I visit Yangshan Deep Water Port and realign my concept of what humans are capable of.
Ports still tell the story of the world. A look at a list of the world’s busiest container ports is a direct indication of what countries are thriving and what countries are omitted from being able to do so; who’s up and who’s down; who’s at the center of the economic sphere and who’s on the periphery. The countries that prosper have large active ports; those that don’t will always be leveraged by the ones that do. It’s always been like this.
I went out to Yangshan Deep Water Port at the end of 2014. Though I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time poking around the free trade areas on Pudong’s far outskirts, I’d yet to jump on a bus and cross the 32.5 km sea bridge that connects this port to the mainland.
According to various surveys, China has roughly 7 of the world’s 10 largest ports, and many of the top contenders continue growing and growing, seemingly in pursuit of the title — being the largest, tallest, longest really means something here. As of now the Port of Shanghai is the prevailing champion. It combines the Yangshan Deep Sea port and a massive river port.
The Yangshan Deep Water Port is nothing if not monumental. It was built as a reaction to the fact that large freighters couldn’t enter Shanghai’s other ports. So if the world’s largest ships couldn’t come into port, Shanghai would take the port out to the ships.
To these ends construction began on Greater and Lesser Yangshan islands 30 kilometers out in Hangzhou Bay in 2000. These islands, which are really just the tops of small continental mountains rising out of the sea, were transformed into a port by dumping incredible amounts of sediments upon them. The reclamation process continues to this day, as Yangshan Deep Water Port continues growing, adding more berths, increasing shipping capacity.
The cost of this venture? US$12 billion over 20 years — or roughly the nominal GDP of Iceland.
Being located far out at sea, Yangshan Deep Water Port presented the impetus for another feat of engineering: a bridge. In just two and a half years 6,000 workers built the six lane, 32.5 kilometer Donghai Bridge,which spans the gap between the tip of Pudong and the port. It went into operation in 2005, and for a short amount time was the longest sea bridge in the world. Then a longer one was built right next to it. Then another.
Massive sea bridges going over Hangzhou Bay are apparently becoming an epidemic. At the beginning of last year Shanghai announced that they would be constructing a second bridge reaching out to Yangshan that will combine road and rail.
The intrigue of visiting Yangshan Port is to try to comprehend the shear magnitude of engineering that went into building it. What was two small blips of stone protruding from the surface of the sea 15 years ago is now part of the busiest port on the planet. From the top of the mountain you can look out over a sea of shipping containers extending far out into the distance on what was open water not very long ago. To look the other way is to see one of the longest bridges on the planet winding snake-like to the horizon. On both sides of this are massive wind farms — hundreds and hundreds of windmills slowing churning. Yes, people built this.
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