Which China?

This particular entry is inspired by A smug China blog by Richard Spencer.  You should read the reporter's encounters with two individuals who hold diametrically opposite views about what the real China is.

As it turned out, I have come across some BBS forum photographs, which present powerful images of these two Chinas.

Which is the real China?  In a rapidly developing country whose rate of growth is considered record-setting, these two China must actually co-exist.  Actually, the existence of multiple societies within the same country must exist anywhere you look in the world.  As Spencer's blog suggests, people sometimes choose one version over all other versions to make a point.  But this kind of ruse will not convince those who are less inclined to accept a monochromatic presentation.

(Wenxue City)  A Simple Nine-Year-Old Boy in a Longchang County (Sichuan province) peasant village.

On a sunny winter's day, I followed the rugged path to reach Little Pengpeng's home.
Perhaps instead of a home, it is more correct to say
that it is a place in which to put an old bed.
Inside the room, one has barely space to turn around.
I went in and got out in a minute.
There was really nothing much to photograph.
There was nothing inside except for some firewood.

This is the bed that Little Pengpeng shares with his father.
There is no blanket.  The lone cotton bedding is a gift.
There is a straw mat underneath.
The cold wind can blow in from any direction.
Little Pengpeng wants to become a doctor to cure his father's illness.
This is the bed on which he has those dreams.

Little Pengpeng's father is 59-year-old Lin Kechun.
He used to be a migrant laborer.
In February 2005, he was afflicted with hemiplegia and could no longer work.
His wife ran away.
So he took his son back to live in his home village.
This is where they eat.
Since they have no room, they cook and eat in the open.
Little Pengpeng takes care of his father while also going to school.

Here is the total collection of Little Pengpeng's toys: 13 marbles.

9-year-old Little Pengpeng attends fourth grade
at the Fuxing Elementary school in Huangjia Township.
For lunch, he steams some rice (without any other food).
His daily expense is 30 cents.

I took Little Pengpeng to eat outside.
His father could not come because of immobility.
Little Pengpeng brought this meal back for his father.
This is the first time in three months that they ate meat.
They don't have chopsticks; they use bamboo strips.

I said: "Little Pengpeng, you are a handsome little boy!"
He said: "I am not handsome.
I have a scar on top of my eyebrow.
I got the scar during a fall while gathering wood."

Little Pengpeng has a score of 84.5+2 in mathematics.
He is among the top 10 in his class.
The school excuses him from paying any fees.
But he frequently skips class due to family tasks.
He said that he does not want to miss class.

I visited the school where he is at.
The empty seat in the rear belonged to Little Pengpeng.

Let us remember the names of the father and son.
Longchang county, Wangjia town, Center Village, Ninth Brigade.
Their names are Lin Kechun and Lin Junpeng.

The other set of photographs was previously mentioned in Comment 200605#038.   You might have seen these photographs before over at other websites.  As noted in the previous comment, most of the Internet comments were of the deadpan humor variety about "the world's most awesome district government."

Here is the translation of the comments to the original NetEase report:

The Huiji district used to be known as the Mangshan district.  It is located in the northern suburbs of Zhengzhou City (Henan province).  The district government used to be located within the Zhengzhou City boundaries, but it later built the new office area on fertile earth.

I had previously heard that the project was magnificent, as if this was a nature park that was ecologically designed.  Many citizens take leisure trips there.

With this legend in mind, I went out to see for myself.  As expected, it was an imposing sight.  Yours truly has not been to many Asian countries and I have not seen what their district government offices look like.  But I have been to virtually every province in China and I really have never seen such a beautiful district government administrative area.

You can only see the exteriors of some of the buildings in these photographs.  The round building is the convention center indicated on the map.  The hill and the lakes were artificially built.  The fish in the water came from southern China.

Looking down from the artificial hill, I saw green forests and rippling lakes.  The fully equipped sports field was neat and orderly.  Looking around, this whole area must take up several hundred mu's of land.

The sculpture titled Children of the Great River is located in the plaza before the front entrance.  There are expensive trees planted on both sides.  The tree trunks are about 30 cm in diameter, so they were obviously transplanted from faraway.  The plaza before the front entrance is about 30 mu's in area and probably more than enough space for an elementary school.  But given the marble rocks and high-grade bricks in the plaza, it is unlikely that anyone could bear to turn this into a school ground.

Speaking from my heart, this is truly a nice and beautiful place.  Overall, I didn't sense that this is a district government office area.  Instead, it is the district government borrowing a nature park to conduct its business.  After a busy work week, a stroll around here and a few photographs taken really makes you forget the annoyances brought on by the bustling city life.

Now good journalism is supposed to require a fair-and-balanced treatment.  In that widely disseminated Internet post, the Huiji district government was given no say.  While it is true that it could make comments at the Internet BBS forums, chances are that its voice would be drowned out by sheer numbers.  So here is an investigative report done by the premier newspaper in the country.  Notwithstanding the seemingly fair-and-balanced tone and also considering the standard restraints that Chinese reporters sometimes work under, you can see the snark oozing through.  At least, I thought I felt it.

(Southern Weekend)  The Investigation of the "World's Top District Government."  By Chai Huijun (柴会群).  May 25, 2006.

[partial translation]

"This post created a great deal of negativity for our district.  It was very bad.  We have tried to track it down and did what we had to, but the Internet is too hard to control."  On May 23, Henan province Zhengzhou city Huiji district Party Propaganda Department Exterior Propaganda office director Xing Yufei said with a knitted brow.

