The Great Wall of China
The small glimpse of China I got on a trip over Christmas revealed a wonderful country.
I have mixed feelings about all large powers, but I feel that modern China has the much-needed capacity to be a force for peace, equality and better life on planet earth.
Its record on human rights have been criticised, like many on Amnesy International's report list today. Yet it is probably much better now than it was under its first Emperor Qin Shi Huang, responsible for building a section of The Great Wall in 220-206 and of creating the Terracotta Warrior tomb.
Insane is how many would describe Qin as he aged, and became ill but his decision to invade warring provinces led to the united China we see today.
I have always admired the best of Chinese culture, particularly in the knowledge that it had discovered some modern technologies hundreds of years before Europe or anywhere else had done so.
In recent years I have admired it for its handling of the transition from a centrally controlled commuist society — the transition began in 1978 — to a “liberalised” market economy with strong direct central control.
It appears to be managing the change better than the former Soviet Union.
You can read that China has a population of around 1.5 billion people. But its sheer size is really only best appreciated by a visit.
For me, that came about over Christmas and the New Year when I visited Beijing, Xian and Shanghai with my wife on a group trip with the Travel Department and its excellent tour guide.
Over 13 days you can only glimpse China's extent, but we caught some highlights, old and new, including the Great Wall, the Terracotta Warriors near Xian, Tiananmen Square and some of the few panda bears left on planet earth at Beijing Zoo.
The bullet train from Beijing to Xian, travelling at around 295 kph, revealed an agricultural landscape, dotted with high-rises, leading me to reflect on my belief that our continued two storey housing expansion in Dublin/north Kildare will worsen our traffic congestion.
Apart from the good idea of placing mobile police vans on city streets, I spotted about three city street car crashes on our first day or two in Beijing.
It was very like being on the M50 or N7 on a bad Friday. I felt at home as our bus crawled through the permanent traffic jams.
All in all, there were many differences between there and here but we would have a great chats with the Chinese over traffic, housing and food.