Society

Why Chinese Cities Waste Millions On Vanity Building Projects

The so-called "White Elephants," or massive building projects that go unused, keep going up across China as local officials mix vanity and a misdirected attempt to attract business and tourists. A perfect example the 58-meter, $230 million statue of Guan Yu, a beloved military figure from the Third Century, that nobody seems interested in visiting.


BEIJING — The Chinese Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development recently ordered the relocation of a giant statue in Jingzhou, in the central province of Hubei. The 58-meter, 1,200-ton statue depicts Guan Yu, a widely worshipped military figure from the Eastern Han Dynasty in the Third century A.D.

The government said it ordered the removal because the towering presence "ruins the character and culture of Jingzhou as a historic city," and is "vain and wasteful." The relocation project wound up costing the taxpayers approximately ¥300 million ($46 million).

Huge monuments as "intellectual property" for a city

In recent years local authorities in China have often raced to create what is euphemistically dubbed IP (intellectual property), in the form of a signature building in their city. But by now, we have often seen negative consequences of such projects, which evolved from luxurious government offices to skyscrapers for businesses and residences. And now, it is the construction of cultural landmarks. Some of these "white elephant" projects, even if they reach the scale of the Guan Yu statue, or do not necessarily violate any regulations, are a real problem for society.

It doesn't take much to be able to differentiate between a project constructed to score political points and a project destined for the people's benefit. You can see right away when construction projects neglect the physical conditions of their location. The over the top government buildings, which for numerous years mushroomed in many corners of China, even in the poorest regional cities, are the most obvious examples.

Homebuyers looking at models of apartment buildings in Shanghai, China — Photo: Imaginechina/ZUMA

Guan Yu transformed into White Elephant

A project truly catering to people's benefit would address their most urgent needs and would be systematically conceived of and designed to play a practical role. Unfortunately, due to a dearth of true creativity, too many cities' expression of their rich cultural heritage is reduced to just building peculiar cultural landmarks. The statue of Guan Yu in Jingzhou is a perfect example.

Long ago Jinzhou was a strategic hub linking the North and the South of China. But its development has lagged behind coastal cities since the launch of economic reform a generation ago.

This is why the city's policymakers came up with the idea of using the place's most popular and glorified personality, Guan Yu (who some refer to as Guan Gong). He is portrayed in the 14th-century Chinese classic "The Romance of the Three Kingdoms" as a righteous and loyal warrior. With the aim of luring tourists, the city leaders decided to use him to create the city's core attraction, their own IP.

Opened in June 2016, the park hosting the statue comprises a surface of 228 acres. In total it cost ¥1.5 billion ($232 million) to build; the statue alone was ¥173 million ($27 million). Alas, since the park opened its doors more than four years ago, the revenue to date is a mere ¥13 million ($2 million). This was definitely not a cost-effective investment and obviously functions neither as a city icon nor a cultural tourism brand as the city authorities had hoped.

China's blind pursuit of skyscrapers

Some may point out the many landmarks hyped on social media precisely because they are peculiar, big or even ugly. However, this kind of attention will not last and is definitely not a responsible or sustainable concept. There is surely no lack of local politicians who will contend for attention by coming up with huge, strange constructions. For those who can't find a representative figure, why not build a 40-meter tall potato in Dingxi, Gansu Province, a 50-meter peony in Luoyang, Shanxi Province, and maybe a 60-meter green onion in Zhangqiu, Shandong Province?

It is to stop this blind pursuit of skyscrapers and useless buildings that, early this month, the Ministry of Housing and Urban-Rural Development issued a new regulation to avoid local authorities' deviation from people's real necessities, ridiculous wasted costs and over-consumption of energy.

I hope those responsible for the creation of a city's attractiveness will not simply go for visual impact, but instead create something that inspires people's intelligence, sustains admiration and keeps them coming back for more.

Pope Francis, Don't Call Me A Murderer

Alice, 28 years old, from Genoa, terminated her pregnancy one year ago. "It is neither a transgression nor disgrace, I only exercised my right to do so."

GENOA — Alice Merlo terminated her pregnancy with a pill on September 21, 2020. Last week, returning from a four-day visit to Hungary and Slovakia, Pope Francis condemned women who, like Merlo, choose to end their pregnancies. And yet, Italy's 194 law that authorized the right to abortion in 1978, despite myriad shortcomings, is fundamentally working.

The number of abortions in Italy has been declining for years. This is confirmed by the latest data from the annual report of the Ministry of Health : last year, there were 67,638 abortions, a 7.6% drop that continues a downward trend since 1983. The conscientious objection to abortion applied among gynecologists opposed to the practice is also decreasing, from 68.4% in 2019 to 67% in last year.

