Jul 08

Building Envy – Chinese and American government offices

Written by Buxi on Tuesday, July 8th, 2008 at 7:08 am
Filed under:Analysis, General | Tags:, ,
Add comments

Many discussions involving China and the West end up being a competition: you have this, but we have that.

Here is one very popular competition, passed around in different forms on numerous Chinese internet forums for many years. It’s about the glory of our government buildings. The captions below are translated from the Chinese original:

The city hall in Marion, Iowa. In China, this kind of building would’ve been torn down long ago.

Government offices for the Fangshan District of Beijing. It’s far from the downtown area; a relatively poor mountain area!

Administration offices for Manor, Texas. If you didn’t look closely, you’d mistaken it for a public bathroom in the Forbidden Palace!

Jiaozuo city government offices in Henan province (a small city with a total population of 3 million). Majestic presence, beautiful environment, great views.

Massachusetts State Offices – looks like a small church.

Guangdong Province, Foshan City, Shunde District government offices – the pictures aren’t complete, the interior is especially luxurious. The square facing it is larger than Tiananmen, and the design is equivalent to that of a five-star hotel. When they were reporting the project to the central government, it was described as a hotel. And then it became government offices, ready to compete with the White House!

Treasure Island, Florida – government offices. This looks like a family planning office in any random local Chinese village!

Yunnan Province, Kunming City, Wuhua District – District government offices – looks like a pagota from one side, and a sail from the other.

City offices for Alpena, Michigan – They’ve been using it since 1908… still don’t have the money to rebuild.

Henan Province – Luoyang is a small city with average income under 1000 RMB, but look at its government offices.

City offices in Laporte, Indiana …. not much different from a cave in northern Shaanxi!

Wuhan, Hubei province -Jianghan District government offices, a pair of towers shining together, catching the eye.

The contrasts are obvious. And for those who haven’t quite caught on… Chinese netizens aren’t bragging, here. Instead, this comparison is intended as criticism of the Chinese government. If China is so poor and the United States is so wealthy, an excuse given for China’s backwards political system, then why are Chinese government offices so much more extravagant than their American equivalents?

Two things come to mind when I look at these pictures:

1. First, these pictures highlight a very common belief amongst many Chinese that our government has used public money to build trophy buildings for their own comfort, for their own political purposes. More significant than any sort of abstract discussion of political rights or oppression, it’s this sort of gray corruption that really drives the desire of many Chinese for political reform.

The “people” didn’t have any oversight in the construction of these buildings, and few are aware of the budgets and the planning process that went into them. This naturally leads to serious questions about low budgets for the poorly constructed schools which collapsed in the Sichuan earthquake.

2. These pictures, however, also show the naivety of many Chinese who have not been overseas. American bureaucracy is not exactly small; the Commonwealth of Massachusetts has very large office complexes beyond the “little church” shown above.

The size of American cities are probably difficult for many Chinese in China to imagine; most cities are a very poor comparison for even a Chinese “district”. Treasure Island might have a humble office, but its population is only 7500 people, equivalent to a small Chinese village. Jiaozuo in Henan might have an overly glamorous government building, but its “small city” population of 3 million would make it one of the largest cities in America, comparable to the size of Los Angeles, CA.

Alpena, Michigan might have quaint out-dated offices, but it has a population of only 11,000. On the other hand, Shunde district in Foshan city has a population of over one million people.

China has much to learn through comparing itself with the United States, but I hope going forward, these comparisons are grounded in more logic and fact than those found in this particular exercise.

There are currently no comments highlighted.

66 Responses to “Building Envy – Chinese and American government offices”

  1. opersai Says:

    Um, I feel like maybe I should translate your post back to Chinese? … I think we do have a lot misunderstanding and ignorance of the West in China as well sometimes. But I bet I’ll be marked 50 cents, net spy for posting this on Chinese forums. =p

  2. FOARP Says:

    @Buxi – The main problem is not even the outward appearance of such buildings, but the fact that when you walk into them you find offices full of people sleeping, sipping tea, playing solitaire – doing anything but ‘serving the people’.

  3. jen Says:

    many comparisons between china and the US fail on logic…such as comparing the Taiwan issue to the American civil war or to the break off of Hawaii or whatever.

    of course these cities have tens of thousands more people, but i think the point about excessive spending on fancy looking buildings instead of spending it on education, etc still stands. this goes for the US w/ excessive spending on military systems that won’t work and aren’t necessary instead of education, welfare, etc.

  4. Passing by Says:

    Talk about centralized control.
    Is Bejing using the Olympics as an excuse to tear down the old city and contruct new jaw-dropping architectures?

    It’s not so much a competition between China and the West, but rather a competition between China’s provinces, which has the bigger, taller, fancier building.

  5. Jane Says:

    The comparison is not entirely without merits. The Chinese government buildings in the pictures look bigger and more grandiose than even the US Capitol, not to mention the meager White House and Supreme Court. I went on a tour of the West Wing once. It was much smaller, dirtier, plainer than I had expected and it was one of my proudest moments as an American. Politicians don’t seem to be as out of reach from the private citizens as the reclusive Chinese leadership hiding in their pads in Zhongnanhai. This is another thing I noticed: most Chinese government buildings tend to be behind some sort of gate and they give off an imposing and remote air, that they are off limits to private citizens. In contrast, US government buildings (at least before 9/11) were much more accessible. I was able to go inside the Capitol to listen to debates, visit my representative and get pictures taken and go inside the Supreme Court and have a tour. It’s truly awe inspiring.

  6. JD Says:

    Government officials love grandiose construction. It represents an unofficial barometer of corruption as it offers an opportunity for funds to be skimmed and favours requested. The grey area isn’t very grey.

    Too bad for the children of Sichuan that all the construction skimming left no funds left for good quality schools.

  7. Netizen Says:

    I think this blog is degenerating into generalization. There is corruption in China, yes, and plenty. But did you have any evidence about any of the buildings shown above being of corruption? Nothing. When you accuse someone something, be based on facts. Otherwise, it’s libelous.

    Talk about corruption. At least, the Chinese built something useful. Don’t you know the $500-million bridge to nowhere in Alaska? OK, it didn’t get built at the end. But how much wasted by US Congress in other projects. Like the Iraq war, a 3 trillion dollars unwinnable war. Image how many wasteful buidings you could construct with that.

    You know there are many ways to compare. Remember that.

  8. JD Says:

    Netizen, corruption is quite generalized in China. That’s the fact and even the government recognizes the scale of the problem. I applaud those who are trying to combat it though they have a difficult, if not impossible, battle before them. The problem is further complicated as it is impossible to tell when anti-corruption actions are just or when they are political actions under the guise of anti-corruption.

    Here’s some reading for you: http://www.carnegieendowment.org/publications/index.cfm?fa=view&id=19628&prog=zch. Ten percent is probably a modest figure, but what is that $350 billion dollars a year into the hands of the corrupt? Wow.

    There’s simply no comparison between the US and China in this area, sorry. Maybe Zimbabwe.

