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'Tribute projects' built on shaky ground

(China Daily)

08:35, October 24, 2011

Fengda Bridge in Fenghuang county, Hunan province, collapsed on Aug 13, 2007. It was to be completed at month's end for the 50th anniversary of the founding of Xiangxi autonomous prefecture. Guo Guoquan for China Daily

Not far from Shennong Square in Zhuzhou, Hunan province, six buildings towered higher and higher each day on the city's largest construction site. Excavators, bulldozers and trucks transporting sand and stones crisscrossed more than two square kilometers in frenzied activity and about 3,500 construction workers sweated through days and nights to meet their deadline.

On Sept 30, the project was completed in time for the city's 60th anniversary, coming in a year earlier than normal for projects of such scale.

For centuries, groundbreaking ceremonies or the actual completion of huge public works projects have been timed to coincide with significant dates.

These so-called tribute projects are intended to show the outside world what the particular region, or country in general, are capable of achieving. They have also been publicity ornaments used by local officials to boost their standing.

Logic would dictate that the projects be of high quality and capable of standing the test of time. However, construction is often shoddy, with sometimes fatal results, due to rushed deadlines, compromised standards and corruption.

Sources from the Henan Provincial People's Procuratorate, for example, said the province handled 909 construction corruption and bribery cases between January 2009 and May 2011.

The average citizen supports these gift projects if they are useful and the quality is good, said Xia Xueluan, a sociology professor at Peking University. If they can be started or completed on some memorable day, so much the better.

"But the fact is that quite a few of these projects are either poor in quality or are abandoned due to an impractical design that ruined the best intentions, and that disappoints the people," Xia said. Disappointment turns to public anger when the resulting problems are significant.

"It's time for the government to halt the tribute projects and let the buildings and other projects return to the nature of practicality and safety," he said.

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