Words of Wisdom from a Chinese official

No, not about the Sopranos. Didn’t see any of this season; don’t want to hear or read about the finale; will get the whole-season boxed set for $5 or so from the local dealer when it’s ready in the next few days.

According to today’s (English-language, state-controlled) China Daily, the vice-minister of Construction, Qiu Baoxing, has noticed that non-stop bulldozing, paving, and skyscraper-building have been less than ideal for China’s cultural and architectural patrimony.

Indeed, he goes so far as to compare the cultural/architectural effects of today’s gilded age construction boom to those of China’s two outright catastrophes of the past half century: the Great Leap Forward of the 1950s and the Cultural Revolution of the late 1960s and early 1970s.

(As Adam Minter has noted, the China Daily is always careful to refer to the latter as the “cultural revolution” — in quotes, lower case, one of many indications of official discomfort with any discussion of that era.) This article and slide show, by Howard French in yesterday’s New York Times, gives an indication of what is being lost here in Shanghai as the land developers run wild.

The newspaper ran a quote from Vice-Minister Qiu in a separate, highlighted box. As China razes the old and rebuilds the often-featureless new, he said, “It is like a thousand cities having the same appearance.”

I still have about 980 cities to go before I could say for sure, but based on what I’ve seen he’s right. I hope the vice minister’s words indicate actual adjustments in policy — not just a signal to foreign readers that the government is aware of a problem it knows the outside world is upset about.