A couple of months ago I became impressed by the Chinese announcing that they were about to build a hospital from scratch to finish in 10 days. No, it was not a field military tent hospital, it was to be a large facility for isolation and treatment of COVID-19 infected people. It was a mighty ambitious undertaking, a heroic task befitting a Hercules of a nation. I did not doubt that they would do it because the Chinese are proud people and they would not have gone public if the enterprise was iffy.
But there are other reasons, as well, for my awe at the schedule for building that hospital. One is my engineering backgound and another is my birthdate (yes “date”, no “day”). The latter makes me an “eyewitness”, albeit from a distance, to the flight China took from the “opium house” to a smooth landing at the far side of the Moon; and, in between, building the muscle it takes to build huge hospitals in a week. The transition is enormous and remarkable. And the achievement curve gets steeper ...
When I was a young engineer there was an array of engineering and pseudo-engineering magazines traversing the desks of engineers. The latter were cleverly crafted to persuade us to specify the advertisers’ products, not unlike those who
persuade physicians to prescribe the advertisers’ drugs.
An image from these magazines is burned into my brain. It depicts an endless line of uniformly drab dressed men and women, carrying soil in baskets, building an earth-fill dam in China. This was to impress on us the inferiority of Communist economics and the superiority of Capitalist economics. Capitalism was efficient as it used bulldozers and other powerful machines to build dams in contrast to moving earth by the basket. Such advertising would strengthen dedication to capitalism and prevent or dispense any “doubts” about it. Nonsense really, it was merely propaganda they were feeding us.
There was a blanket trade embargo on China. Even if the Chinese had the money to buy machinery, which they did not, they could not buy it because of the embargo imposed on them by the “Free World”.
The people of these basket brigades still had to somehow eat, irrespective of weather were sitting idle awaiting for eathmoving equipment to fall from Heaven, or whether they would be building hand-made dams. They went for the latter and when electricity began flowing from the dams, they used it to build tractors with which to grow more food and machines to build more dams, thereby getting more electricity for the process to leapfrog forward.
The economy grew exponentially and before long China had money to shop the international market. Money talks and Pierre Trudeau defied the Americans, crushed the embargo and Canada began trading with China. This was in 1970. In 1972 Richard Nixon cast aside ideology to cash in on trade.
The Chinese have changed, too. Now, they run a hybrid political system, picking and choosing, taking the best from capitalism and communism, being free of both if you will. Their success demonstrates the obvious for all to see, save for few relics from the infamous “Cold War” who remain frozen.
Recently a picture was published and that is what made the old one surface in my mind. The picture appears taken from high in the sky with a Chinese-made drone. It depicts an animal herd-like array of machines, all made in China, preparing the land for building the big hospital. The machines are numeours but fewer than the people in the old picture carying dirt in baskets to build the dam which generated the electricity, that produced the steel that was made into ... Well, they have come a long way, haven’t they?
Where are those who chastised Mao for making the people build dams by hand? where are they now to praise him for the fierce machines, descendants of the dirt dams he made the people build with their bare hands?
It is not merely for the sake of History that I write this ... stay tuned ...