Amid Poverty, Chinese Officials Splurge on Lavish Vanity Projects

At The Los Angeles Times, David Pierson and Jonathan Kaiman survey the mass of “face projects” built by China’s local governments in recent years.

There are no highways running through this impoverished rural county. Children study in dilapidated schoolhouses. On many streets, you’re just as likely to run into a chicken as you are a pedestrian.

Yet the Wangjiang local government is constructing a headquarters on a slab of land the size of the Pentagon building — a sprawling edifice of granite and glass with a $10-million price tag in a county where the average resident earns $639 a year ….

It’s a common phenomenon in China. Like teenagers with their first credit card, local officials armed with cheap state loans and money from land sales are splurging on lavish projects of dubious value.

In growth-obsessed China, officials’ careers are judged by how well they meet development targets set by Beijing. The easiest and fastest way to juice growth figures is to borrow money and build something. The grander the edifice or attraction, the thinking goes, the more authority it projects.

The article catalogues projects ranging from a hotel shaped like a ping-pong bat (accompanied by stadiums modelled on various balls (not to scale)) to the world’s tallest mechanical clock tower. See also the monstrous offices of the Yinchuan Transportation Bureau, the empty city of Ordos, and the Versailles-like edifice constructed by a Harbin pharmaceutical SOE. These projects often fuel land disputes (see CDT coverage here), which are the trigger for an estimated two-thirds or more of the tens of thousands of “mass incidents” in rural China each year.


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