The Internet post that caused headaches for this official whose job is to promote the image of the district government was a series of photographs about the office buildings for the party and government of the Huiji district.  The office area includes a wide district government plaza, the "ancient tree gardens" that line both sides, the artificial hill and lake and brand new six-story office buildings.  The Internet post describes this tremendous project as the "world's top district government."

This post was rapidly propagated around many Internet BBS's and became a hot topic for discussion.  Many people held critical attitudes: "Why does this still impoverished district have such a magnificent office space?"  "How much money did the government take away from the taxpayers' pockets in order to construct this office space?"

The district officials were interviewed by this reporter and they refuted the critical opinions.  They believe that "it is the people who really benefited."

The Huiji district party and government organizations moved from Zhengzhou city to their new offices in May 2004.  After the move, the working conditions were significantly improved.  The land occupied by the party and government offices had been the largest and best parcel of farmland of Maozhuang village.  The main buildings are four identical buildings (A, B, C, D), which are respectively occupied by the party committee, the district government, the district people's congress and the district political consultative committee.  The four buildings are in the east, west, south and north.  The huge circular building in the middle is the convention center which can accommodate more than 1,000 persons.

Like many new office buildings, there is a plaza in front of the buildings.  There is a Children of the Great River sculpture.  On both sides of the plaza are parks in which are planted many ancient trees.  For these reasons, these are called "Ancient Tree Gardens."  But Xing Yufei countered by saying that there were not many ancient trees.  Most of these are willow trees.  At the time, in order the plant these trees, there was a general mobilization in the district, with quotas being allotted to each division.  That was how more than 2,000 trees were planted quickly, and most of them have survived.

The Internet word was that the Huiji district owed a huge sum of money for buying those trees, and the debt owners are showing up frequently to demand re-payment.  But Xing Yufei denied that, because "most of the trees were 'expropriated' by us from the nearby Yellow River levees and therefore did not cost any money."

Behind the ancient trees in the west side is an artificial lake.  The water is seven meters deep.  The soil that was dug out was used to raise an artificial hill, and the hill also has various trees.  When the reporter went to Huiji, the artificial lake was closed to visitors.  According to the security personnel, the lake has been closed since the end of last year after some kind of incident.  So one can only reach them from within the district office space.  Since there are many security guards at the entrances, most ordinary tourists will not be able to enter.


According to the report from the Huiji district government to the Zhengzhou city government, the estimated cost of construction of the new office space was 88.63 million RMB which happened to equal exactly the estimated value of the original district party courtyard's land and buildings.  But the facts quickly showed that the money from selling the old party building was far less.  So Lei Xiuxia explained that there are three sources of money: the money from selling off the original district party's land and buildings; money from the city government; and money raised by the district itself.

But as for the 600 million RMB claimed on the Internet, Xing Yufei denied it and said that "that might be the amount of the loans."  He explained that the loan was incurred in 2003, and it is such a big number because the roads and municipal infrastructure cost a lot.  "Just building the two roads cost more than 200 million RMB," said Xing Yufei.

The annual revenue for the Huiji district is only about 200 million RMB ...

According to informed sources, due to the precarious financial situation in Huiji district, the officials at the various levels missed their pay at some point in the second half of last year.  The departments were ordered to raise money quickly, with detailed requirements given to various departments.

"If you couldn't meet the goal, you were relieved of your duties," said the informed source.  The reporter asked Lei Xiuxia, who flatly denied it: "I've never heard about that.  My own wages have never been withheld." ...

As for the land requisitioning process, a local official admitted that "it was being processed even as construction was going on" and now "things are almost completed."


Concerning the construction of the new offices, the most regrettable thing was about former district party secretary Feng Liucheng.  According to many Huiji district officials, no matter whether it is the naming or the moving, Feng Liucheng played a key role.  But one month after the new offices went into operation, Feng Liucheng was subjected to the "double discipline" for economic problems.

But these many district officials also said that Feng Liucheng's problems had nothing to do with the moving of the district government.  "One cannot deny his accomplishments just because he got into trouble."  One party divisional secretary even used the saying, "Someone planted a tree and other people enjoyed the shade."

Lei Xiuxia believes that the government move this time benefits the local citizens.  We can see right now that the broad roads and new public buses have shortened the travel distance between the villages and the city.  Of course, she admits that it will be a long time before the government can change the surrounding area.

The motorcycle taxi driver Mao is a resident of Maozhuang Village.  He only has one-third of a mu of land left, so he has to live off his motorcycle.  For the more than two hours during which he spoke with this reporter, he did not get any business.  For this peasant who had been operating a motorcycle taxi for many years, his business has not gotten any better after the district government office were finished, "because not many people come here."  The pretty government buildings sit on top of his original farm land, but he has never been over there yet.

The experience of one citizen such as Mao cannot be taken as proof that the office buildings had no value for the local citizens.  For the local government, the reason for expanding the office buildings was undoubtedly: the people will benefit because housing prices in the surrounding area will rise and this will help in the economic development of the surrounding area.  Besides, it also improves the local environment.

The public and the government have their own views about the government offices.  It is hard to say who is right.  But it is a worthwhile question to think about just how big office buildings ought to be.

The reporter read in a document from the Huiji district government that the total area (excluding dining areas and meeting rooms) of the office space is 32,301.28 square meters, at an average of 12.83 square meters per person.  This means that the office buildings can accommodate more than 2,500 office workers.  But a local official told the reporter that there are only about 1,000 people working in the entire complex.  From this figure, the average space per person is about 30 square meters.

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