Stam­pede hurts city’s im­age

China Daily (Canada) - - FRONT PAGE - By LI YANG in Shang­hai liyang@chi­nadaily.com.cn

The stam­pede that killed 36 peo­ple in Shang­hai on the last night of 2014 has left a very bad im­age for a city that China has vowed to build to into a global cen­ter city.

Shang­hai au­thor­i­ties have not apol­o­gized for that pre­ventable ac­ci­dent un­til now. The city’s Party chief, Han Zheng, urged his sub­or­di­nates to draw painful lessons from the ac­ci­dent. It is es­ti­mated nearly 1 mil­lion peo­ple flocked to the Bund, a nar­row square to the west of the Huangpu River that night. Only sev­eral hun­dred po­lice were present to main­tain or­der.

Mayor Yang Xiong said: “We should mo­bi­lize all forces to en­sure pub­lic se­cu­rity, not be afraid of mak­ing ex­ces­sive ef­forts.”

But the city gover­nors’ “ex­ces­sive ef­forts” have been greeted with con­sid­er­able back­lash from the pub­lic after the gov­ern­ment sus­pended all big com­mer­cial and business ac­tiv­i­ties in the city for se­cu­rity con­cerns, in­clud­ing the Yuyuan Park Lu­nar Lan­tern Fes­ti­val, a na­tional cul­tural event that has taken place for 20 years with­out any big ac­ci­dents.

The gov­ern­ment is giv­ing up eat­ing for fear of chok­ing, said many lo­cal res­i­dents on so­cial me­dia, crit­i­ciz­ing the au­thor­ity’s mea­sures as sim­ple and crude.

The Shang­hai au­thor­ity’s over­re­ac­tion is un­der­stand­able be­cause the cen­tral au­thor­ity in Beijing has not called lo­cal gover­nors into ac­count. Only a dis­trict gov­er­nor in Huangpu, where the stam­pede hap­pened, has stood out so far, ac­cept­ing blame from the pub­lic and the Shang­hai city gov­ern­ment.

A dis­ci­plinary in­spec­tion team dis­patched by the cen­tral au­thor­ity, an im­por­tant tool in dig­ging out lo­cal cor­rupt of­fi­cials in the anti-graft cam­paign started by Chi­nese Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping two years ago, had ar­rived in Shang­hai months be­fore the stam­pede.

The team said in its re­port on Oct 30 that some se­nior of­fi­cials in Shang­hai make huge prof­its from their power. It is be­lieved the stam­pede, which hap­pened hours after Xi de­liv­ered his well-pre­pared New Year’s greet­ings to the coun­try, may trig­ger an earth­quake in of­fi­cial cir­cles in Shang­hai, which has con­trib­uted a num­ber of state and Party lead­ers in re­cent his­tory.

The stam­pede in­ci­dent in Shang­hai ex­poses the weak man­age­ment of Chi­nese ci­ties.

Run­ning ci­ties was ac­tu­ally a con­cern of the Com­mu­nist Party of China after win­ning China’s civil war (1945 to 1949). The Party ran ci­ties by sep­a­rat­ing them from the vil­lages in a planned econ­omy copied from the for­mer Soviet Union. Ur­ban res­i­dence reg­is­tra­tion, or hukou in Chi­nese, is strictly con­trolled to en­sure the ur­ban res­i­dents have enough food and ba­sic pub­lic ser­vices.

Run­ning a city be­came more dif­fi­cult after the early 1980s when the peas­ants were al­lowed to work and live in ci­ties with­out ac­cess to cit­i­zen wel­fare. The dif­fi­culty was con­trol­ling the peas­ants in ci­ties.

Yet after 300 mil­lion peas­ants made their way into the ci­ties in the re­cent 10 years, es­pe­cially sev­eral large ones like Shang­hai, Beijing, Shen­zhen, and Guangzhou, the main chal­lenges are how to dis­trib­ute limited pub­lic re­sources and ser­vices fairly in over­pop­u­lated ci­ties, how to en­sure pub­lic safety in case of nat­u­ral dis­as­ters, ac­ci­dents and dis­ease epi­demics and how to cure such “city ill­ness” as traf­fic con­ges­tion and en­vi­ron­men­tal pol­lu­tion.

To re­lieve traf­fic pres­sure, the Shen­zhen gov­ern­ment banned cit­i­zens from reg­is­ter­ing newly bought cars 15 min­utes after an­nounc­ing the decision last month. To make the city look bet­ter, Guangzhou gov­ern­ment used sprin­klers to drive va­grants from their nests un­der the viaducts early this month.

To win a ti­tle as na­tional clean city, Ji­nan, the cap­i­tal of Shan­dong prov­ince, closed all of its eater­ies and small shops days be­fore and dur­ing the visit of in­spec­tors.

In Beijing, hun­dreds of il­le­gal park­ing lots op­er­ate reg­u­larly and openly. And a two-hour heavy rain killed 77 peo­ple in 2012.

Last week, in Haikou, the cap­i­tal of Hainan, a marathon with 10,000 run­ners par­a­lyzed the city’s traf­fic sys­tem be­cause of poor man­age­ment. But in Tokyo and Hong Kong, marathons with sev­eral times more run­ners only pro­vided fun for lo­cals, not trou­ble.

Many city gov­ern­ments in China plan to build their ci­ties into smart ci­ties with the help of ad­vanced tech­nolo­gies, such as the In­ter­net. How­ever, un­less the gover­nors be­come smart and the gov­ern­ments are smartly or­ga­nized, tech­nol­ogy will be use­less.

GAO ERQIANG / CHINA DAILY

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