Women no longer die from illegal abortions, and yet the Catholic world won't forgive them. The Pope defined pregnancy interruptions as a "homicide." He repeated that "whoever gets an abortion commits a murder, to say it clearly" and that you can see in "any embryology book for Medicine students" that at "the third week after conception, all the organs are already there, even the DNA" and that it is therefore a human life! And this human life must be respected." Francis concluded with a question: "Is it right to kill a human life to solve a problem?"

This was a true attack. Not new but particularly brutal. Alice Merlo refuses to accept the condamnation. "After exactly one year, I don't see myself at all as a murderer. I have not committed a homicide. Getting an abortion is neither a transgression nor a disgrace. I only exercised my right, and rights should not require paying some kind of 'pain fine.'"

Speaking about abortion without shame or anonymity

Merlo is 28 years old, lives in Genoa, works in the communication field and is one of the few women who has accepted to talk about her termination of pregnancy without hiding behind anonymity. On the contrary, she decided to show her face right after the intervention with a Facebook post, and then became a testimonial for a campaign organized by the Union of Rationalist Atheists and Agnostics in favor of pharmacological abortion.

Not only has she decided to talk about her decision, but to do so without having to pay what she calls a "pain fine" to society.

I knew one second after discovering I was pregnant that I didn't want to carry this pregnancy to term.

"It wasn't hard for me to decide, "she says. "I knew one second after discovering I was pregnant that I didn't want to carry this pregnancy to term. I was lucky to avoid facing the world of the conscientious objection to abortion, the gynecologist who followed me medically me was not an objector so she accompanied me in the treatment of Ru486, here in Genoa."

A poster in Milan against the RU486 abortion pill

A billboard against the Ru 486 pill in Milan, Italy, 2020. — Photo: Alberico Massimo/Abaca/ZUMA

Last word goes to who has to carry pregnancy forward

Merlo says she suffered no physical or psychological malady — and that this reality is not accepted by society. "When we talk about abortion we say that there is the 194 law, but that it's always a tragedy, a pain, a scar. Instead it is not always like that, and we shouldn't impose a sense of guilt in the people who do talk about it. There are different ways of telling stories."

When people ask why she didn't carry through with her pregnancy, Merlo responds simply: "I didn't feel like it, it wasn't the right time and I didn't want this embryo to become a baby boy or girl. I did it during the seventh week and I never felt guilt or tormented myself. I made my own choice."

She never told the man with whom she had sex. "We didn't have a stable relationship," she explains. "There was no need to burden him with my choice. In any case, even in a stable relationship the last word goes to who has to carry the pregnancy forward."

Despite her determination, and the availability of the gynecologist, abortion is still presented as an obstacle course, semi-clandestine and guilt-ridden, Merlo says. "You can only go in the morning and without having booked a specific appointment. You are treated like a person performing an act they should be ashamed; of and no medical authority indicates where the abortions are performed. There is a climate of omertà and shadows." And yet the law is simply being respected.

Russia University Attack: School Shootings Spread Beyond The U.S.

After a gunman kills at least six and wounds dozens at Perm State University in Russia, we take a look around the world at other countries that have faced similar shooting sprees on school grounds outside of the United States.

We think of school shootings as a uniquely American malady. Statistics seem to overwhelmingly support this view: a 2018 CNN report estimated that the U.S. had 57 times as many school shootings as the other G7 nations combined, with an average of one attack a week. And though the past two years have seen a drop in massacres on school grounds, as the pandemic forced the education world to move online, a recent Washington Post article notes that as classrooms reopen, gun violence is again soaring at the nation's primary and secondary schools. According to the Everytown for Gun Safety nonprofit, there were at least 43 incidents of gunfire on school grounds, resulting in 12 deaths and 19 injuries nationally since the beginning of the year.

Still, the rest of the world is not immune to the phenomenon, as we are reminded by the developing story in Russia (where a gunman, said to be a former student, opened fire at a university in the city of Perm, killing at least eight people). Is this global spread of these senseless shootings associated with the influence of American culture, media coverage and social media, inspiring copycats to commit similar crimes? Are school shootings linkable to places with lax gun-control laws? While research on this phenomenon continues, we take a look at places around the world that have grappled with comparable tragedies in recent years.

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Oui-Haw! American Country Music Has Global Appeal

Some might ask: Why is there such a thing as International Country Music Day? Turns out the American musical genre has pockets of popularity around the world, from twanging sounds in Japan to South Africa to line dancing in France.

PARIS — To the rest of the world, there may be nothing more American than singers with acoustic guitars crooning about beer, trucks and Southern living. But the longstanding genre has had surprising relevance faraway countries. Academic papers have even been penned on why these cultural symbols — so specific to the Yankee experience — have such global appeal.

The examples abound of the traveling power of this popular music genre that blends folk, blues slavery-era spirituals and Southern gospel. One famous story recounts that during his time as a political prisoner, South Africa's Nelson Mandela was allowed to play one song over the loudspeakers. What tune did he pick? The Dolly Parton classic "Jolene," in which the Tennessee icon pleads with another woman not to take her man.

