China is crazy-big. How crazy-big? Let’s just say if they were having a contest for ‘biggest, craziest nation on planet Earth’, the Middle Kingdom would not only win hands down, it would leave all the other countries scratching their heads and saying “whoa, get a load of that guy.”
There are 1.357 billion people living in China today, a whole billion more than there are living in the USA. The nation is big geographically, too; only Russia and Canada cover a larger land area. And you better believe all this bigness leads to craziness. Craziness so big and bigness so crazy that it’s impossible to fit it all into a single top ten list. But, by gum, we’re gonna try.
10. They Have a Dam So Big it Slowed the Earth’s Rotation
Forget the Eiffel Tower, the Forth Bridge or the Hoover Dam. The Three Gorges Dam is the only true engineering marvel on this planet deserving of the title ‘mind-blowing’. The largest dam yet built, it created a reservoir the size of the Kingdom of Bahrain. It holds back some 39.3 cubic kilometers of water. But the truly crazy part? The dam is so big that its construction slowed the rotation of the entire planet.
Time for a quick science lesson. There’s something called the moment of inertia, which basically describes how fast an object can rotate about its axis. If the object is wider, it can rotate less-quickly, which is why Olympic divers curl up into a tight little ball when doing those crazy flips. Raise a whole load of river water 175 meters into the air, and you’re gonna affect the moment of inertia for the entire planet. The end result? Earth itself slows down.
Now, we should point out that the effect is microscopic. As in, the Three Gorges Dam adds only 0.06 microseconds to the length of the day. But to look at it another way: holy cow, that dam is so big it adds a measurable amount to the length of each day!
9. 30 Million Chinese People Still Live in Caves (and enjoy it)
Imagine being so poor you were forced to move into a cave. It’d suck, right? Like, that’s the sort of thing that nobody has done outside of a warzone in centuries. Well, not quite. Even as you read this, there are currently 30 million people in China still living in caves (equivalent to the entire populations of Australia and New Zealand combined). The craziest part? Most of those 30 million freakin’ love their living arrangements.
The majority of China’s cave dwellers live in Shaanxi province, where the porous soil and limestone cliffs make for easy excavation. Most have been wired up to the mains, many have plumbing, many come with multiple rooms and a lawn, and some even have mod-cons like refrigerators and TV. More importantly, in a country where people still earn low wages, you can rent a big cave for about $30 a month. That’s if it’s not for free. Some families have been passing down ‘luxury’ caves for generations. And the majority of these caves are bigger, nicer, and quieter than Beijing’s apartments.
The LA Times even managed to interview city workers and Communist Party officials who wanted to retire to Shaanxi caves. We’re betting 90 percent of overcrowded New Yorkers would happily do the same, too.
8. Millions of Kids Have Names that Sound Like Hashtags
Remember last time tragedy struck, and you showed your solidarity by retweeting a hashtag? China’s parents laugh in the face of your low-level commitment to good causes. In the People’s Republic, citizens don’t merely use hashtags to show support on social media. They name their children after them.
In mid-2008, a huge earthquake shook the province of Sichuan, killing nearly 70,000 people. In the weeks after, the BBC’s China service reported a wave of new parents naming their children things like ‘Hope for Sichuan’. Noble as this is, it’s also pretty bizarre. Imagine meeting a couple with a kid called ‘Black Lives Matter’ or ‘Je Suis Charlie’ and you’ll get some idea of how kooky this trend is.
But then people are always naming their kids after slogans in China. Also in 2008, 4,104 babies were registered with the name ‘Olympics’, in honor of the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games. The BBC found records of kids called everything from ‘Defend China’, to ‘Build the Nation’, to ‘Space Travel’, and ‘Civilization’. That last one, by the way, was so popular nearly 300,000 babies wound up with it. And you thought your name was uncool in junior high.
7. The Army has an Official Division of 10,000 Pigeons
In 2011, Chinese State media made a surprise announcement. No, not the unveiling of Beijing’s first stealth fighter (though well done for remembering that. We knew you were a clever sort of a guy). No, the announcement concerned the People’s Liberation Army’s (PLA) latest recruits. 10,000 of them had just been assigned to the Chengdu division. They’d been tasked with “special military missions” along the nation’s borders. Oh, and they were all pigeons.
That’s right. China’s PLA has a 10,000-strong official division of birds whose only discernable skill is pooping on statues of famous people. All snark aside, the reasoning here is actually pretty sound. Beijing is way paranoid about a nuclear or cyber attack knocking out their communications systems. In the event this happens, the pigeons would be tasked with delivering messages at high speed between the country’s military installations, especially along the remote stretches of border where keeping in touch is hard enough as it is. There’s even some precedent for this. When Japan invaded in WWII, messenger pigeons were a vital part of China’s defensive effort.
6. On-the-Go Organ Harvesting and Executions
You don’t want to commit a capital crime in China. While plenty of countries still have the death penalty, none kill criminals with the speed, efficiency or sheer gusto of the People’s Republic. China executes more people each year than every other executing country combined, a number that’s even crazier when you realize it includes Iran, Saudi Arabia, and North freakin’ Korea. And this bloodlust has led to some bizarre and unsettling innovations, the most-unsettling of which has to be the ‘Death Bus’.
