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.
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.