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27 Jun, 2012

China’s Building Boom: Symbol of Affluence or Trap of Luxury?

Shu Xing, China Youth Daily

Beijing, June 26, 2012 (Edited and translated by People’s Daily Online) – I just returned from Shenyang a few days ago and learned that Shenyang is planning the construction project to prepare for the next National Games.

One day later, I was told that an indoor stadium, which had cost 800 million yuan and was only used for eight years, was demolished by blasting in eight seconds. I feel incomprehensible to it. No matter how many reasons can explain why it was constructed in the past and must be demolished today, it exposed the mentality of yearning for quick success and instant benefits of some Chinese people.

Another similar mentality is the mentality of showing off and splurging after making great fortune overnight. Following the demolition of the Green Island Sports Center of Shenyang, there came other appalling news that a high building will be built in Wangcheng of Changsha city.

There are three reasons making people surprised: first, the building will be 10 meters higher than the Burj Khalifa in Dubai of the United Arab Emirates, reaching 838 meters; second, it will spend seven months to be completed while the construction of Burj Khalifa spent six years; third, it will be located in Wangcheng, the hometown of Lei Feng.

The villagers will see a skyscraper in which they can eat, live, play and shop at the end of 2012 and the beginning of 2013. Of course, the precondition is that they must have enough money with them.

We all know the great miracles in the history of man, one of which is the “Hanging Garden” of Babylon. But that was only a garden and had become a legend now. Do Chinese entrepreneurs and local officials want to reproduce such a castle in the air? Not only Changsha but also Shanghai, Wuhan and Beijing are trying to build some ultrahigh buildings.

In addition to the construction of ultra-high landmark buildings, there also is the upsurge of constructing stadiums, museums, theaters and shopping centers to show off the wealth and strengths of a city. For example, since the Beijing National Grand Theater which spent 3.2 billion yuan was completed in Beijing, the grand theaters costing more than 1 billion yuan were constructed in succession in Shanghai, Guangzhou and Tianjin. Jiangsu also plans to invest 2 billion yuan in building a grand theater.

Besides these big cities, some medium-sized cities in the Pearl River Delta and he Yangtze River Delta including Zhongshan, Dongguan, Wuxi and Changzhou also built large theaters. In order to meet the Tenth Chinese Arts Festival, Shandong is stepping up efforts to build a number of large theaters. It is said that every theater will cost over 100 million yuan.

Another flaunt is the construction of shopping centers. According to the data published by an international institution, eight Chinese cities are listed in the world’s top 10 cities owning the largest construction area of shopping centers, with the top three being Chinese cities and Tianjin ranking first.

The construction area of the shopping centers in Tianjin will surpass any other European cities, excluding Paris and Moscow. Shenyang ranks second, Chengdu ranks third and Wuhan ranks fifth. According to the U.S. Market Watch, as the developers have a high expectation to Chinese consumers, some Chinese cities which are not well known in the West are constructing some huge shopping centers unparalleled to other regions.

However, one step in the lead at the starting point does not necessarily mean taking the lead in every step, much less leading in the end. On the one hand, we should admit that in some sense all the above “Great Leap Forward” is the catch-up for the long-term various deficiency and shortcomings, and it is human being’s rational pursuit after obtaining wealth and reasonable release of a certain state of mind.

On the other hand, the above provided, a sentence in The Dream of Red Mansions is still applicable: “the seemingly powerful thing always has its own disadvantages.” In fact, it is worse than disadvantages, it is simply full of risks.

The biggest risk is the lack of scientific and reasonable initial design and scientific assessment of the market environment and operational conditions. Is the lesson not profound already? After Beijing 2008 Olympic Games, many venues are left unused, or served pitifully few performances, or change into supermarkets when merchants and stalls gather.

Another potential and probably even greater risk, invariably for the big theaters, big shopping centers, or the Babel-like residential and commercial dual purpose high-rises, is that at present above everything else we lack qualified and specialized high-caliber management personnel with professional ethics and familiar with the modern service industry. Without such world-class management team, these world-class venues and “centers” have but bleak prospects.

Without a doubt, behind the scenes of the current frenzy in China for such “Great Leap Forward” style super-large-scale construction, the unhealthy achievement perspective of various local governments is still the major promoter; The frenzy is nothing more than the new manifestation, new packing, and new form of such perspective under the new situations and can be summed up in one word as the so-called “boldness” or “generosity” of decision-makers.

Not to mention whether this “boldness” or “generosity” comes along with big corruption behind land utilization and approvals, at least it is the big toss and big splurge which harasses the people and wastes money.

Some people may argue that he who does not know how to spend money does not know how to live. But the fact is, the modern pursuit of high quality life does not mean extravagancy, just as binge and gluttony is not a path to health. Extravagance is only window dressing and window dressing shows lack of inner confidence.

Many people might still remember the fanatical slogan in the “Great Leap Forward” of 1958: “The more we dare, the more the land will yield.” With such ideology, the sweat and passion of many people were spent in fruitless struggle; countless financial and material resources were spilled in the desire-wrapped illusion. Such tragedy must not be repeated.

Undoubtedly the frenzy for constructing super buildings should be stopped, because this is not a symbol of abundance, but the trap of luxury.

Read the Chinese version: 富足的象征还是奢华的陷阱