A high-speed train crash in China unravels years of corruption in the building of the world's most expensive public-works project:
"Prime Minister Wen Jiabao had no choice but to visit the crash site and vow to investigate. 'If corruption was found behind this, we must handle it according to law, and we will not be lenient,' he said. 'Only in this way can we be fair to those who have died.' People didn’t forget Wen’s pledge as the first deadline for the investigation came and went, and they continued to demand a fuller accounting. At last, in December, authorities released an unprecedented, detailed report. It acknowledged 'serious design flaws,' a 'neglect of safety management,' and problems in bidding and testing. It also blamed fifty-four people in government and industry, beginning with Great Leap Liu. The Minister’s name became a byword for 'a broken system,' as the muckraking magazine Caixin called the Railway Ministry, a testament to the political reality that, as Caixin put it, 'since absolute power corrupts absolutely, the key to curbing graft is limiting power.' When I spoke to an engineer who worked on the railway’s construction, he told me, 'I can’t pinpoint which step was neglected or what didn’t get enough time, because the whole process was compressed, from beginning to end.' He added, 'There is an expression in Chinese: when you take too great a leap, you can tear your balls.'"
PUBLISHED: Oct. 15, 2012
LENGTH: 32 minutes (8124 words)
Macau's rise as the new global gambling capital leads to complications for the Las Vegas casinos that have flocked to China for a piece of the action. Its differences are illustrated in the God of Gamblers case, in which a former barber named Siu Yun Ping won $13 million, setting off a chain of events, including a murder plot:
"The files of the God of Gamblers case can be read as a string of accidents, good and bad: Siu’s run at the baccarat table; Wong’s luck to be assigned an assassin with a conscience; Adelson’s misfortune that reporters noticed an obscure murder plot involving his casino. But the tale, viewed another way, depends as little on luck as a casino does. It is, rather, about the fierce collision of self-interests. If Las Vegas is a burlesque of America—the 'ethos of our time run amok,' as Hal Rothman, the historian, put it—then Macau is a caricature of China’s boom, its opportunities and rackets, its erratic sorting of winners and losers."
PUBLISHED: April 2, 2012
LENGTH: 31 minutes (7755 words)
An outsider might imagine that the novel that captures China's current gilded-age mood would be set in Shanghai, the financial capital elbowing its way into competition with New York and London, or Shenzhen, the megalopolis built on marshland. But Shanghai was punished by the Communist party for the city's history of cosmopolitanism, and is still shaking off the effects of that cultural paralysis. Shenzhen, for its part, is a transient place that sanctifies commerce, not ideas. Beijing, by contrast, stands alone in China as simultaneously the center of authority and a hotbed of creative thinking. It is home to thousands of apparatchiks in the machinery of the Communist party, as well as to many of the nation's most provocative artists, writers, activists, and filmmakers.
PUBLISHED: April 12, 2011
LENGTH: 15 minutes (3801 words)
To geologists, earthquakes are a constant in the planet’s eternal becoming. To the Japanese, they are simply a constant. In a given year, there can be hundreds, usually barely discernible micro-events. They rattle the pictures on the wall, the china on the table, but they rarely stop the conversation. Donald Keene, a professor at Columbia and the dean of Japanese-literature scholars, said, “Very often, when I have been away from Japan for a while and come back, there will be a small earthquake, and I notice it and no one else in the room does. They laugh at me.” He added, “People expect this all the time, that they will be warned. But when a quake of great magnitude happens they are shocked. The world changes.”
PUBLISHED: March 21, 2011
LENGTH: 18 minutes (4702 words)