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Looking for trouble
( 2003-10-16 15:40) (Shanghai Star)

Among all his nicknames - such as "Street Secretary", "City's Woodpecker" and "Old Yang" - 76-year-old Yang Cunyi prefers the title of "Senior Counsellor".

"It was a great honour when I first got that title from the city's leadership," said Yang, who has spent six years raising problems and providing advice on the city's image such as littering, spitting and jaywalking.

As a member of the Shanghai Citizen Inspection Team first established in 1998, Yang started his new career at the age of 70 - taking up cameras to record local residents' bad habits and customs. He would always take two cameras with him whenever he went out.

In his eyes, pictures can vividly demonstrate something is true even though what he recorded might be ugly and nasty.

"Pictures were even better than a description," he said. "As I showed them to relevant authorities, they were able to see the problems immediately, which helped to get a solution."

Innovative move

The inspection team was set up in 1998 with the opening of the city's summer hotline, because problems such as rubbish, noise, water and electricity would jump in summer days because of high temperatures. The hotline provided a channel for local residents to speak out about their troubles, and the team shouldered the responsibility for bridging the gap between ordinary people and the authorities.

"The first team of 24 members were all warm-hearted local citizens, and we visited various neighbourhoods to collect advice. Although the team only lasted a week, our role won high praise from city leaders and local residents," he recalled.

Such an approach has been gradually picked up by different districts, and the team now boasts a total of 218 citizen inspectors, with 202 working for different districts.

"Now, not only foreigners but also migrant workers join us," he said proudly.

In the past six years, Yang had taken a total of more than 30,000 pictures. Although all his expenses are paid for from his own pocket, he declined to talk about the cost. What is rooted in Yang's mind is a very simple idea, that a Shanghai citizen should do something for the city's development.

He also repeatedly stressed that "Ordinary people's concerns are not insignificant."

When Yang went out, what attracted his attention was not splendid buildings but illegal advertisements on walls and lamp polls, littering, random parking and illegal vendors. Also, he would notice if passages for blind people were obstructed, or if the location of advertisement hoardings were correct - recording it all with his cameras.

He cited the Oriental Newspaper and Magazine booths which are scattered around the city as an example.

The booths, which appeared in the city in 1999, became an important resource for laid-off workers and poor families in the city, and the little kiosks, all with the same design, became a unique scene along roads in the city.

However, Yang said, although the booths play a very important role in the city, many of them set up on sideways.

"Also, many booths are located at crossings where they can get more customers, yet their conveniences bring trouble to passers-by," he explained. "The booths may force pedestrians to walk on bike lanes or even vehicle lanes, and that could be dangerous."

In addition to taking pictures, he would also sort them out to make into albums.

Celebrity status

"I also write reports, and then send the articles together with albums to relevant bureau directors or the Shanghai Mayor," he said.

Due to his persistence and relentless efforts, he is now known to almost every leader of the different bureaux. Yet, the old man also encountered a difficult beginning.

"I got the cold shoulder at first," he said. "When I went to complain, some staff just jotted down some notes or put my reports aside without taking a look, and I got no feedback at all."

However, Yang visited them again and again, sometimes complaining directly to the municipal leaders.

To his pride, his advice and suggestions won recognition in the city, and Huang Ju, former Secretary of the Shanghai Party Committee, and Han Zheng, the current mayor of Shanghai, personally endorsed Yang's advice in 2000 and 2003 respectively.

It was Yang who put forward a proposal in 1993 that high walls around communities should be changed into low fences, so people walking outside could also see the trees and flowers which grow inside the communities.

His advice was finally accepted by the local government that year, and the project was listed as a major municipal task for 1993.

Nowadays, low fences have substituted for the walls at many communities, and the former hidden scenery now greatly beautifies the city's streets outside.

Big following

Yang's work also made him popular with ordinary residents. Once, when an illegal vendor was trying to seize his camera when he was taking pictures, he was identified by some passers-by, who successfully helped him out of danger.

To make more people aware of the city's image, Yang has many young followers - who he calls "apprentices" - to help him.

He Ting, a 17-year-old student got to know Yang in 2002 after she wrote a letter to Mayor Han Zheng calling on people to pay attention to spitting. The girl not only followed Yang to visit communities, but also picked up her own cameras to follow in Yang's footsteps.

Ye Junyi, a new university graduate of 2003, might be Yang's newest apprentice. He is now assisting Yang in solving the toilet problem for taxi drivers.

"Although there are many public toilets around the city, taxi drivers cannot use them because they can be fined by the police for random parking," Yang said. "Thus, many drivers have to relieve themselves at secret places along small streets."

However, for Ye, it wasn't such problems which aroused his attention.

"I have followed 'Old Yang' and visited the traffic police and the municipal Taxi Administration, and I am learning to observe things which happen around me yet were ignored in the past," he said. "I also won a deeper understanding of loving and caring for the city."

Yang is hoping more people can join his work, because in his eyes, his role is not only to be a woodpecker tapping to find faults, but also a speaker seeking to win support and understanding.

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