  9. FOARP Says:

    What I don’t get is how folk always make it out to be central government that is fighting local corruption, as if corruption did not exist in the centre also. For the record, local governments dispose of about 19% of China’s GDP, as opposed to 12% for central government. If the 10% figure is correct, then it seems likely that a good share of both central and local government spending is being siphoned off – almost a third of total government spending. It would be impossible for this much money to disappear from the local budgets alone.

  10. FOARP Says:

    @JD- Hang a tick, that’s 10% of government spending, not 10% of GDP. The maximum figure should be more like 100 billion USD – or about 3% of Chinese GDP. Not in Zimbabwe’s league, but not great either – and you can bet that central government is taking its cut.

  11. Theo Says:

    It’s not just government buildings, it applies to airports, hotels, shopping malls, public squares. In China they build to awe. Buildings in China really are awesome, but not very pleasant or useful for ordinary humans to actually use. In China if you want something designed with humans in mind, go to a restaurant.

  12. pug_ster Says:


    These government buildings are just as grand as some of the state capitol’s buildings. A bit old, but still elegant.

  13. yo Says:

    I think we have different definitions of corruption here(if you can imagine). The exsistence of these grand buildings doesn’t imply corruption. Using value judgments to decide if it should have been built in the first place is another issue. Second, the Iraq war in itself was not corruption, but you can make an arguement for the no competition bids that Haliburton got. The bridge to nowhere in Alaska or any pork barrel spending was not corruption. All of these measures where put in Congress and voted for. Corruption is when a Louisiana congressman took a huge cash bribe and stuck it in his freezer or when a state governor used state money for his high class hooker.

    My feeling is that this discussion is somewhat miss-directed. If you want to talk about if these buildings should have been built in the first place, then that’s fair because they are so grandiose but with the absence of evidence for corruption in these buildings, it’s more a case of wasteful spending. Of course, if Buxi just wanted to stimulate a discussion about corruption in China, then I’ll shut up 🙂

  14. Hemulen Says:

    Hmm. What comes to my mind when I read the post is not the corruption inside the buildings (there’s plenty in the US too) or inefficiency (ever heard about the EU?), but the waste of perfectly functional old building and the low quality of new buildings in China. There seem to be little appreciation in China for preservation and maintenance, and new buildings often look ten years older than they are. Even educated people don’t understand the value historical buildings.

    I think much of this has to do with an inflated sense of the glorious Chinese past, in comparison to which anything foreign or anything new pales because it just has to. I recall I conversation I had with an Ivy League educated Chinese acquaintance of mine who just got a temporary job in Oslo. I congratulated her and said that I have fond memories of that city. Then I asked if she had been to the Viking Ship Museum. “What’s that?” she asked. I told her that it is a collection of well-preserved ancient wooden ships. No, she was not interested, because “there is so much historical stuff in China” anyway. Well, I asked her where in China you can see 1000 year old ship in next to perfect condition. She didn’t know and didn’t seem to understand the question.

    I have had this kind of conversation with quite a few Chinese intellectuals in the West, who seem to assume that no matter what is old in the West, it has an ever older and better counterpart in China, and they seem not to be open to the idea that they just might be wrong every once in a while. That is why I gave up any thoughts of doing tourguiding for Chinese tourist groups when I was younger and my Chinese was better. The few times I tried, it didn’t matter what museum you took them to, it was always “We had this in China long ago” and when you asked them when and where they had no answer. At that moment, I sort envied those who had invested in Japanese and seem to guide groups that were interested in everything they saw…

    I don’t say this to put down Chinese culture or archeology in any way. To see the Forbidden City or the Great Wall is fantastic and I don’t feel that I need to compare it to anything to appreciate the value. What I think is the problem is that mainland Chinese are (mis-)educated to think about the Chinese past only in terms of superlatives, which deprives them of the pleasure to appreciate both their own more recent architectural past (which is now all but gone) and foreign architecture and scenic spots.

  15. JD Says:

    Thanks FOARP. I guess the estimate you cite is based on about 30% government spending/GDP and 10% corruption to arrive at the $100 billion figure. I presume that’s the direct cost but if one assumes 10% per transaction it should be much higher overall. I read the report when it came out but can’t download it right now and don’t recall the mechanics of the calculation.

    If the assumption is 10% on all transactions, then I presume one should assume 10% siphoning on tax income and another 10% siphoned off expenditures. On the state-owned company side – those doing the construction for the govt contracts – the assumption should also hold, 10% on the contract revenue and 10% on the expenditure. In other words, it should be much higher than the 10% of govt spending overall if the assumption 10% per transaction. What am I missing? Obviously indirect costs would make the whole thing even higher. The $100 billion is a big figure but I suspect it is a very modest and conservative estimate. Still, those grandiose government buildings and excessive infrastructure growth overall sure look like a good sign that individual incentives and benefits have a far higher priority than practical use.

    I agree, of course, that there’s no white knight in the corruption fight. Transparency, rules-based criteria, and public accountability for all officials would help, but obviously there’s a built-in incentive to avoid good practices and perverse incentives to add new discretionary levers, something which seems quite common at present. Targeting individuals has too many pitfalls and far too much discretion.

  16. Buxi Says:


    Oh, I’ve been talking about my take on these pictures in Chinese forums for years. 🙂 But the scale of the debate is just… huge. Thousands of forums, and this thread probably shows up in each forum every few months.

    I just can’t make myself stand out enough to be much of an opinion leader in the Chinese world.


    This blog isn’t going to degenerate into anything, as long as we have both sides of the story. But the unfortunate truth is many people in China believe this view of corruption in China; everyone driving a luxury car is corrupt, every government building should be smaller, etc, etc. There are too many personal stories of kickbacks for any of us to ignore that it exists, even without Pei Minxin’s article linked by JD.

    But you’re right, for example, for demanding evidence. I believe I read only one of the above Chinese buildings led to punishment for the local officials involved. Truth is, government management of these projects have evolved dramatically, requiring oversight from above, open bidding, and signature approval from multiple levels of government before anything can be built. In the early ’90s, it was wide open, anyone with a shovel and a bag of cash (or a friend in a bank) could talk themselves into a government construction contract… but after years of putting people in prison, I think there has been a clear improvement.

    I personally think many of these larger government buildings make perfect sense. China’s trying to industrialize within 20 years, whereas European and American nations were able to do it gradually over the course of two centuries. What was the size of China’s urban population in 1978? Probably 10% of what it is today. How do you deal with that explosion in population (and subsequent government) while reusing old buildings built 50+ years ago? You absolutely can’t; you have to build from scratch. Reusing old imperial buildings is even more hopeless.

    Hemulen talks about “old functional buildings” that are going unused. I guess we just have to agree on this point. I’m from Nanjing, the old capital of the Republic of China. If there are any old functional buildings that could’ve been used but were discarded for no reason, I’m not familiar with them. The Presidential Palace has been preserved (with ROC flag flying and all), but it’s tiny by modern standards. The other buildings used by the ROC government era are equally old, cramped, and absolutely decrepit.

