I was considerably saddened by a piece of news widely
reported last week.
Wuhan, my hometown in Central China, plans to sell the right to name streets,
bridges, public plazas and high-rise buildings to businesses in exchange for
money the municipal government desperately needs to make up for a "funding
shortage in government operations."
I feel sad for two reasons. First, my beloved hometown has lapsed to such a
state that it has to sell locality names for cash. Second, places reminiscent of
my childhood might acquire aliases reeking of commercialism.
Of course the nostalgic sentiment of old diehards like me is negligible in
the city's lofty drive for modernization. But some of my columnist colleagues'
arguments are not that easy to negate.
They pointed out that forcing the name of a manufacturer of a certain product
on a street may cause embarrassment for the residents.
This is true. I can imagine how my former neighbours in Renshou Street
(meaning benevolence and longevity) would feel if the Enwei pharmaceutical
company, known for producing a cleanser specially used by women, bought their
street name in downtown Wuhan.
I also support another argument raised by critics questioning the rationality
of the plan.
They said frequent changes of street name, which is likely given the
potential turnover of buyers, would cause a lot of trouble for residents. They
would have to frequently change their addresses and even ID cards. This is an
insightful observation on the matter.
What worries me most, however, is the capability of the officials in my
hometown to manage the city.
As the managers of a city, one of the major missions of government officials
is to create favourable conditions for the local economy to grow. In other words
they are to help generate wealth rather than sell resources for money.
In my childhood, and many years later, I was proud of my city, because it was
the fourth-largest economy in China second only to Shanghai, Beijing and Tianjin
before the beginning of the reform drive in the early 1980s. Since then, its
position in the ranking of gross domestic product (GDP) has been falling. Last
year it ranked 17th of the nation's 100 most developed cities, and the per
capita GDP was 14th, which is a more significant indicator of a place's wealth
It should be pointed out that the fact Wuhan still remains among the top
one-fifth in the rankings should largely be attributed to the city's historical
legacy as an industrial and commercial hub of the nation, and to the huge
investment from the central government during the years of the centrally planned
These advantages have given the city a favourable foundation in terms of
Last year, the National Association of City Mayors published a ranking of the
"overall strength of China's 50 major cities." This "strength" refers to a
city's various resources usable for potential development.
The study compared indices such as human resources, economic resources,
transport capacity and the city's fame value. Wuhan ranked seventh in the
One cannot deny that the city's development in the past few decades
contributed to the build-up of these favourable conditions. But the gap between
its GDP ranking (17th) and the resources ranking (7th) is still glaring. It
suggests that there is still much to be desired in the government's efforts to
develop the local economy.
A World Bank study released a few days ago also backs this line of thought.
The study compared the investment climate of 120 Chinese cities and issued a
number of rankings in terms of investment climate and government efficiency. In
the ranking of the investment climate for domestic firms, Wuhan came 19th, but
in the ranking of government effectiveness, the city placed 78th.
I do hope the officials of my hometown improve their way of working.
(China Daily 11/15/2006 page4)