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Liz Carter senior contributor

Translation: To Know What’s Wrong With China, Look At Her Construction

Microblogger Li Chengpeng

To prominent blogger Li Chengpeng, deceit is everywhere in modern China. In the aftermath of the shocking collapse of a 10-month-old bridge in the northeastern city of Harbin, Li took to his account on Sina Weibo, China’s Twitter (@李承鹏) to comment on the bridge’s unfortunate role as a metaphor for today’s China.  Since its posting earlier today, Li’s essay has been retweeted over 44,000 times and garnered over 8,000 comments. Tea Leaf Nation translates; the original Chinese version follows at bottom.

***

Every time I walk down the street and see a new project about to break ground, I know that several billionaires are about to be made. Every time I see a project has been completed, I know that a few unknown “temporary workers” are about to become famous. In this country, the completion of an infrastructure project lays the groundwork for the beginning of an anti-corruption project. It’s a place where a bunch of people drown in a mere rainstorm, or when it’s reported that people died from a “thunder” on a train, or…well, you know…where the Harbin bridge that collapsed just 10 months after construction was completed left killed three drivers. At first, I didn’t think it was anything out of the ordinary.

I only started to think this might really be interesting when they couldn’t find the construction company after the accident. I always thought that finding out who was responsible for something was only difficult when female members of song-and-dance troupes became pregnant. I didn’t think that this happened to bridges, too.

The bridge says it’s lonely. The onlookers are lonely too…to help out these lonely hearts, I found the construction company: Harbin Tofu Factory. Of course, they’ve already gotten to the bottom of this, it’s probably just not convenient for the construction company to announce it at the moment. I’m just going to take advantage of this opportunity prior to the announcement to talk about something that happened two years ago. Remember when that company in the northeast invested 2.3 billion RMB to build the Songjiang railway line? They didn’t find out until there were some problems with the bridges that a cook who had never built a bridge headed a group of a few dozen other people from the countryside who had also never built bridges, and they all marched together to nab a national-level key project. There wasn’t enough cement, so they made it with broken rocks and whatever was lying around. It was a classic case of “the cheat nabs the contract, the cook does the work.” I am sure that the experienced chef was standing to the side mixing the cement, wondering what temperature was right, and whether to fry or broil it, if a little bit of spice wouldn’t give it that extra something…it’s alright if you just pretend to look for the construction company. If you really found it, it might be too much for us to take.

A collapsed building, yet another shoddy construction project in China gone awry

That’s just the way things are in this country. I’ve noticed a lot of people are scared to cross bridges now, and wish there was a Spider-Man under every bridge waiting to protect them. No, you’ve come this far, so you must make the best of it in your mind. Just pretend that all those obstacles are there so you can take part in the Mango channel’s “Brave Obstacle Course” [a show similar to American Gladiators]. You must use your wits and your bravery to prepare yourself ahead of time. At any rate, you’ll never be bored. Some people cross from one side of the river to the other, but we cross from shore to shore, putting the pedal to the medal and racing for our lives. All told, even once you’ve paid the toll, you’ve still come out ahead.

I’ve also noticed a bunch of people clamoring for the truth. Actually, you don’t need to seek the truth, because we all know the truth. Last year, at a book fair in Hong Kong, I said that the greatest truth in this place is that we know they are lying, and they know that we know they are lying, and we also know that they actually know that we know that they are lying…so we don’t care about the truth anymore, we just care about the way they put on their show of “truth,” and only the complete compilation of all of these performances is enough to count as the whole truth. It was thunder for the train, or Guo Meimei’s bag, the smile of the Yan’an security official when those 36 people died in the traffic accident, or when the weight of a truck caused the collapse of the bridge, it’s the safe and healthy milk that Meng Niu sends out every day, and the several people who died in the Henan bridge collapse that journalists weren’t allowed to report on.

So you see, the “experts” have come out again. They’re so busy explaining disasters that it’s the only thing they do. Stupid technology wonks have also come out of the woodwork, saying that the science of mechanics proves that the only reason the bridge collapsed is that the driver stayed to one side. They should have just said, “Who told the driver to park on the right side, don’t they know that’s an incorrect political stance?” The audience would have laughed and cheered.

The truth I like the most is: Some people don’t have penises, but they always pretend to pee standing up. 