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Society

In Russia, Brands Advertising Diversity Are Under Attack

Russian sushi delivery Yobidoyobi removed an advertisement with a Black man and apologized for offending the Russian nation, while a grocery chain was attacked for featuring an LGBTQ couple.

MOSCOW — "On behalf of the entire company, we want to apologize for offending the public with our photos..." reads a recent statement by Russian sushi delivery Yobidoyobi. What was the offending ad? Yobidoyobi published an advertisement that included a photograph of a Black man.

Shortly after, Yobidoyobi's co-founder, Konstantin Zimen, said people on social media were accusing Yobidoyobi of promoting multiculturalism. According to Zimen, the accusations began to appear after the founder of the far-right Male State movement, Vladislav Pozdnyakov, called on his Telegram digital channel to "leave feedback" about the company, as well as place orders and not pay for them.

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Future
Paul Molga

Pokemon, Magic As NFTs: How Tech Fuels Trading Cards Market

The heroic fantasy universes of the 1990s have become a new focus of investment. One card in the mega-popular Magic series recenty sold for more than $500,000, and with the introduction of blockchain technology, the market looks to expand even more.

Playing cards illustrated by the greatest science fiction and "heroic fantasy" artists of the moment, the blockchain to make them unique digital works, and a series of novels to accompany the story… Welcome to the fairytale universe of Cross the Ages.

Conceived by the young Marseille-based startupper Sami Chlagou, who is already behind a video game distribution and production company, this project aims to turn a generation's passion for trading cards and role-playing games into a business as disruptive and speculative as the cryptocurrency market.

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China
Shuaishuai Wang

'Sissy Men' Purge? Tech Is Other Target Of China's Effeminate Male Ban

Government regulators in Beijing have banned the TV and streaming appearance of what is referred to with the slur "niang pao" – literally, "girlie guns." It is clearly a homophobic and transphobic measure, but the real aim may be to keep the increasingly powerful tech platforms in line.

-Analysis-

The Chinese government has recently taken action against what it calls “sissy men" – males, often celebrities, deemed too effeminate.

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Rue Amelot
Genevieve Mansfield

Manga Mon Amour: On French Passion For Japanese Anime

The visiting American writer pieces together how the French culture of comics (bandes dessinées) mixes with their deepening love of Japanese anime'.

PARIS — When I was in sixth grade, Cartoon Network aired episodes of the TV show Code Lyoko almost every day around 3 p.m. I was a loyal fan — watching practically every day when I got home from school.

In the show, a group of teenagers wage virtual battle against a virus-like artificial intelligence force that threatens to wreak havoc on the physical world. If I had to categorize it, I would place it loosely into the "anime-influenced Western animated series" box. Uninformed as I was, I had simply assumed the show was a real Japanese anime, when in actuality it was a French animated television series. Fast forward a decade: I had just moved to the Paris region and begun work as a middle school English teacher. About halfway through the day, it was time for free reading. As I told my students to take out their reading materials, I was struck as, one by one, virtually all pulled out the same thing: Manga.

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Society
Suprakash Chandra Roy

Why Can't India Win More Nobel Prizes?

Winning a Nobel Prize can't be the only criterion by which we measure a nation's scientific achievement — but it is a matter of pride, like winning a gold at the Olympics. Lower funding on R&D alone doesn't explain India's abysmal show at the Nobel Prizes. Some key elements seem to be missing, beyond funding and infrastructure, vis-à-vis our scientists' ability to produce path-breaking work.

NEW DELHI — As expected, Indians are euphoric about their country's success in the recently concluded Tokyo Olympic Games, and for all the right reasons. However, India's share of seven medals – including the first individual gold in athletics by Neeraj Chopra – has stirred the hopes of many towards a similar accomplishment in another area of human activity: winning Nobel Prizes.

The Olympics and the Nobel Prizes have similar historical significance. Modern-day Olympics started in 1896 in Athens, Greece, while the first Nobel was awarded five years later. India first participated in the Olympics in 1900 in Rome – and won the first Nobel Prize in 1913. Both the Olympics and the Nobel Prizes are the highest awards in each of their categories.

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Society
Rozena Crossman

Spiderman To Jewish Stars: Global Vaccine Protests Get Ugly

More protests are bound to spread after President Biden announced that vaccinations will become mandatory for millions of U.S. workers in certain categories of employment, including those who work for the federal government and large corporations.

Vaccines used to be a quiet thing: someone getting a flu shot or UNICEF shipping off jabs to children in a faraway country. No longer. COVID-19 has put vaccinations at the center of both global health policy and national partisan politics — and plenty of noise has ensued.