    I grew up in a home purchased by my maternal grandfather, a senior ROC official, back in the 1930s. At one time, it was probably a gorgeous mansion (built in the early part of the 20th century). It had 3 floors, 7+ bedrooms, a large garden… By the early ’80s, the main building was home to 5 different nuclear families (about 20 related people), didn’t have a functioning toilet (we used the open sewer around the corner). The garden had been carved out into a new home for 2-3 additional families (not related). In the European view, I guess that home should’ve been preserved, lovingly restored. But from my point of view, when it was torn down and replaced by an ugly, 6-story concrete apartment building, it was the best thing that could’ve happened to anyone living there.

    I think the same process applies to government buildings. As long as these buildings are built within the last 20 years, they will look like buildings built within the last 20 years: new, shiny, and modern.

  17. Buxi Says:


    Your interpretation of the Carnegie report is a little overly creative. It didn’t say 10% of every leg of every single government transaction (including even tax collections). In not so many words, it said 10% of government purchases/contracts, which is a number that sounds very believable to me.

    I think this number is likely to be even less than what FOARP said (10% of government budget), because many expenditures (like salaries and pension investments) doesn’t leave room for kickbacks.

  18. Buxi Says:


    You make a good point about the unavailability of Chinese government… part of the complaint of many Chinese is equal parts about services provided, as it is about the buildings themselves. But that said, there has been a lot of improvement on this point.

    Many Chinese used to bitch and whine about the quality of services provided by Chinese embassies overseas, where “customer service” didn’t exist, and Chinese citizens felt hardly welcome. Anyone that’s been to an embassy in the last 12-24 months though… I don’t know, I certainly walked away very impressed by the increase in professionalism. Not exactly service with a smile, but absolutely professional, humane, intelligent service.

    Let’s hope this continues. I want to address one other point:

    This is another thing I noticed: most Chinese government buildings tend to be behind some sort of gate and they give off an imposing and remote air, that they are off limits to private citizens. In contrast, US government buildings (at least before 9/11) were much more accessible. I was able to go inside the Capitol to listen to debates, visit my representative and get pictures taken and go inside the Supreme Court and have a tour. It’s truly awe inspiring.

    Many Americans share this infatuation with “visiting representatives” and (in so many words) “feeling part of the democratic process”. More than ever, I’m coming to understand that many Americans perceive these ideals, values as being the very identity of their nation. A recent column about Obama/McCain focused on that point; Condoleeza Rice has an essay in the new issue of Foreign Affairs that says the same thing.

    But can’t Mexican citizens also visit their capital and listen to debates, visit their representative? (I don’t know the answer to that question, but I assume so.) Are their visits just as awe-inspiring? Will every Mexican professing to share American ideals in representative government and liberal democracy be given a US passport?

    That’s my round-about way of asking: is it the American political *system* and values which are awe-inspiring, or is it American wealth that makes everything associated it with awe-inspiring? The American political system and the ideals on which it was founded on is now shared by developing countries around the world… and how many are equally awe-inspiring?

  19. Daniel Says:

    I think it’s both the American political system and values plus the wealth associated with it awe-inspiring. Of course there are issues, but it’s been farily decent stable for quite some time, for several reasons. The need for checks and balances as well as the way both federal and state/county local governments work with each other (well it’s a little complicated) is going well.
    However, it does take quite a lot of resources to maintain the standard of life we Americans cherish as a basic that many people seem to overlooked or ignore. For some political candidates to be elected, the advertisements, the traveling, the meetings, security, etc. they all have a cost to it. There’s more afterwards if they do get elected. It’s nice for representatives to visit, but nearly everyone is aware of how much “flattering talk” and stepping on people goes on behind the scenes.

  20. JD Says:

    I’m going by this Buxi: “where roughly 10 percent of government spending, contracts, and transactions is estimated to be used as kickbacks and bribes, or simply stolen”.

    If it’s 10% of transactions, then it’s actually much higher than 10% of government spending. Say $100 comes in in tax, 10% is siphoned = $90, that $90 in tax revenue is spent, 9$ is siphoned off, leaving $81 expenditure. So almost 20% loss on the tax revenue, without looking at deeper issues. On the spending side, the state-owned company that received the government contract also loses 10% on the incoming transaction, so the revenue the company receives is now only $81-8=73 dollars. The company then spends that $73 on goods and services, of which 10% is siphoned off, generating only $64 in real activity.

    So, my point is that the estimate is extremely conservative. Interesting that the definition doesn’t even include excessive expenditure on unnecessary buildings like those above. Again, further evidence that the problem is far worse than commonly perceived. Transparency, accountability, and rules-based decisions will help combat it.

    So, agreed, it’s impossible to get a real number but there are many signs – including the photos above and the situation in Sichuan – that corruption has moved from troublesome to out-of-control. With so much institutional capture, few will be looking for real efforts to clean up.

  21. Hemulen Says:


    Oh, Nanjing. Used to live there more than a decade ago, I wonder what’s left?

    If there are any old functional buildings that could’ve been used but were discarded for no reason, I’m not familiar with them. The Presidential Palace has been preserved (with ROC flag flying and all), but it’s tiny by modern standards. The other buildings used by the ROC government era are equally old, cramped, and absolutely decrepit.

    I haven’t kept a catalogue of gov buildings in Nanjing, but I used to love the place for what it was.

    My point is more about maintenance than about restoration. The idea that you try to preserve what you have seem to be quite lacking in modern China, people just don’t pay attention, and I don’t think this is just a question of relative poverty. More than in many other developing countries, Chinese allow buildings to fall completely apart in order to replace it with a new one, which soon crumbles and is replaced by a new one, equally ugly. There was a post at China Law Blog about this not long ago.

    And what’s wrong with a tiny historical building? Why does everything has to be in superlatives to have the right to exist?

  22. Jane Says:

    @ Buxi,

    I don’t think I used the correct tense… it was a late night post. I visited the Capitol and my representative as a 13 year old school girl, that was when I felt it was awe inspiring. Now that I am an adult, I am fully aware of the problems and complexities within the American political system (and really life itself). Like the Chinese government, it too is composed of and ran by humans, and it too is far from perfect. Yeah, I am less likely to be awed these days, haha.

    That said, I wouldn’t simply dismiss this sense of awe as merely from that of a naive child (or naive Americans). These experiences brought the politicians down to earth to me. I did not feel that they were inherently superior to me (or that their lives were worth more than mine) or that because I didn’t have familial or whatever connections with these “leaders (gang bu)” I had less right to participate in the system. In China, people (lao bai shin) often talk about gang bu or gang bu zi di as if they belong to a separate social sphere/caste out of the reach of the common folk. I know the situation is improving in China (case point, Wen Jia Bao visiting the earthquake victims), but political figures are still much more accessible in America. If I want to see Obama, I can simply go to one of his rallies.

  23. Buxi Says:


    I agree with that second point. Democratic reforms would certainly bring officials down to the laobaixing class; nothing makes them seem more normal, or even pathetic, than begging voters for support.

