Holding China stocks can be an uphill slog

Holding China stocks can be an uphill slog

Fears of bird flu failed to deter me from making a trip recently to climb Taishan mountain in Shandong province, China.

Taishan is billed as the chief among the five sacred mountains in China, revered by scholars and poets for more than 3,000 years.

What lured me to the mountain were pictures of the thousands of tourists daily who climbed the steep and windy staircase hewn out of rock to reach its summit.

Getting there has never been easier. A high-speed rail network connecting Shanghai to Beijing completed two years ago conveniently has a stopover at Taian, the city near the mountain.

For those daunted by the prospect of climbing the 6,000 steps, taking a cable car to the top is now an option.

In climbing the mountain, they are continuing a grand tradition first started by Qin Shi Huang, the first emperor who unified China more than 2,200 years ago. He had ascended Taishan and built a big bonfire at its summit to proclaim his achievements to the gods.

There at the summit were numerous items of memorabilia left by 72 other Chinese rulers who made similar trips there.

Among them was a 5.2m stele, or stone slab, left without the usual inscriptions by a great Chinese emperor, Han Wudi, who climbed the mountain about 100 years after Qin Shi Huang, so that future generations could debate his legacy.

However, it was the silhouette of the skyscrapers against Taishan in the background that captured my attention.

They resembled modern steles extolling the gigantic achievements of modern China which have lifted hundreds of millions out of poverty.

But the frenetic construction activity there and all over China encapsulates the ongoing furious debate over the red-hot Chinese real estate market: Who will occupy all these buildings when their construction is completed?

Taking the night train on the 900km journey back to Shanghai, it was disconcerting to find that many of the completed skyscrapers were shrouded in darkness, devoid of any human occupation.

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