China fact of the day

Despite the attempt to rely more on tunnels than bridges, Guizhou ended up with 40 of the world’s 100 tallest bridges, including the very tallest. Read that again. I didn’t say China had 40% of the world’s tallest (which would be a major achievement), I said a poor, small province in the interior with only 2.5% of China’s population has 40 of the world’s 100 tallest bridges.

Here is more from the Scott Sumner travelogue from Guizhou.


Wow - wonder how that figure would have looked two generations ago concerning Switzerland? Admittedly, these days, the Swiss seem to be have been fairly successful in their attempt to rely more on tunnels than bridges.

Commies build more bridges to nowhere than anybody else. Good thing I live in America where we don't build anything anymore.

'we don't build anything anymore.'

That is not true - out tech companies build the finest surveillance databases imaginable, far beyond the ability of what the CCP is capable of implementing.

And sell them to the Chinese!

A bridge too far, it seems - but entertaining, particularly the reference to 'barrenness.'

Isn't the main metric for bridges how long they are? I've never seen bridges ranked on height. But good for them.

CNN--America's favorite source of sponsored totalitarian propaganda!

The Stillwell road. Wow. I think I remember reading about that effort in Tuchman's history of Stillwell in China.

Gosh, is this a "fact" about China that really is a fact?

It’s not a fact, it’s an error. The link says “highest” not “tallest”, so really isn’t amazing or interesting at all

If you don't think a bridge that is >1800 ft high is amazing, you need to get better at being amazed at stuff.

I see. Totalitarism is awesome, it makes the bridges run on time.

...but that one was total LOL gold.

Per Sumner: For most of human history, it was impossible to grasp the range of the habitable world in a single day. Beginning in the mid-20th century, one could fly from a cool region to a hot region in one day. But that was an artificial experience—you missed everything in between. That all changed in 2012, when China built a high speed rail line from the north to the south of the country. Now you could board a train at 9am in cold, snowy Beijing, and get off 8 hours later in tropical Guangzhou, at the same latitude as Havana.

Does this mean that the train has no heat or air conditioning? And how much is the passenger actually experiencing, ensconced in a high-speed train blazing across the countryside?

Scott's piece last week re surveillance more interesting...i only rode high speed once between Shanghai and Beijing-you can see quite a bit

Has the Netflix documentary "American Factory" been mentioned here yet? For me it was the most eye-opening China related thing I've seen for a while. It starts a bit slow but paints a great picture of the cultural differences around work and patriotism, and the transition among the American middle-managers from wry confusion to glassy-eyed devotion when they visit China is striking.

I guess American managers like the idea of slaving their workers. Chinese workers have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win.

This is the communist impersonator.

No, I am not. You want to do your communist masters' bidding.

Where's Parfit when you need him?


I apologize for the mistakes that Bolsonaro made trying to stop the fires. If he messes up again, I will personally vote out that fascist and find someone who will upgrade Brazil from shithole to sinkhole.

The very young waitress looked befuddled at first, and then waved it over the top of the card reader, as someone might put their iPhone over a QR code when using WeChat. My wife had to show her how to insert the credit card into the chip reader.

She was doing it right. Ever heard of contactless bank cards? Ubiquitous in Europe and Asia.

Here in Australia, paywave is used almost exclusively for transactions under $100

I don't paywave because of the fees. Not sure if I'm stupid or if everyone else is.

"She was doing it right. "

Well no, she wasn't. Because it obviously didn't work. And clearly the card reader had a chip reader.

My hometown, Fresno, Ca, has a bridge to nowhere, courtesy of the never to be finished Cal Bullet train. The bridge shoots out of nowhere, straight up and over a sunken freeway, for no visible reason.

Jerry Brown's third bridge to no where, I might add, we had a complex highway exchange sticking right up in San Jose, for year. Then we had the Oakland Bay Bridge fiasco. Jerry was an amateur bridge builder.

A pedantic point, but there seems to be a difference between the tallest bridges and the highest bridges, which has to do with how that metric is measured (tallness is measured by structural height whereas height is measured by maximum ground-to-deck distance). The Beipanjiang Bridge is the world's highest, but not the world's tallest.

The "40 tallest bridges" figure is actually the "40 highest bridges," which is undoubtedly due in part to the region's geography (mountainous, with many deep gorges).

Yes, this is not pedantic and in fact demolishes the whole fact. There’s nothing notable about the highest bridges being concentrated in a small high part of the world

Right, to build a really tall bridge means solving a lot of engineering problems. Whereas a high bridge might have some engineering challenges, but in the end it's just a bridge.

So the statistic is interesting not as a sign of engineering marvels, but as a sign of geological marvels. Some parts of China are just plain steep and hilly and filled with cliffs and deep deep gorges and canyons. The USA, for all of our mountains, doesn't seem to have as much topography that requires those super-high bridges. West Virginia may be the exception that proves the rule; the New River Gorge Bridge there is so tall that it's a tourist attraction and once a year they permit bungie jumpers to launch themselves from it. But it's not as if the USA is awash with such high bridges.

Excellent post, +5 internet points

If anyone else is slow to understand this like me -- I was thinking "Who cares if the top of the structure is tall, like the spire on a skyscraper?" What it actually means is that the bridge has its supports on either side of a gorge, so that the bridge could be twice as "high" if the gorge were twice as deep, but no more difficult to build.

"with only 2.5% of China’s population" which is midway between Texas and California.

It's small only in the context of China.

"40 of the world’s 100 tallest bridges"

That is false.

The metric is height of deck above the lowest part of the land or water spanned. When the terrain is defined by extremes of mountains and valleys, its "easy" without building a big structure. The terrain results in 40 out of the highest 100 bridges.

But only 3 or so of the 100 tallest bridges, bridge building taking place globally at a high rate in relative historical terms making the precise count difficult. New materials and designs spawning projects long thought impossible. And success building bridges, or anything, spawns more building. The building stops only when the falling marginal cost from economies of scale exceeds the expected long term marginal benefit.

I wonder if Scott's observations are colored by his view that benefits come from spending less money, ie, paying ever less workers to build ever less.

This appears to be fake news - the source says “highest” not “tallest” (although confusingly illustrates its point by giving a height above the river for one bridge). This is about as interesting as Alaska having the most northerly bridges in the US

That said, it punch above it’s weight for tallest bridges too:

Perhaps the fencing gives the sense of private property where there is none.

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