    Even when Wen Jiabao visited the earthquake victims, what you would not have seen is that local government officials placed everything that Wen Jiabao touched in a museum: a half-finished bottle of water, his construction hat, his megaphone. Wen Jiabao wrote something encouraging on a chalkboard in a school, and that chalkboard with his writing is now preserved behind glass. I don’t believe for a second that’s what Wen Jiabao would’ve wanted, but… that’s tradition for you.

    This is all more reason to support local, democratic reforms in China.

  24. Buxi Says:


    And what’s wrong with a tiny historical building? Why does everything has to be in superlatives to have the right to exist?

    Because modern China, based on sheer scale alone, deserves a superlative.

    Just read this yesterday in a McKinsey report on China’s urbanization:

    By 2025, China will have 219 cities with more than one million inhabitants—compared with 35 in Europe today—and 24 cities with more than five million people.

    That sort of reality demands attention.

    If you haven’t been in Nanjing for a decade, then you really wouldn’t recognize much of it. Xinjiekou has been reworked twice since then. Two subway lines are now open, and a third one is about to be completed. The yuhuatai district, which used to be “really far” and I’d only visit the memorial to Communist martyrs, is now almost a part of downtown itself. It is very urbanized, very large, and subway runs not too far from it.

    There are now three bridges across the Yangtze (probably only 1, maybe 2 while you were there?), each one more grand than the previous. The Jiangning district north of the river, which when I was growing up was considered xiangxi and incredibly poor, is now basically part of Nanjing city proper. One of my cousins bought a home out there.

    The biggest development is west of the city, next to the “Olympics” district built for the “National Games” in 2005. University Town and a whole new other district (which I haven’t visited and can’t remember the anme of right now) popped up out of farmland over the last 3-5 years. Over a million people live in that district, now. Were you at Nanda’s Chinese language program back then? The district that’s in has also changed dramatically (for the better). Hunan Lu’s pedestrian shopping district is great, gorgeous…

    Over the last 10 years, the population of Nanjing has probably doubled, if not more. The geographical size of Nanjing has probably quadrupled, if not more. I remember the drive from the Pukou International Airport (which opened in ’97) to the downtown area being through an hour of farmland… well, not any more. Pukou itself is getting pretty urbanized.

    And that pace is probably going to accelerate. 10 years ago, the Nanjing/Shanghai expressway wasn’t even opened yet, was it? Big news at the time; it made the trip from Nanjing to Shanghai only about 2-3 hrs by car. Well, a new “city-scale” express train being built now will make the trip from Nanjing to Shanghai in a little over an hour. It will basically turn every city between Nanjing to Shanghai (Zhenjiang, Yangzhou) into commuter villages for Nanjing and Shanghai, making that entire area a single huge urban city in about 30 years.

    So, this is why size is important. 50 years ago, 3 out of 100 Chinese lived in cities. Today, about half of us live in cities. In another 50 years, 80 out of 100 Chinese will live in cities. The scale of this migration demands superlatives!

  25. Hemulen Says:


    I don’t think we are talking about the same thing, of course it’s good with modern transportation and amenities. I did enjoy the Shanghai express, it was great. And as long as they kept that old Bank of China building at Xinjiekou, I have no problem with a touch up. I just don’t see why one thing excludes another. If an old building of reasonable historical value doesn’t fulfill its purpose, you can build a new building and can use the old it for something else. If you need space for the new building you may have to knock down some old building, but why knock down an entire neighborhood for the sake of it? Or when occasionally an area is found interesting, why chase out all the old residents and the mom-and-pop stores and make it into a amusement park?

    In another 50 years, 80 out of 100 Chinese will live in cities.

    Yes, I realize that, but current trends are any indication, most cities will look more or less the same. Those who can will either have fled abroad or into gated communities in the suburbs.

  26. Wahaha Says:


    Pei’s report estimates that the direct costs of corruption in China are about 3 percents of annual GDP. Worse yet, most of the cases are concentrated in critical sectors with extensive state involvement, such as infrastructure projects, financial services, real estate, and government procurement. The absence of competitive political process and free press makes these high-risk sectors even more susceptible to fraud, theft, kickbacks, and bribery.


    1) let us say Pei underestimated, let us say 5%, times GDP 7 trillion, that is 350 billions dollars.

    2) More projects, more corruption; less projects, less corruption.

    3) From the chart,


    I dont see how anyone can make a claim that free media wouldve solved the problem of corruptions in China. (media control does damage the credibility of governement and cause social problem like the riot in Weng’an)

    4) Also from the chart, it is clearly proved that the more developed a country is, the less corruptions. A study on South Korea showed that inequality between rich and poor is also a huge reason for corruption.

  27. Charles Liu Says:

    These comparisons are mismatched to force a point. A quick Google shows it’s all BS:

    – Marion Iowa has population of 26,294 – should be compared with a villiage or a small town, not the Fangshan District.

    – According to Wikipedia City of Manor Texas has less than 1500 people, and is 1 square mile in size. Why compare it to Jiaozou? A more appropraite comparison would be, again, a small villiage in China.

    – The Mass. state house photo is wrong. Here’s THE Mass. State House:

    – Treasure Island is a retirement town less 7500 people in god forsaken nowhere in Florida. Yet it is compared with famous city of Kunming?

    – Laporte, Indiana has about 110,000 people – Wuhan has what?

    – Alpena, Michigan is a ski town with about 10,000 in population, comparing it with Luoyang makes no sense.

    Another issue I have with this apples-and-sh!t comparison is some of the structures from olden times are historical monuments. Try compare with newly built government buildings in US:




    (can’t pass this one up) This is a *dog pound* in Memphis, a city where homeless people eat out of garbage cans:


  28. Netizen Says:


    I noticed you deleted my reply to a Fa Lungonger’s comment which was also deleted. Normally I would oppose deleting comments. In this case, I commend you for deleting that Fa lungong member’s post, which led to deleting of my response.

  29. Charles Liu Says:

    FLG is nothing but trouble. Do you know my government pays million for their anti-Chinese public opinion stunts in US?


  30. FOARP Says:

    @JD – this Carnegie report also uses the 3% of GDP figure for diect costs:


    Indirect costs might add up to quite a bit more though, but that would require stats which we don’t have.

    @Wahaha – It’s best to use the exchange-rate figure and not the purchasing-power figure for China’s GDP when measuring the value of corruption – we are trying to quantify the money siphoned off through corruption, not measure what might have been bought by the average Chinese citizen using it.

    @Buxi – I’m sure you are aware that pensions and payroll are quite open to corruption – all you need are employees who exist only on the payroll or who are being underpaid, or money destined to go into a pension fund being directed into another bank-account. Large scale plans also suffer from substantial overspend, corrupt bidding processes, the use of sub-standard materials etc., etc. ,etc.

    I arrived in Nanjing in early 2003 and was last there in September last year. Whilst I was there they completed the Metro system, re-jigged Xinjiekou, opened the developments in Xianlin and Jiangning, put the finishing touches to the third bridge (although I understand that the original bridge is now closed except to 苏A traffic), and opened the Olympic centre, amongst other things. I was also there when an pensioner who had lived in a building near Xinjiekou which had been sheduled for demolition commited suicide through self-imolation in front of a government building, and personally witnessed the anger of the farmers who had been forced of their land with minimal compensation to make way for the new 南师大 campus in Xianlin.