This is why we should relax. In truth, I don’t expect leaders in Harbin to come out and apologize personally, or for a few corrupt officials to get nabbed. They nab corrupt officials every day, and bridges collapse every year, nothing new under the sun. With the passage of time, you will realize that the greatest gift this age has given us isn’t the truth, but all the time and hard work you’ve put into imagining how they will put on a show of “truth.” In this amazing process, they are responsible for lying, and the ordinary people transform these lies into allegories. That old saying really explains it best:  we knew all along that the bridge was unsafe, that’s why we told you to “cross the river by feeling for stones” [a metaphor for approaching a task or activity with caution, famously used by Deng Xiaoping to describe China's unique path of development]. Now that we’ve gotten to the bridge, I have one final story for you:

On a large bridge on Zhengshang Road in Xingyang city (part of highway 310), traffic accidents happened almost every day, leaving people dead and injured. According to the street merchants at the end of the bridge, Mr. and Mrs. Wang, the bridge had already been in place for ten years. They said every night motorcycles, mopeds, and three-wheeled scooters would crash into each other. Those with just scrapes got off easy, while others died in these accidents. According to Ms. Hu, who had been responsible for cleaning the bridge since August 1, there were no accidents on only five of the 26 days she had worked. Every morning at 5 AM, when she was cleaning up, she would find bits and pieces of people. It always left her frightened and unsettled to see all of that blood.  

People looked into it, and they discovered why this happened: 1) The bridge was not lighted; 2) It was unclear what expert designed it, but the highway divider and flower boxes were not along one straight line, so it was easy for cars to crash into it; 3) Five years ago, in order to warn pedestrians and drivers, the traffic control department had installed a red and black divider with reflectors…it’s just that it was installed backwards and left that way. That’s right, backwards, you don’t see the reflectors until you’ve crashed into the divider and you’re black and blue. Maybe you can see it when the ambulance comes to collect you. 

It’s true, there is a warning sign. It was just installed backwards. That’s a pretty good illustration of the establishment of China’s rule of law.  

It’s also a good illustration of everything in China.

 

走在大街上,每看到新工程上马,就知道又有几个亿万富翁将诞生了。每到工程竣工,就知道又一批默默无闻的临时工要出名了。在这里,一个基建工程的竣工,只是说明一个反腐工程可以开始。所以在下场大雨就淹死好多人,坐趟动车就整编制被雷打焦……的地方,竣工十个月的哈尔滨大桥坍塌致死三名司机,第一时间我并没有那么动容。

我真正开始觉得此事有新意的是,事故之后找不到施工单位。过去我只以为女文工团员怀孕后很难找到施工单位,想不到现在,桥,也是这样。

桥表示自己很孤独,围观的人也很孤独……为了都不那么孤独,我找到了施工单位:哈尔滨豆腐厂。当然此事辟了谣,施工单位只是目前不方便公布。趁公布之前我顺便想到了前年也是东北这旮瘩投资23亿修松江线铁路时,有些桥墩出了问题,才发现施工单位是一个从未建过桥的厨子率领了几十个同样没修过桥的农民,昂首走上国家级重点工程第一线。混凝土不够,碎石杂物凑。就是著名的“骗子承包、厨子施工”。想像资深大厨一边灌着泥浆一边思量文火还是急火,生煎还是乱炖,放不放点孜燃……这次的施工单位假装找一找就好了,真找到,你我可能还受不了。

这就是国情。我看到很多人担心今后过桥的安全,恨不得每座桥下都守护着一个蜘蛛侠。不,经过了这么多,你得达观,得想像每条路、每座桥、每一个隧洞都藏有那么多机关,就是在参加芒果台的“智勇大冲关”。你斗智斗勇,提前预判,总之过得很充实,别人是从河这边到河那边,我们是从此岸到彼岸,一脚油门,就是一生。算一算,扣除过桥费,还是赚了。

我还看到很多人在追问真相。其实不必追问真相,因为彼此都知道真相。去年我在香港书展时说过,这里最大的真相是,我们知道他们在撒谎,他们也知道我们知道他们在撒谎,我们也知道他们其实知道我们知道他们在撒谎……所以我现在不关心真相,我关心怎么表演真相,所有真相的表演版本合集起来才够得上完整真相:是动车的雷,是郭美美的包,和延安高速路死亡36人时安监局长的笑,是卡车司机超载导致高架桥坍塌,是蒙牛天天送出的健康奶,和河南高架桥死伤若干不准报道……

你看,专家又跳出来了,他们现在好忙,唯一的工作就是解释灾难。你看,二逼技术控也出来了,指出司机单边停靠才导致坍塌的各种力学原理。他们该说,谁让司机停在右边那根道呢,政治立场不对。场面欢乐,蔚为大观。

