China is a nation of baffling contrasts. It’s a place that practically defines the notions of culture and permanence: Consider the Great Wall, or the ancient garden residences of my adopted home town, Suzhou. And yet today’s China is better known by its mad scramble for status and wealth, its penchant for superficial glitz, and its monumental indifference to quality.
In Nanjing, a glittering new railway station unveiled just a few years ago is already falling apart, thanks to modern China’s typically hasty workmanship. A new station just being completed in my adopted hometown of Suzhou no doubt awaits the same fate. The main reason for the dismal quality of China’s built environment is the invariably breakneck construction schedules imposed by local governments, which serves to aggrandize the officials in charge, but at the cost of both careful planning and decent quality.