    Nanjing is still quite recognisable as itself, the streets are broad and lined with trees (of what type? I can never remember), it is still a far more pleasant and cleaner city than Shenzhen or Shanghai, and will stay that way. If it is also a much more conservative city, this certainly has its good points.

  31. gswafford Says:

    Interesting post. I agree with the viewpoint of the author and would also point out that while many of the government offices in America may lack in luster and the financial extravagance displayed by our Chinese counterparts, our politicians make up for the wasteful spending in the pet projects (aka earmarks) they bury deep within much of the legislation that gets passed on a daily basis. Basic economics will tell you that governments are not known for efficiency when it comes to saving money.

  32. Buxi Says:

    The trees are called wutong in Chinese; I just goggled, and I guess they’re called “Chinese parasol” in English.

    The streets in Nanjing are partly broad today because so many neighborhoods have been flattened, as per what Hemulen mentioned above. Very few roads have been left unmodified from what used to exist. I remember in the ’90s when demolition hit a peak, including the point when my grandfather’s home was torn down (a few blocks from the Drum Tower), you would see something like 5×5 blocks of completely flattened buildings. If you came in 2003, you got to see mostly new construction but very limited urban demolition.

    (I actually wasn’t in Nanjing or China at all in 2003 because of SARS. The last 2-3 years I’ve been mostly in Shenzhen when I’m in China, with only a few days in Nanjing… so really don’t know much about the new stuff west of the river.)


    I didn’t delete (or see) the FLG post in this thread… someone else must have. I don’t mind FLG posting on this forum, but everyone should behave and keep things on topic. Hopefully, that means no more FLG discussions on this thread, for example.


    Thanks for doing the leg work. It’s interesting when people talk about China as if anti-American sentiment is widespread (because of “propaganda” of course)… the truth is, many Chinese in China have an unrealistically rosy view of life in America. I’ll translate and post more similar threads, later.

  33. admin Says:


    I think Netizen just mistook this thread as the WSJ thread where the exchange about FLG took place (comments #16,17). They are not deleted.

  34. BMY Says:


    I think we might not need be very sensitive if someone points out the scale of corruption in China. The government know, the people know. To bring up the corruptions in America or in the Iraqi war as a defense dose not make the corruption in China go away.

    @Buxi and Hemulen,

    I agree with Hemulen, if we compare with the west in general, Chinese people in China do like more morden shinning buildings but are lack of maintainence and preservation of old buildings.

    I live in a middle class suburb I would guess many people in China would assume all shinny houses here. But all the houses in my street were built in the early 40s ,red brick,single level houses and none of them has been knocked down to rebuilt. all the house’s exterior in the street are all still in good conditions. Of course, I think every house interior like the vinyl walls,kitchens etc might have been rebuilt few times. I know kitchen and some of the internal walls in my house were rebuilt by the previous owner about 15 years ago. I just re painted them then all look like new. there are few new houses in the next street down but most of the houses in the area are still what they were many decades ago.

    Th houses here we called “federation house(built around 1900) and “California Pergola(built around 1930s) normally have more market values than the houses built in 1960s and 1970s with similar conditions in terms of location,land size, bedrooms etc. Many people here includes myself prefer old style houses with more character than the newly built ones.

    If we think of 100 years,70 years old normal residential houses in China(not the historical palaces,norbel family houses), there are not many left, there are not many people would prefer living in. There are ways to bring in running water,toilets etc into the old houses which are normally lack of and often the reasons people prefer to move out.

    In the area where I work which is on the edge of the city. There are many old fashion factory buildings look like exactly the old factory buildings full of machineries we often see in China. Because of the industry change, there are no any factory here any more. But all the factory buildings have been converted either office buildings or residential buildings. I once went into one of these converted residential buildings, there were very elegant and smart design be put into the converting. I loved . I know many of the similar buildings in the area I am from in China were just simply blown up and rebuilt new ones.

    I think there is also economic reason behind. the cost to build a new house in China relatedly is much more cheaper than in the west. To convert a factory building I believe is lots of cheaper than to build a new one from scratch. The developer would make more money via converting I guess.

    There are also more regulations in the west about buildings. in the city I live, there are different zones to define what kind of buildings can be built in the street. My street belons to a zone which dose not allow anything else rather than a house to be built on a block

    In a zone where houses and flats buildings can be mixed together, then almost certain, a old house would be purchased by a developer then a unit building would be built(need council approval). To sell a 9 units building would make much more money than to sell a new house on the same site in the current market.

    I also agree with Buxi.

    In the cities of the US and Australia, the spread of suburbs belong to a city covers huge area. Very often, the government would have to build new suburbs to absorb the growth of population .
    But in Chinese cities/counties, due to the huge population it’s density’s, lack of land and lack of personal transportation methods,lack of public infrastructure etc,. It’s impractical to build faraway new suburbs. then very often, old low level houses get knocked down and new high rise get built to allocate more people on the same size of land.

    It is also well know, Chinese officials often like “形象工程“(English term? My MI5 friend FOARP?:-) ) . To build a fancy building during a few years of office term for a officer is more visible than investing in something like education which would take much longer time to see the result.

    Whether there were corruptions involved in the buildings in above pics I don’t know.

  35. Leo Says:


    The few times I tried, it didn’t matter what museum you took them to, it was always
    “We had this in China long ago” and when you asked them when and where they had
    no answer.

    The most Chinese are still impressed by the Louvre, the Britisch Museum, and New York Metropolitan. I personally think what’s impressive about Norway is its landscapes and fjords. If you ask an Italian or a Greek about Norwegian museums and churches, you will basically get the similar responses.

  36. Leo Says:


    If you compare Beijing and Shanghai with Tokyo, Seoul, Taipei and Bangkok, you will realize that the both Chinese cities have more preserved quarters than the following ones.

    Beijing still has a lot of decently preserved high-quality hutongs, mostly in Dongcheng and Xicheng districts; Shanghai still has a lot of perfectly maintained garden villa quarters in its western districts. As in your town, high-quality siheyuans in Beijing and garden villas in Shanghai generally have higher market values than the new developments.

    The problem is those shabbier, low-quality siheyuans and shikumens. A lot of foreigners have a strong affection for these slums. The locals don’t get it. I know little about those low-quality siheyuans, but I do know something about the shikumens, The most shikumens were cheaply built during the early real estate goldmine rush. They were designed to house maximal people in a minimal space with the cheapest material, so as to generate the highest profit for the developers (the Sassoons, the Kardoories).

    As in your city, a lot of industrial complexes are preserved in Shanghai. The projects I know include Jiangnan Shipyard, Shanghai GE plant, Shanghai Beer Factory, Hongkou Slaughterhouse, Yangpu Waterplant, Moganshan, etc. Beijing has a similar project called 798.

