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People's Daily Online>>China Society

Beijing's controversial "English-language town" abandoned


08:39, December 20, 2011

BEIJING, Dec. 19 (Xinhua) -- The controversial "English-language town" project in Miyun, a county in the northeast suburbs of Beijing, has not been approved by the local government, sources said Monday.

"Relevant departments argued the project and decided not to approve it," an unnamed spokesman with the Miyun county government said without providing further details.

As the projected largest European-style town in Beijing, a private enterprise invested in the "English-language town" and planned to have it built within five years, hoping to attract fans of the English language and tourists from across the country who enjoy promoting the learning of English, local media have said.

"Visitors in the town are only allowed to speak English," Wang Haichen, the head of the Miyun county government, said, as quoted in local media reports.

Wang said every visitor in the town would get a "tourist passport," and the ones who break the language rule would have points deducted as a punishment.

However, some people said the rule forbidding visitors from speaking Chinese in the town demonstrated a worship of foreigners and discrimination against Chinese.

"'English-language town?' It sounds like the foreign concessions in old Shanghai that forbid Chinese people from entering," wrote Chua Kai, a user of Sina Weibo, China's biggest Twitter-like microblogging site.

Zhou Xiaozheng, a sociologist at Renmin University of China, however, criticized such discontent as "narrow nationalism."

"As a business matter, the project should not be accused (of discrimination) if it obeys business laws and ethics," said Zhou, noting that some people on the Internet often voice opinions irresponsibly.

"It is not a case of discrimination," he said.

Hou Yiling, a professor at Beijing Foreign Studies University, agreed that the project was a business matter. "Speaking English is only a selling point," he said.

Like Disneyland, the "English-language town" could be an interesting place, "but I don't think the town would help people improve their English. It is not an environment for learning foreign languages," Hou said.

Learning a language requires a series of social conditions, the most important of which is the exchange of feelings and ideas, Hou said, noting that the dialogue between buyers and sellers is far from adequate.

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