Today, we learn to tunnel underneath anger. The
University of Houston's College of Engineering
presents this series about the machines that make
our civilization run, and the people whose
ingenuity created them.
In Henry V,
Shakespeare thinks aloud about King Henry preparing
to sail the English Channel to make war on France:
And thence to France shall we convey you
safe,In fact, crossing that cold neck of sea
was seldom a gentle pass. Finally, in 1881, the
English, still at uneasy peace with the French, began
a railroad tunnel under the Channel. They soon
aborted it, not for its difficulty, but for fear it
would give the French an invasion route. Now, over a
century later, the French and English are finally
finishing that tunnel. And it is as much a
psychological triumph as it is a technological one.
And bring you back, charming the narrow sea,
to give you gentle pass.
Recently another pair of antagonists sat down to
mend old wounds. As the two Chinas began talks, the
representative from Taipei reminded the group from
Beijing about an episode in Chinese history -- over
2700 years ago.
In the 8th century BC a Duke named Chuang had a
great falling-out with his mother. It led to a war,
which he won. He put his mother under house arrest
and vowed not to speak to her until they met at the
The Yellow Springs were the old Chinese Hades --
the underground place of the dead. Chuang meant
they'd never speak again. He came to regret that,
but he was committed to his vow and to his anger.
It took a clever servant to show him a way out:
If you dig into the earth until you reach the
springs, you may fashion a tunnel where the two of
you may meet. Then who is to say you didn't keep
So Chuang tunneled until he reached an
underground spring. There he hollowed out a cavern.
He and his mother met in it, and he cried: "Within
the great tunnel; Genial is my joy."
Now, said the representative from Taipei, we too
must be inventive! We too must find a way to tunnel
around our anger if China is ever to be whole
The Channel Tunnel, or "Chunnel" as they call it,
is a technological triumph. We've perfected all
kinds of new tunneling techniques along the way.
But good technology is always part metaphor, and
the Chunnel is no exception.
England and France have finally broken an old and
familiar habit of anger. It took creativity to
break a pattern that reaches all the way back to
William the Conqueror. The Chunnel makes a fine
metaphor for that creativity.
When workers from both sides broke through in the
middle, genial indeed was our joy. For you and I
really do own the creative means for breaking old
constraints and ingrained ways. You and I really
can reshape a troublesome world, after all.
I'm John Lienhard, at the University of Houston,
where we're interested in the way inventive minds