    Regarding the Xingxiang Gongcheng (image projects), there are cynical people who don’t like them, but the most people on the street level do enjoy these huge squares, luxurious greens, and broad boulevards. If you go there on a summer evening, you will realize that these are the most populous places the locals go to. Before that only Beijing has had these. So these projects are not more of a mixture of apppeasing the superiors and local popularism.

  37. BMY Says:


    I agree with you if we compare Beijing, ShangHai with Tokyo,Seoul,Taipei. I think all these places have high density of population and are lack of land.

    I also agree with you there are many shabby siheyuan and shikumen had to be torn down.

    But I also beleive there were many old style good quality houses built by the rich in the early last century in ShangHai were torn down as well and replaced with high rise on the sites. And many good quality siheyuan got knocked down in Beijing along with the shabby ones.

    I think the percentage of Chinese population who enjoy these huge squares, luxurious greens, and broad boulevards is much bigger than the counterparts in the west. I don’t think it’s very black and white. people enjoy what they like.

  38. BMY Says:


    You deleted a comment from a FLG!! How dare you!!

    Please don’t offend FLG. They are capable of disable a satellete , you know.
    It’s too easy to bring down a blog. I don’t want to see that. You know, I enjoy reading your blog.

    just my advice, be careful with what you are doing and whom you are dealing with. ignore might be better than deleting.

    just my 0.5 cent

  39. Hemulen Says:


    The most Chinese are still impressed by the Louvre, the Britisch Museum, and New York Metropolitan. I personally think what’s impressive about Norway is its landscapes and fjords.

    All these museum are fabulous and meant to impress. However, I’m not talking about being impressed per se here, but about the failure to appreciate seemingly small things and the propensity to compare everything – you could call it the xiang bijiao mentality if you will. Tourism isn’t just about thrills and seeing the biggest, oldest, largest or most expensive.

    If you ask an Italian or a Greek about Norwegian museums and churches, you will basically get the similar responses.

    I’m not to sure about that actually, different types of architecture has been preserved differently in Europe and to many tourists going to another part of Europe is almost like time travel (not very different from when Chinese tourists can see Chinese-style temples in Japan that have almost disappeared in China). As for Norway, it has medieval wooden churches that people flock to from all over the world. In other parts of Scandinavia you can find mansions that were destroyed at the time of the French revolution. The Czech Republic has some of the best examples of architecture that is now lost in Germany. And so on…

    The most striking difference between the Chinese and Japanese tourists I have met in Europe is the willingness to learn and listen. If you meet a Japanese back packer, chances are that he is carrying good tour guides like Sekai no arukikata in his bag. If you have a conversation with him about a tourist attraction, you will talk about what is in front of you and if you happen to know something about it, he will listen to you. Most Chinese tourists I have encountered are not well prepared and are not very interested in learning about what they see, instead they want to compare. Neige shenme gen women Zhongguo de shenme dongxi xiang bijiao de hua… Sometimes they will lecture you on the history of your country.

  40. BMY Says:


    I think I agree with you Japanese tourist might be more prepared than Chinese in general. You need count that Chinese tourists in Europe is a very recent thing. You see Japanese and western backpackers every where but hardly see any Chinese(mainlander) backpackers. And also a backpacker need do much more preparation than a tourist with a guided tourist group.

    I am not quite sure what kind of Chinese tourists you have met(they are very likely the government officers), but most of them I met are very interested in so many little things:a train ticket, a uni campus, inside of a office, inside a house, a lawn mower, a beach, a car yard, a house auction etc. It might be true a small not that impressive museum not that attracted to them.

  41. EugeneZ Says:

    @BMY #34,

    I think we might not need be very sensitive if someone points out the scale of corruption in China. The government know, the people know. To bring up the corruptions in America or in the Iraqi war as a defense dose not make the corruption in China go away.

    I could not agree more! Instead of trying to “minimize” the issue of corruption in China by bringing up that America also suffers from incidences of corruption, it is much better to try to understand why corruption is so widespread in China and what needs to happen to bring it down. By the way, I am pretty sure that corription is not unique to China, it is also quite bad if not worse in countries like India and Russia.

    For those of us who lived a portion of our adult life in China, and especially who had to conduct and sustain business activities, almost everyone has a set of personal stories about corruption. While people are angry about corruption, the society at the current stage of development can not live without it. For those who learned how to play the game, corruption is conceived as the lubricant of the economic engine.

    Back in 2005, when I was on a business trip in Beijing, during a lunch break I happened to sit at the same table at MacDonald’s at Wang Fu Jing with a gentleman from Sichuan, we were of course total strangers to each other. But we both had extra time at hand, so he started talking about why he was in Beijing. It was right before the Autumn festival, he was on a twice-a-year bribing trip to take care of the government officials / employees. He showed me a thick stack of “Li Ping Card”, and said they were worth RMB 300,000, to be distributed to one ministry across street. Interestingly he did not feel angry that he had to do this. He told me that before such a wonderful practice was well established, he was buried in beauracracy and had to travel to Beijing to sort out his business process many times a year, and the trips were exhausting, inefficienct, worst of all, caused him huge sum due to lost business opportunities. Now, he said, the trips are regular (once before Autumn festival, once before Spring festival), short, effiecient, and very pleasant. And his business has been flourishing back home in Sichuan. He loved the system.

    To be quite frank, that was rather an educational and eye-openning experience. It actually helped me quite a bit later on in my own job. I was just put in a position to manage a business in China on behalf of a US multinational company, the timing could not be better, as it turned out I had to figure out how to fight bearaucracy left and right. I do not want people to get the wrong ideas, as an employee of a multinational company, I could not just simply copy the Sichuan guy’s play book, because I would run into issues with a US law called “Foreign Anti-Corruption Act”. But the point is that I needed to know how the Chinese system work, and figured out innovative ways to get things down.

  42. Buxi Says:


    I really wish there was a magical tool for getting rid of that part of the Chinese system… but it seems so ingrained, at times. The good news is that there are increasingly larger number of industries where you don’t need much of the government, and you’re dealing with people who care about only the bottom line, not the kind of presents you can get them.


    BMY is completely right. I think I talked about this in a past entry… but when I first visited Europe 2 years ago, I was doing exactly what Hemulen described: “what do these countries have that China doesn’t, etc”. Japanese tourists have had two decades to visit and understand the West. For 99% of the Chinese arriving in European airports, this is their first trip to Europe. And we have many preconceived notions about what Europe should look like.

    So, yes, many of us get started doing a basic comparison. It’s the first step in the “getting to know” process. So if it’s any comfort, Hemulen, my children will probably be very interested in learning more about Viking ships as they backpack through.

  43. BMY Says:

    hehehe,interesting story,EugeneZ.

    You don’t want to share what kind of innovation you have with both “anti corruption” and “get things down” ?

    Few months ago in Sydney, there was another way around of a corruption.

    there was a female government officer who was in charge of local city planning. She requested sex from few male property developers as part of the deal(of course, there was money involved as well) to get their millions of dollars construction approved.

  44. EugeneZ Says:


    We all offer opinions and life stories for free on this blog, but solid busines advise will come with a fee 🙂 Let me know if you are starting a business in China. We can probably get some transactions done with a “foolsmountain” special discount 🙂

  45. BMY Says:


    I’ll ask CLC to keep the backup for 50 years when I finally get some founds to do business in China and ask you for the “foolsmountain” discount.