我最喜欢看的真相是:有人木有鸡鸡,却总表演站着撒尿。

所以要放轻松,放轻松,其实我对哈尔滨领导出面道歉并不盼望,对抓走几个贪官也不奢望,贪官天天抓,各种桥段和桥断年年有,一切从未改观。多年以后,就会明白这个时代留给我们最大的财富不是真相,而是你一直勤于动脑,想像他们下一次会怎样表演真相。这个卓越的过程中,他们负责说谎言,老百姓把谎言提炼成寓言,那句说得很清楚了:早知道桥上不安全,才让你们摸石头过河的。说到桥,就有最后一个故事:

荥阳郑上路南关大桥(属310国道),车流多,几乎天天出事,车毁人伤不断。据桥头摆杂货摊的汪大爷夫妇介绍,该桥建成已经有十余年,一到天黑常有摩托车、电动车和机动三轮车撞上,轻者皮外擦伤,重者车毁人亡。另据在桥上打扫卫生的胡师傅说,她8月1日才到这里打扫卫生,干了26天只有5天夜里没出车祸。每天早上5点来扫地时,地上经常散落着碎片,看到地上成片的血迹,她都吓得惊恐不安。

人们就去调查,发现了原因:一、桥面上没有路灯;二、不知哪个专家设计的,水泥隔离墩和花坛不在一条直线,顺行的车辆自然容易撞到隔离墩。三、为提醒行人车辆,五年前交管部门也在水泥墩上安装了最能起到有效警示作用的红白间隔反光桶……只是,只是多年来它一直被安反了。是的,安反了,你撞到水泥墩之前时看不到反光标志,等遍体鳞伤,兴许可以在救护车蓦然发现那一枚警示用的反光。

警示标志确实有,只是装反了。这差不多是中国法制建设的一个图片说明。

也是中国所有事的图片说明。

 

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Liz Carter

Liz Carter is a DC-based China-watcher and the author and translator of a number of Chinese-English textbooks available on amazon.cn. She and her cat Desmond relocated to DC from Beijing, where she studied contemporary Chinese literature at Peking University, after learning that HBO was planning to adapt Game of Thrones for television. She writes at abigenoughforest.com and tweets from @withoutdoing.
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  • http://www.postlinearity.com gregorylent

    just watched a repairman replace the ceiling fan, didn’t bother connecting it to the vent duct, just ran it into the space above the false ceiling …. made me homesick for past crews i’d worked with, in america. :-)

  • http://www.postlinearity.com gregorylent

    just watched a repairman replace the ceiling fan, didn’t bother connecting it to the vent duct, just ran it into the space above the false ceiling …. made me homesick for past crews i’d worked with, in america. :-)

  • http://www.postlinearity.com gregorylent

    jeez. just read the headlines for your “also on tea leaf nation” stories … you guys are straight out of the business insider school of link baiting … almost thought it was an onion-esque parody section … actually, it may yet be, didn’t click on any., same way i avoid business insider and buzzfeed.

    good luck with the monetization strategies.

    enjoy, gregory

  • http://www.postlinearity.com gregorylent

    jeez. just read the headlines for your “also on tea leaf nation” stories … you guys are straight out of the business insider school of link baiting … almost thought it was an onion-esque parody section … actually, it may yet be, didn’t click on any., same way i avoid business insider and buzzfeed.

    good luck with the monetization strategies.

    enjoy, gregory

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  • http://twitter.com/masterone3 masterone

    ” it’s probably just not convenient for the construction company to announce it at the moment” should mean the authorities think it is not the proper time to announce the name of the construction company. The construction company does not announce itself.
    “cross the river by feeling for stones” [a metaphor for approaching a task or activity with caution—-this should be read between the lines. Deng Xiaoping came up with the idea that China should take a unique course by “feeling the pebbles while crossing the river (materialization of communism)”. So this is not a mere metaphor. He is making fun of a ludicrous political statement.

    • ebcarter

      Thanks for catching that!! Learned something new today. I’ll see if we can’t fix it.

  • http://twitter.com/masterone3 masterone

    ” it’s probably just not convenient for the construction company to announce it at the moment” should mean the authorities think it is not the proper time to announce the name of the construction company. The construction company does not announce itself.
    “cross the river by feeling for stones” [a metaphor for approaching a task or activity with caution—-this should be read between the lines. Deng Xiaoping came up with the idea that China should take a unique course by “feeling the pebbles while crossing the river (materialization of communism)”. So this is not a mere metaphor. He is making fun of a ludicrous political statement.

    • ebcarter

      Thanks for catching that!! Learned something new today. I’ll see if we can’t fix it.

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  • readerA

    Minor point: I believe it’s Xingyang City not Yingyang.

  • readerA

    Minor point: I believe it’s Xingyang City not Yingyang.

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  • Gregor

    Fantastic translation!

  • Gregor

    Fantastic translation!