First reported in 2009, China’s death buses are essentially mobile execution vans that travel from village to village snuffing out the lives of local prisoners. Even more morbidly, the buses have a surgeon on standby so the dead prisoner’s organs can be quickly harvested after they kick the bucket, and sold on for profit. The key word here is “quickly”. These vans can rock up in villages and knock off 2-3 criminals in a single morning. That’s death row efficiency even the state of Texas would balk at.
5. There’s Only One Time Zone (and it’s crazy)
Before we can do this entry justice, we need to reiterate again just how big China is. It’s roughly the same size as the US. It’s over twice as big as the entire European Union. It dwarfs Australia. Each of those comparative nations/unions has at least 3 time zones, and as many as five. China, on the other hand has only one: Beijing time. And it applies everywhere.
This means Chinese time tends to make sense in Beijing, and is completely mad elsewhere. In the far western province of Xinjiang, for example, the sun doesn’t rise until 10 a.m. in winter, and sets after midnight in summer. That might make sense in Norway or Siberia, but China is way south of either of those places. In effect, locals at the extreme western points of the country have to put up with a timescale that makes zero sense for their circumstances.
As an additional headache, various ethnic groups in China refuse to recognize Beijing time, seeing it as cultural imperialism on the part of the Han Chinese majority. So a doctor’s appointment made for 3 p.m. in Tibet or Xinjiang may mean 3 p.m. Beijing time, or 3 p.m. on illegal Tibetan or Uighur time, and you probably won’t know until you get there and find the place shut.
4. You Must Have Official Permission to be Reincarnated
Let’s say you’re religious and believe in reincarnation. Now, let’s say that you wind up shuffling off this earthly plane in China. What do you think happens next? According to the governing CCP, the answer should be ‘depends on if I filled in the correct forms or not’. Since 2007, Beijing has required citizens to get official permission before reincarnating.
The law, issued by the State Administration for Religious Affairs, states that anyone intending to return to this mortal coil must follow a strict set of procedures, including informing the Communist Party of who they intend to come back as. Those who fail to do so will… well, we’re not sure, to be honest. Powerful as the Chinese government is, it seems doubtful even they have the ability to stop transmigration of the soul from taking place.
Of course, the real reason China brought in this hilariously odd law is to scupper the Dali Lama’s plans to get reincarnated and keep campaigning for Tibetan autonomy. The Dali Lama responded by saying he’d simply choose to reincarnate outside Chinese-controlled territory.
3. Books are Sold by Weight
The key to selling a book in the west is its title or author. A slim classic novel or a mega-blockbuster by a famous writer will go for far more than a bigger book by a total unknown. Not so in China. Go shopping for books on the streets of Shanghai, and you’ll find yourself paying not according to how good or famous a book is, but according to how much it weighs.
In practical terms, this means a 1,000 page tome by a guy who writes in crayon and can’t string a sentence together is considered far more valuable than a short book like, say, The Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger. Mad as this sounds, it’s actually kinda useful for students. A short, glossy volume of common Spanish phrases, for example, will attract a mid-range price in the US. In China, you can have it for pocket change.
Before readers in China flood the comments section to point out our bone-headed ignorance, we should note that selling books by weight isn’t standard across the entire country. It’s mainly prevalent around Shanghai and the eastern provinces. But since this includes some of the biggest, busiest cities in the whole of China, we’re gonna go ahead and include it here.
2. Censorship is Even-Crazier than You Think
Quick: what do time-travel, cleavage, The Big Bang Theory, South Korea, and ‘Western lifestyles’ all have in common? The answer is that China censors every single one of them (“they’re all awesome” is another acceptable answer, depending on your level of tolerance for the weekly antics of Sheldon Cooper). These are only a fraction of the innumerable things Beijing feels the need to block its citizens from ever encountering.
Some of the things China considers beyond the pale are crazy even by the standards of authoritarian regimes. Until April 2016, one of the nation’s top-rated programs was ‘Dad, Where are We Going?’, a travel show where fathers took their little tykes on trips around China’s historical landmarks. Then party functionaries suddenly banned ‘celebrity children’ and the show had to be canceled. Other recent bans have included shows featuring gay people, and shows that depict smoking, drinking, South Korea, ghosts, reincarnation, or “feudalism”. We’d guess there probably aren’t that many primetime shows about feudalism out there, but then again, what do we know?
We could go on. China has officially banned talking animals in movies, depictions of online dating when it involves army personnel, and anything starring Brad Pitt. At least they didn’t have to suffer through Mr. and Mrs. Smith.
1. One in Five Humans Alive Today are Chinese
If you need any proof that China is the planet’s future, this amazing statistic is it. It’s one thing to hear that China has a population of 1.357 billion people. It’s quite another to see it put down in such blunt terms. 20 percent of all human beings alive today are Chinese. By way of comparison, Americans account for less than 4.5 percent of the global population.
The only country that comes even remotely close to this mind-boggling figure is India. India has a population of 1.252 billion; still several million short of China, but at least within the same ballpark. After that, it’s a long, long drop to the US, in 3rd place, with a comparatively tiny population of 325.3 million. China’s Pearl River Delta urban conurbation alone has a population of around 42 million, more than the entirety of Poland, Canada, or Australia.
It’s worth remembering that all this comes after decades of a crazy one child policy that saw the country’s birthrate plummet. If the CCP hadn’t dreamed up its oddball family-limiting plan, probably even India’s population figures wouldn’t be within touching distance. Believe it or not, crazy-big as China’s population is, it could be even crazy-bigger.