  46. Leo Says:


    I can understand your sentiments about seemingly small things. I think why your visitors said such mean things is due to two reasons:

    One, they were being rude. Saying anything negative in the face of the host is not the Chinese social norm.
    Two, Oslo is really below their expectation. Most Chinese have an unrealistic expectation of Europe: a wonderland of Da Vinci and Michaelangero, spotless, gentle, center of the human civilization, as shown in the tourist brochure. But soon they will realize that Paris is stinky, Rome is criminal, Berlin is gray, Oslo is, well, a bit “raw”.

    Regarding the Japanese, I think:

    One, they are generally really polite.
    Two, they don’t have a 4000 year history to boast.
    Three, their social development has reached a stage in which some of the population have grown tired of the new, glittering, bombasitc, things.

  47. pechmerle Says:

    Many interesting comments here. We understand each other better than we used to, but we still have a long way to go. Dialogue (multi-logue?) is good!

  48. Hemulen Says:


    Fair enough, of course lack of exposure can explain a lot of the attitudes I talked about. But I also think there is something else, and that is what political scientist Lucian Pye called “millstone of greatness”, the idea that China is somehow entitled to greatness and the sense of humiliation when reality does not match those expectations. I have met a lot of people from developing countries – some of which with a long history and great achievements in the past – who are abroad for the first time and do not feel threatened by what they see or compelled to make comparisons

    Most people in the world are quite OK with the idea of coming from a country that is great, but not that great. That is why many non-Chinese are puzzled when they see how hostile some Chinese turn when you point out some flaws that you have observed in China and when you are accused of insulting their national honor. You can talk to Indians about corrupt elections or separatism and without being accused of putting them down. When it comes to China, on the other hand, you are expected to take sides.

  49. Daniel Says:

    Interesting you all are talking about Chinese tourists in Europe and their attitudes. Maybe everyone has diffrent experiences because I was on one of those Chinese tour buses last year that took me around 5 countries in almost a week and even though it was primarily Mainland Chinese, there were quite a few from elsewhere. There were a few small families who have settled in France (our first stop) but took this tour to travel. (Yes I have to agree that Paris is very stinky and watch out for the pickpockets, especially in the Metro). Every once in a while a stop we would run into other groups of the Chinese tourists from the same company but different buses

    I have to say that the attention spans does seem shorter but I didn’t run into the comparison conversations. I know they exist and most of them I heard from local Hua Ren in Europe than elsewhere. I mean the tourists were willing to listen but it’s like there’s not much “awe” in their responses towards many subjects in their Europe tour. The fascinating parts happen to be the randomness that occurs like whenever someone is late on the bus, he/she has to sing a song on the way or when unexpected events occur, like my tour bus ran into a soccer match somewhere in Belgium and you can see some interesting quirks happening. However I have to admit. To really enjoy a trip to Europe I think it may require first knowledge of history, geography and art. Some of the ABCs and CBCs on board didn’t particular felt at awe at first but we were taught some of those subjects since we were young and it kind of gave us some appreciation.

    Just my opinion and personal experiences. I could talk more about Paris since I stayed there for almost 3 weeks and have relatives that live there for almost three decades.

  50. oldson Says:

    @ Hemulen – you are right about “much of this has to do with an inflated sense of the glorious Chinese past” – that is right on the money. And the Chinese really do have an over inflated sense of ethnocentric greatness. It’s either China’s way or the highway. You have to take sides in China and if you don’t agree, then you will suffer social rejection and abuse. That is why talking about China can really get people “insulted” or “angry” – not because of what you said is rude, but because they just can’t take any form of constructive criticism. Most Chinese will fly of the handle if you even mention China in any comparison to any other country.

    When I lived in China I got so sick and tired of constantly trying to have an open dialogue about multi-cultural issues because it always ends up that China is a superior country and the rest of the world is garbage. Yes, most people are proud of their country, but they will be able to accept the faults while still being satisfied with the positive aspects. You don’t often get that balance with the masses (except of course for the educated and open minded)

    Still, one of the reasons why China builds such oversized worthless buildings is also because of corruption. The construction/CCP corruption system is huge. And yes, ever time I went into a building women were knitting, guys were smoking and playing solitaire and nobody wanted to help you. China is a developing country, and they like to tear down anything old and build a giant building in its place. The big bosses don’t complain because they get money – anybody working there will love it because they can milk the system and get a cushy job, nice office and do nothing all day. The construction workers get employment and they are happy. You see, all are happy because everybody gets to milk the corrupt CCP system and get something out of it.

    Here in America we tend to spend our money (700 million a day) on foreign military quagmires while our infrastructure crumbles around us. I would guess that a lot of US govt buildings are old and built during the 60’s and 70’s. In a nutshell: the US tends to waste it’s money abroad while China wastes it at home.

  51. AC Says:

    Still, one of the reasons why China builds such oversized worthless buildings is also because of corruption. The construction/CCP corruption system is huge.

    That’s not entirely true. The local governments build such buildings to boost up their GDP. Unlike governments in the West, whose revenues entirely depend on taxations, the Chinese government owns all major industries, they have a lot of money.

    That’s not to say such buildings are not waste of money though.

  52. Buxi Says:

    Here’s what city hall for the City of San Francisco looks like:

    Population: 750,000

  53. Daniel Says:

    I understand that this “superior sense of self” attitude among the Chinese in general can be quite over-bearing , like beyond reason at times. It doesn’t get much better since there are non-Chinese out there who will make some claims and statements that project this “glorious thinking” of Chinese civilization. In the past and present there were and are both non-Chinese intellectuals throughout the world who have express such “romantic admiration” of the Chinese for whatever topic and it’s going to depend on how one percieves it. It doesn’t have to be to the extreme but there are people everywhere that do like certains aspects of China (or Chinese subjects) as being unique. Honestly, it is quite unique (doesn’t have to be boastful per se) if one wants to compare it with other civilizations…take the study of religions for example, or not.

    Some topics are worth investigating, others like the Zheng-He America theory I simply don’t believe. I remember reading another blog where someone mention that some glorious aspects of the Chinese in general are just personal veiwpoints to be proud of like many other cultures. Yet some Chinese take it in the absolute matter and still think it’s the center of the world. While the Chinese people throughout the world have had their obvious shares of achievements and successes, there’s been plenty of heart breaks and sad stories to go along with it. Of course, it depends on the individuals and even among a basket of rotten apples you might find at least one or more that is good.

    Generally speaking, it’s really not easy to talk about multi-culture issues. One cannot demand another to be open minded and sometimes it’s the methods of communication that makes it hard to understand rather than the topic. Even among the educated and well-exposed to the world people there are some that hold strong prejudices. Some of my instructors back in high school (or secondary I supposed) mentioned how social elements like this will take generations to handle since it took generations to build such mentalities. Frankly speaking, corruption also took generations to implant and even if it didn’t, the temptations and questionable practices will always be there.

