Besides being on a slow 10hr train- that later turned to 32hrs- from Yangon to Mandalay in Burma, I’ve no other experience with long distance trains. So I was particularly excited about our trip from Beijing to Guangzhou via the “High Speed Rail (HSR)” because the one thing that was certain in this experience was that, it was going to be fast.
Prior to this experience, I mainly associated high speed trains with Japan, which has had this technology for decades. Given that the Chinese HSR started operating in 2007, it feels like China’s HSR revolution happened over night and has quite impressively caught up with the rest of the developing world. Thinking about this history and what I’ve learned about Chinese economic policies as well as the “One belt, One road” initiative made me eager for this journey as it also felt like a field assessment for the anthropologist in me.
At regular intervals, I noticed an interesting disposition of urban and rural locations as we zoomed through the 28 cities along the 1,428-mile track. The scenery on the train was on a repeated cycle of areas with just forestations and no settlements to small villages then big sprawling cities. While staring out the window on multiple occasions, I thought of the large investment in this mode of transportation and how it fit well into how china embodies its ideals of development. Previously, I didn’t have a strong sense of how the “One belt, One road” idea worked outside of the policy frame since Chinese provinces have developed at different paces. With the investment and capabilities of the HSR, I now have a better depiction of the core idea in practice. Thus, although each province is on a different level, the HSR can be viewed as the structure that links them all through infrastructure, development and improved access.
Currently this idea is more visible among megacities in China like Beijing and Guangzhou but the idea of “One belt, One road” is gaining foot in other countries as well. For instance, Ethiopia is one of the many nations that is currently improving its railway system with China’s help and this is currently boosting the countries trade relations with other African countries. With the benefits China has with just 10 years of operating the HSR, the future definitely looks great in terms of the countries influence among other developing countries. The “One belt, One road” is an ambitious idea but it can certainly become a reality that isn’t limited to only China.