Wasted money on grand schemes takes away the real meaning of what home is

Some grassroots officials characterize this upgraded version of image projects as 'borrowing money to buy luxury brands.'

LAST Thursday well-known Chinese poet Yu Kwang-Chung died in Kaohsiung, Taiwan, at the age of 90.

I do not know how many people still read poems, especially modern poems in the vernacular, but Yu’s death was noted by many in WeChat moments.

Yu is largely remembered for his poem “Homesickness,” which runs on the refrain “As a boy, homesickness seemed a small stamp: ‘Here am I, and there my mother … ’”

May the poet rest in peace. But I am not going to delve deeper into Yu’s feeling for his mother, his bride, and the motherland.Rather, I am going to warn you against the danger of abusing homesickness, as some crafty officials and business people have mastered the feat of how to cash in on this sentiment.

Following extensive investigation, Xinhua’s Outlook weekly magazine recently revealed that while there had been effective dampening of local enthusiasm for image projects in the form of expensive, grand office buildings, the image projects today have morphed into something new, as expensive landscaping projects of public nature, often in the name of “people’s livelihood projects,” “cultural construction,” “poverty relief,” or “hold on to homesickness.”

These projects are often glitzy and costly enormities, entailing considerable operational costs.

For instance, one city in north China boasting a population of less than four million and a revenue of less than 10 billion yuan (US$1.5 billion) a year had splurged 4 billion yuan on museums, galleries, libraries, theatre, stadium and an exhibition hall, whose design had been entrusted to “top” international construction companies.

To build necessary cultural entities is one thing, but it’s another thing to build unnecessarily expensive ones beyond reasonable costs.

In some rural areas, there has been a craze for purely ornamental landscaping projects. They do not have much practical value.

Under the pretext of “carrying on village culture” or “hold on to homesickness”, there is now a pandemic fervor for building “village history museums.” By May this year, in a city in the west, there had been built a total of 156 such village history museums, involving fiscal subsidies totaling 3.15 million yuan. The exhibits in these village museums are mostly confined to similar old photos or farm instruments which, naturally, attract but few, if any, village visitors.

There is also a growing enthusiasm for building memorial archways in villages. One company specializing in fabricating such archways revealed they built more than 20 a year, worth at least 200,000 yuan each. This May, a coastal township in the east started an archway project involving construction of five archways with investment ranging from 450,000 yuan to 3.6 million yuan each.

Negative practices

According to a circular issued in May by Fujian Province’s Department of Housing and Urban-Rural Development, which enumerated some negative practices in the province’s endeavor to build beautiful countryside during the previous year, some villages in the province had shown zeal for building parks, plazas, archways or tourist projects, to the neglect of construction of sewage or garbage disposal projects.

Some projects have been facilitated at the expense of the local environment or pristine rural landscape — for instance by flattening local mountains or hills, or filling in ponds.

Many local cadres complained to the aforementioned magazine that it is difficult to stop these grandiose projects for they are often created in the name of “people’s livelihood,” protecting “homesickness,” or “legacy.”

Following investigation, the journalists discovered that these image projects are often sustained by a buildup of local debts, and at the cost of local environment. Some grassroots officials characterize this upgraded version of image projects as “borrowing money to buy luxury brands.”

In further analyzing this craze for image projects, the magazine cited a disciplinarian official as blaming the excessive concentration of power in the hands of the leading cadres and their eagerness to impress their superiors, to the neglect of popular needs for public services.

Many grassroots cadres agree that soliciting public opinion, fiscal supervision, auditing and third-party evaluation are key to preventing such malpractice in the future, with those responsible for wrong decisions made to pay for their wrong decisions.

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