After some initial demonstrations earlier this year critical of slow vaccination rollouts, protests are now firmly focused on local and national policies that require vaccines, including obligatory jabs for medical workers and the so-called "green pass" vaccine-required access to certain locations and activities. No doubt more protests are bound to spread in the United States after last week's announcement by U.S. President Joe Biden that vaccinations will become mandatory for millions of workers in certain categories of employment, including those who work for the federal government and large corporations.

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Society
Julie Zaugg

Chinese Fashion: The Chic Side Of Made In China

Chinese cosmetic and apparel companies that once operated in obscurity are now making a real name for themselves, at least among domestic consumers, who see brands like Li-Ning and Bosideng as providing both quality and style.

BEIJING — It's September 2018, and New York Fashion Week is in full swing. Among the shows put on by prominent fashion houses, "Chinese Day," organized by the e-commerce platform Tmall, makes a particularly big impact. And what really has people talking is the bold collection launched that day by Li-Ning, an unknown Chinese sportswear brand.

The company, founded by Olympic gold-medal gymnast Li-Ning, actually dates back to 1990. And yet, for most of its history, the brand limited itself to unimaginative lines of sneakers and sportswear.

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Geopolitics
Dominique Moisi

9/11, Bin Laden's Unlikely Gift To China And Russia

The September 11 attacks both mobilized America and showed its fragility. Twenty years later, the United States is withdrawing from the Middle East. The greatest beneficiary is not the Muslim world, as Bin Laden dreamed, but two powers reborn in the East.

-Analysis-

PARIS — "Men make their own history, but they do not make the history they please." Twenty years after the attacks of September 11, 2001, could Karl Marx's old formula help us understand the upheavals that have occurred in the world during the last two decades?

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Society
Meike Eijsberg

Foreign Students At Dutch Universities Are “Homeless” - Blame Brexit

Brexit has doubled the cost of studying in the UK for Europeans, which means many more students are heading to Dutch universities, which offer multiple programs in English. That's caused hundreds to arrive at universities in the Netherlands this month without promised housing.

With their sleeping bags in hand, dozens of students occupied the main administration building of the Rijksuniversiteit Groningen in the Netherlands this week to protest the lack of housing for international students. The situation is dire according to local organisation Shelter Our Students (SOS), as more than 600 international students at Groningen have started their studies this September homeless, Dutch daily NRC reports.

The Netherlands was already an increasingly popular destination for international students as it offers a wide variety of English-taught degrees. But this year, Dutch campuses are particularly overflowing with foreign students for two other reasons: Brexit, which has made UK universities suddenly very expensive for European Union residents looking to study in English; and the end of COVID-19 restrictions is bringing students back to class.

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Society

9/11 Front Pages: World Newspapers Coverage Of The Attack

History happened instantly before our eyes 20 years ago on September 11, 2001 — and the global press was there to offer a first view on a day that continues to live in infamy. Here are 31 newspaper front pages and magazine covers.

By the time United Airlines Flight 175 sliced into the second tower, news reporters and editors around the world knew they were facing the most monumental story of their lifetime. The Sep. 11 attacks forever changed the world, and put the powers of modern journalism, from real-time video coverage to deep news analysis (on deadline), to the test like never before.

With events unfolding on that Tuesday morning in New York and Washington, newspapers around the world could go to print that evening with special editions for Sep. 12 that offered the proverbial "first draft of history" on their respective front pages. News magazines followed suit with tragically iconic covers. TIME magazine's lead writer Nancy Gibbs recently recalled the unique pressure of producing a special issue in 24 hours.

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Society
Mattia Feltri

The Politician And His Rolex, A Timeless Morality Play

From Fidel Castro to JFK to Barack Obama, world leaders have long sported expensive watches. Does that create a distance with the people they lead?

-Essay-

ROME — I love the way social networks give you the real-time pulse of society. Here in Italy, for example, the plight of Afghans has apparently become boring and we've heard enough about anti-vaxxers — and so the online crowd has focused its unquenchable thirst for justice toward Roman Pastore, a young political candidate pictured wearing a Rolex watch.

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Future
Sol Park

Latin America's Copycat Startups: Thieving Or Innovation?

Across the region, entrepreneurs have been hailed for taking innovative ideas inspired elsewhere and applying them nationally or regionally. But the business and ethical dynamics involved are not so simple.

SANTIAGO — When Chazki, a Peruvian courier startup, entered the market in 2015, its founders described it as "the Uber of logistics." It made sense. The firm initially recruited freelance collaborators, not to carry passengers, but deliver purchased items in their "last mile."

The Uber tag stuck though, as tags have done with other regional startups: Mercado Libre was "Argentina's eBay," Nubank the "Revolut of Brazil," and Rappi was the WeChat of Colombia. Indeed, many Latin American firms are termed copycat startups for replicating successful business models conceived in developed hubs like the Silicon Valley.

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