Soaring over a lush valley in southern China, the Chishi Bridge is a 2.25-kilometre marvel of concrete and steel. Four piers, like graceful tuning forks as tall as skyscrapers, secure cables suspending a four-lane expressway 186 metres above fields of corn and rice.
Squinting up from a dirt road below, Gu Tianyong, a 66-year-old farmer, pondered the colossus, which is a shortcut linking southwestern China with the east coast.
“The government wouldn’t have built it if it was useless,” he said. “It does nothing for me, but must be useful for the country.”
The Chishi Bridge is one of hundreds of dazzling bridges erected across the country in recent years. Chinese officials celebrate them as proof that they can roll out infrastructure bigger, better and higher than any other country can. China now boasts the world’s highest bridge, the longest bridge, the highest rail trestle and a host of other superlatives, often besting its own efforts.
But as the bridges and the expressways they span keep rising, critics say construction has become an end unto itself. Fuelled by government-backed loans and urged on by the big construction companies and officials who profit from them, many of the projects are piling up debt and breeding corruption while producing questionable transportation benefits.
Leaders defend the infrastructure spree as crucial to China’s development.