Extravagant image projects criticized

08:29, March 11, 2011      

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The construction of extravagant cultural facilities as image boosters has not only wasted public money but also aggravated popular discontent, the country's top political advisers have said.

During the ongoing National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) session, members have criticized the fad in which local governments pour vast sums of money into cultural image projects, such as grand theaters and museums, while ignoring the people's real needs.

Government spending on cultural development has never exceeded 0.5 percent of the total budget over the past decade. And more than 70 percent of the funds have been distributed to urban areas, said Zhang Daning, deputy director of CPPCC's committee for education, science, culture, sport and health.

Many city governments spent the money to build large cultural landmarks to boost the local image, but ordinary people have benefited little from these projects, Zhang said at a plenary meeting on Wednesday.

Zhang's remarks were echoed by CPPCC National Committee member Chen Li, who is also a deputy curator of the National Library, at a subsequent group discussion.

Chen said he saw few readers during a visit to a Central China city's grand library, which is located in the city's new development zone, far from the downtown.

"Many city governments are busy developing new economic zones and have set up fancy cultural sites there," Chen was quoted by China Youth Daily as saying.

"But they are far from residential areas. Without public transportation means, such as bus routes, that enable people to visit, how do you expect the public to use these facilities?

"Public cultural services should be accessible and usable. Otherwise, the expenditure (on them) is a waste."

About 30 cities nationwide have squandered a total of 10 billion yuan ($1.5 billion) to construct luxurious theaters, following the completion of the Grand National Theater a year ahead of the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games, the Shanghai-based Oriental Outlook magazine reported.

As early as in 2008, the Jiu San Society, one of China's eight non-Communist parties, offered a proposal to stop extravagant expenditure on building luxurious theaters.

The society examined more than 40 theaters in a South China province and found all of them were built using energy-consuming methods, according to the proposal, which was posted on the society's official website.

A less-developed city spent 1 billion yuan to build a roughly 70,000-square-meter theater that used 10,000 tons of steel for its structure and 20 kilograms of gold to decorate the stage, the proposal said.

However, the country's theaters have reaped low returns after heavy investments. Fewer than half of the country's theaters can run 300 shows a year, because their earnings have failed to recover operating costs, the proposal's co-author Yan Xianliang said.

"It's necessary to build cultural institutions and facilities. But they should be neighborhood and community-based rather than luxurious and inaccessible to ordinary people," Chinese National Academy of Arts researcher Wu Zuolai told China Daily.

"I hope the government will listen to the people and learn what the public really needs before starting construction projects."

Source:China Daily
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