Opinion / Chen Weihua

Shanghai's wrong way of learning a right lesson

By Chen Weihua (China Daily) Updated: 2015-01-09 09:59

Shanghai's wrong way of learning a right lesson

Flowers are placed on Tuesday at the site where 36 people were killed in a stampede during a New Year's Eve celebration on the Bund in Shanghai. DING TING / XINHUA

The New Year's Eve stampede in Shanghai in which 36 people died and 49 were injured was heartbreaking not only because most of the victims were young, many in their 20s, but also because it happened in China's most modern metropolis.

The city authorities, especially the police department, should take the blame for poor crowd management and control, or inadequate preparation for the event. They had assigned only about 1,200 police officers to manage a crowd of about 300,000.

The Bund, or the waterfront along the Huangpu River where the stampede took place, was probably the most watched area on surveillance cameras in Shanghai on that fateful night, so it would be futile to cite lack of knowledge about the growing crowd there as an excuse.

As an investigation into the tragedy gets under way, many people are anxious to know who should be held responsible for the tragedy.

Does the Shanghai government lack the ability to handle such a large crowd? Experience of light shows in previous years proves otherwise.

This year, it seems the city authorities simply let their guard down for the year's largest gathering despite announcing earlier that the event could be cancelled because of the expected massive crowd.

The Shanghai authorities' response to the tragedy is even more troubling. They have announced the cancellation of the Lantern Festival light show at Guyi Garden, a well-known Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) estate in suburban Shanghai. Also, they are considering canceling the annual Lantern Festival show at Yuyuan Garden in downtown Shanghai.

Such a response to the Bund tragedy suggests that the Shanghai authorities no longer believe they have the capability to manage and control crowds during festival-celebrating events such as the one at Yuyuan Garden, which have been held for decades. Such lack of confidence calls into question the authorities' ability to manage a world-class metropolis.

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