of any version of the world (because it turns out that there are several versions), and the Great Wall of China and Nanjing’s Porcelain Tower are the only Chinese things on any of the lists.

That being said, the Terra-Cotta Army is a pretty impressive sight. The area isn’t entirely excavated yet, and it turns out that all of the soldiers were destroyed in peasant uprisings. They were discovered by a bunch of farmers who were trying to dig a well, and archaeologists pieced what they could back together after they realized what they were. The army itself was intended to be a sort of afterlife army for Emperor Qin Shihuang, the first person in history to unify all of modern-day China. That probably makes him the single most influential figure in Chinese history, and the size of the army and his tomb justify that. The tomb and army took something like 37 years and the work of 720,000 laborers to build, and from a distance, the emperor’s tomb looks like a natural hill. The tomb itself hasn’t been excavated yet - people are either afraid or reluctant to disturb Qin’s resting place.

After an hour or so in the chambers though (there are several) you begin to get the “seen one seen all” impression. The soldiers are unique but similar enough that they all look alike - railings also keep you at enough of a distance to make distinguishing between the soldiers difficult. Definitely a must-see, but don’t base a trip to Xi’an around it. A friend tells me that there are cave villages a short distance away from the city, and that those are much cooler than the Terra-Cotta Army. Try to make it out to one of those, but if you can’t, settle for a cycling tour around the old city wall. That was definitely the most worthwhile thing we did over there. Also make a point of going to one of the “hot pot” restaurants - they give you boiling water to put your own meats in and tell you to make a dipping sauce out of several condiments that they provide.