  54. Wahaha Says:


    Yes, lot of Chinese are proud of their culture that has lasted thousands of years. But if you are talking about “superior sense of self” NOW, it is people in West who have strong feelings of “morally” superior to people in China, which they believe automatically give them the right to educate chinese. They feel so good about themselves that most of them never really care the REAL situations and problems in China, and I can claim that people in West dont care that hundreds of millions of Chinese are living in poverty. The way westerners “educate” chinese has been quite annoying to some chinese. It is like I am hungry and buy a bowl of rice and meat, and west media tells me “You cant eat that, too much fat and high cholesterol.”

    I think Chinese are very stubborn (that is bad), including me. Once the way of their thinking and living is formed, lot of Chinese will keep that way through their life. You can see those immigrant Chinese in USA, their way of living and thinking is still the same as in mainland China or Taiwan, even after decades in USA.

    So if people in West want chinese listening to them, unfortunately, they have to either live in China for several years or study chinese culture for a while. For example, Chinese strongly believe a united China is a must for a prosperous China, as thousand years of history taught them that, that has nothing to do with CCP or communism. That believe has become something like religion and cant be offended. It is ridiculous that West politicans, media and experts of China didnt know that when they tried to make Tibet a big issue against China.

  55. Daniel Says:

    I typed in a superior sense of self because I couldn’t think of words to describe it in a way where people won’t misunderstand it or want to twist it to their own perceptions instead of what I wanted to mean.
    I thought whether to use supremists, chauvinist, and other words but I think why I couldn’t use it was how so many people abused those terms. Those words were so used where if people might think of many different definitions or concepts in their head. I’m aware that it can be used in an extreme fashion yet it also does not have to.

    I understand this frustration wahaha is saying because I have met many people that was describe (in my experiences, it was mostly Christian missionaries). One time I was in a forum where people wanted to protest against the Olympic games. I typed how I felt it was more complex and that to truly have an impact one has to live among them and be active participants in the society or make your own community a living example of how to handle problems of the same magnitude of China so it won’t have any excuses, along with protests if necessary but it has to change within. Let’s just say that no one supported me and many unpleasent words were exchanged.

    On an individual level to a national level, most of the time it is one’s self that allows that to bother you. Those people are going hide behind their freedom of speech in one way or use whatever literature or reasoning to support them or make up something. If they don’t care about their words, then there is no reason why one should care about it either. Even if China becomes very powerful in man ways, people are going to criticize it for something. Doesn’t mean one has to accept it all. There are plenty of reasonable people who can see such “playing of the words” and are learning. Some critiques are useful and well-hearted but others are not.

  56. Buxi Says:


    I think your experience in Europe is very typical too… it’s not as if the first thing that popped up in everyone’s mouth was “wow this place is lame compared to China!” We were all on vacation, and we were impressed by the beauty of what we saw. (I talked about this before; I was really impressed by Paris. I happened to be there the day after France won the World Cup in 2006…)

    But for the people that we spent a few minutes chatting to… where are you from in China, where’ve you been, where are you going… it seemed to easily transition into a comparison kind of discussion. I think having that comparison is healthy right now; China is trying to catch up to the rest of the world, and to do that, we have to start by learning about the rest of the world.

  57. Wahaha Says:


    I didnt blame you. We chinese should be blamed too for such situation too, some chinese were too emotional sometimes. For example, in my opinion, I think we overracted to Sharon Stone’s comment.

    I just pointed out that, lot of time, People in West didnt pay enough attention to the problems we chinese care. For example, the Weng’an incident, I think every educated chinese care how the government will handle the problem, but West media obviously didnt have much interest in it.

    Like I said, lot of time, we chinese are talking about “I am hungry” and people from West try to teach us why high cholesterol is bad for health. This has caused too much misunderstanding, and sometimes, hatred.

  58. FOARP Says:

    @BMY – After consulting with my MI6 colleagues (MI5 is the internal security branch – we look down on those pansies) I believe the translation should be something like “White elephants” – i.e., something you spend a lot on just to make yourself look good.

  59. Buxi Says:

    @Hemulen / FOARP,

    WSJ led me to this gallery showing pictures of Nanjing, then (1990) and now (2006):


    Makes me wish I had known to take more pictures back then… but things hadn’t changed for 100 years, who knew everything would be different today. Like I said, we used to live near gulou (second picture from the right)… things have reaaaally changed.

  60. Dan po Says:

    The U.S. is a rich country while China ,as most american would like to call it, is still a backward country with a budget probably 1/20th of that of the U.S. If China can build those building and the U.S. can’t then you will know where corruption is taking place.

  61. Wahaha Says:

    Dan po,

    Read this :


    It is a government of corporations, by corporations, and for corporations.

    I guess it is legal to “corrupt” by corporations in America.

  62. Daniel Says:

    Maybe a lot of people are just too used to the phrase “catching up with the world” or “west”. I understand the historical rhetoric behind these words, but I wouldn’t take it as the raison d’etre. Even the most progressive communities one can find in the world can still be considered as a “work-in-progress”. Learning about the world entails both seeing the negative and positive aspects which actually makes sense as to why some places appeared more “grand” than others.

  63. S.K. Cheung Says:

    I don’t think it’s necessarily a problem that China is building grand public buildings in “small” cities, when such buildings are meant to service large numbers of people. However, it’s pointless to compare “small” Chinese city to “small” US city, since the population difference is of 2-3 orders of magnitude.

    It would be interesting to know if these new buildings are representative of their surroundings…ie are the surrounding buildings equally “nice”, or are these new government digs palaces rising in the middle of slums? If it is the former, then there’s really no problem.

    Ultimately, the government needs an effective place to do its work, and if none exists, then obviously they must build anew. But when it comes to usage of public funds, I think the bottom line is whether those funds were used efficiently, or whether the public good could be advanced further if the buildings cost less and the remaining money was used to provide more/better services.

  64. weiji2001 Says:

    The anthropologist, Joseph Campbell, once said that if you wanted to understand what was the most important thing for a civilization, then look at the tallest structures.

    You are all arguing culture here, but what you’re ignoring is the fact that these mega buildings looming over the people in smaller Chinese cities are The State.

    “The State is God” these buildings tell you — a clear message of the complete authoritative control The State has over Chinese lives.

    Below the buildings are the poor, the powerless, the disenfranchised. Inside the building are the lucky few who are the “priests” serving the god. The outsiders must solicit the insiders for aid, for support, for sustenance for their very existence.

    Comparatively, those of you who have traveled through Europe still see the remnants of the past power of the Church, as old churches were always built higher and taller than all other buildings.

    What’s tall in the US? Well, from Buxi’s collection, it certainly isn’t any state or federal building. Look at New York, San Francisco, or Chicago — what do you see? Highrises are everywhere, filled with people making money.

    Same goes for HK, Singapore and Taipei.

  65. Opersai Says:


    Might I know how you know that “below the buildings are the poor, the powerless, the disenfranchised”? How are you so sure these government building are the tallest? or the only tall building?


  1. China Journal : Best of the China Blogs: July 9

Leave a Reply