Zhu Shangtong (朱尚同), an 82-year-old retired cadre former deputy mayor of Changsha, issued a rare “letter to higher authorities” yesterday via Xinhua Online and other sites, to complain about the waste and inconvenience caused by a government-funded project for the beautification of Changsha, the capital of Hunan province. It is extremely rare for former or standing Chinese Communist Party officials of such high rank to make such accusations so publicly.
According to Zhu Shangtong’s letter, the local Changsha project is being bankrolled by the government — and ultimately, of course, taxpayers — to the tune of 200 million yuan, or roughly 30.8 million US dollars. Zhu’s letter was posted by Guangzhou-based journalist Zhou Xiaoyun (周筱赟) to at least 10 blog sites and online forums in the early hours of May 19. Some of these posts were still live as late at 2pm yesterday, but all were taken down today.
[ABOVE: Zhu Shangtong, former deputy mayor of Changsha.]
The following is a list of just a few links where information about the Changsha project and Zhu’s complaints was posted yesterday, most all of them still available by early afternoon. They now uniformly return errors, or say content does not exist.
QQ blog post
Tianya Public Forum post
KDnet Forum post
Sina Weibo post
Phoenix Online blog post
Here is our archived file for coverage of the case at the QQ blog of Zhou Xiaoyun. Here is our archived file for coverage of the case at Zhou Xiaoyun’s microblog at Sina Weibo.
With the exception of the Southern Metropolis Daily and the New Express, both major commercial papers in the southern city of Guangzhou, no mainland media covered the allegations made by Zhu Shangtong today. Zhu confirmed to both papers that he was indeed the author of the letter circulating online.
In an interview with the New Express, Zhu Shangtong revealed that local propaganda leaders in Changsha quickly reached him on May 19 to request that he remove the posts circulating on the Internet. When the paper asked whether he had agreed, he responded: “I’m not wrong on this, so why should they be taken down? Actually, the posts online weren’t done by me [but by others], but as to the content I stand behind it.”
Yang Changjiang (杨长江), head of Changsha’s propaganda department, responded to the New Express: “I can say quite responsibly that the facts in the content online differ widely from the truth.” Yang said that the price tag of the pilot project in the Huoxing residential district in question was not 200 million yuan, but rather 80 million yuan.
The following is a quick partial translation of Zhou’s letter, which calls on the State Council and the Central Culture Office to put a stop to “this sort of false and impractical movement.”
“Concerning the City of Changsha’s ‘Improving the City Environment’ (Pilot)”
An Open Letter on the Situation
In recent months, as the city of Changsha has been in the midst of a pilot scheme for “improving the city environment” (优化市区环境) as part of its civilized city building project there has been profligate spending of state funds (the tax revenues of ordinary people), with a heavy emphasis on outward form and a light attitude toward efficiency. It is an absurd phenomenon that harms and harasses the people.
Under the call of gathering strength for the accomplishing of great things, marshaling forces to create a civilized city, the Huoxing Office of [Changsha’s] Furong District has already become a major construction zone, there is a general feeling of insecurity, and those opposed vastly outnumber those in support. I request that the central government think deeply about this!
In the midst of its development, it is a good thing for a city to be improved in good time and order. But this should distinguish between different areas and different buildings, that being fixed which needs fixing, saving what can be saved, and the bill being picked up by the right parties — a balanced process that happens over years. But in a rush to capture civilized city status, with a focus on instant benefits and under pressure from an aggrandized policy [of promoting “civilized” cities], things that should be matters of responsibility individuals and businesses have been financed by the state. It is our view that this pursuit of superficial glory and outer appearance without thought to cost is highly unsatisfactory.
For more than a month now the Huoxing Residential Committee pilot project has comprehensively rolled out this project of “improvement” (优化), rushing into mass action and saying publicly that “this action was dictated by our superiors” (这种作法，是上面定的), refusing to hear different opinions at all. Just as the People’s Daily editorial said on April 28, they “exercise their power to suppress other voices,” and even manufacture fake news, doing whatever pleases their superiors. If they just had the heart to go and visit with residents, with various organs and shops, [they would find that] perhaps everyone is opposed. But mainstream public opinion (for example, Changsha Evening Post has reported saying that the masses uniformly approve of these methods) is sharply at odds with the broader will of the people [ie, real public opinion], as though either side is talking about a different place altogether. Clearly, the subjective assumptions of certain officials have created fallout that contributes to instability and disharmony.
Here are some examples:
Within the scope of the project, all street-side building along major and minor streets, which were originally red-brick or older but still quite sound cement-brick structures, have all been ordered to be made over with tiles. For some streets this is taken even further, and some buildings already laid with decent tiling, but not conforming to the uniform specifications [of the project] (in the vicinity of the Gaoqiao Market, for example), are having paint of a different color applied over the tiling (and what happens after the rains of May and the beating sun have turned this paint grotesque and gaudy?). This has even gone to the point of water holding tanks on top of high-rise apartments being re-painted and decorated. Outer walls along the street, whether major thoroughfares or tiny alleys, some of them in fine condition, have all been newly painted. So from now on, is the government prepared to foot the bill for repairing the outer walls of all private residences?
Below are several photos posted with Zhu Shangtong’s letter, showing the so-called “pilot” project in progress in the Huoxing residential area of Changsha: