China flawlessly executed a manned space flight. Now, imagine if the country put that same effort into improving the food supply.
In any given week, China is capable of dazzling the world with its achievements while simultaneously undermining such progress by disappointing its own people. This was that kind of a week.
By all accounts, it has been an historic week for China, laden with several firsts. Not only did Beijing successfully complete its first manned space docking mission, the mission carried along the first Chinese female astronaut Liu Yang, a veteran air force pilot. For a Communist Party that has always held grandiose technological ambitions, this was an indisputable triumph. And it did so by reflecting the Maoist ideal of gender equality captured in the commonly recited phrase "women hold up half the sky." For President Hu Jintao, whose decadal reign saw a less harmonious society, he can at least claim credit for having engineered a "Kennedy moment" by decisively taking China into the majestic heavenly ether. It is true, however, that the moon-shot plan was hatched under the previous administration, but the space program's repeated successes registered under Hu's watch will surely define a central part of his political legacy.
Although China is a latecomer to the space game by about 40 years, the sense of rapturous wonder that once captivated Apollo mission audiences in the U.S. is palpable among the Chinese public today. The official press, predictably, issued paean after paean about the momentous launch. And like all initiatives grand in scale, its success serves as an occasion to rally around the flag and inspire patriotism. (Not to mention the effusive praise of the Communist Party's achievement conveniently takes the political transition and Bo Xilai off the front pages, for a while at least.) There is reason for China to be proud of the accomplishment precisely because the program, unlike the high-speed rail, was approached methodically and has a proven track record of success. Evan Osnos of the New Yorker puts it thusly
Over the last decade, China has moved with purpose, putting its first person into space, completing an inaugural spacewalk, and launching two lunar orbiters. But it is not doing anything rash; the pace, four missions in four years, is a stately one. "China's careful, sustainable approach cannot be compared to some early Soviet 'firsts,' which took safety shortcuts in order to achieve politically-timed space spectaculars,"accordingto Andrew Erickson, of the U.S. Naval War College. "By working on its own terms, on its own time, Beijing is building for the future."
As the Chinese public and outside world marveled at the Shenzhou-9 liftoff -- inevitably inviting comparisons to the declining U.S. space program -- pride evaporated and gave way to the old cynicism as revelations within China came to light. It turns out that the astronauts have been feted with organic food from an exclusive farm that boasts free-range chickens and "sleek and glossy haired" cows that are hormone free, according to the Chinese newspaper Beijing News.