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.