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City vetoes "beer fountain" amid criticism
Updated: 2005-08-10 20:09

The northeastern China city of Harbin vetoed a much criticized "beer fountain" during the Fourth Harbin International Beer Festival that opened here last weekend.

The eye-catching beer fountain, sponsored by Harbin Brewery Group, has induced widespread criticism from the general public, particularly after its brief rehearsal earlier last week.

"It's a shame," said Zhao Shouzhi, a peasant farmer from Linkoucounty who witnessed the rehearsal when she was in Harbin to visit her relatives. "Obviously they have no idea how hard it is to growthe grain that is used to brew the beer they squander."

A local media report said the fountain would consume 90 tons of beer -- which involves 1,800 tons of water, 9,000 kilograms of coal, 14,400 kilowatt-hours of electricity and 18,000 kilograms of grain that can feed a three-member family for 20 years at least.

"It's OK for businesses to put up eye-catching ads but it's definitely not OK to squander public resources," said Liu Yu, a Heilongjiang University student, "We're not rich enough to squander scarce public resources like that. So many people cannot even afford a beer."

Prof. You Liying with Heilongjiang University's School of Economics and Business Administration criticized the corporate behavior as "contrary to the country's goal to build a resource-efficient society".

"It will eventually ruin the business itself because such behaviors will only mar its corporate image," she said.

A different story

In an interview with Xinhua on Sunday, however, Fu Hui, chief operation manager of Harbin Brewery Group, told a different story.

"We just wanted to highlight the beer culture that is deep-rooted in Harbin," he said. "When we first tried the beer fountain, we only mixed one ton of beer though the capacity of the fountain pond was 400 tons. After all, to make it smell like beer is enough."

Fu insisted his company did not intend to waste that much grainor coal. "Even the beer we mixed was residue from our workshop that had to be thrown away anyway. We know well enough to economize. Our company's success is a rags-to-riches story."

Organizers of the beer festival declined to comment which storywas true. "We're not in a position to give any details," said an employee with the organizing committee who gave only his family name as Zhang.

But apparently responding to the high pressure from the media and citizens, they decided at the last moment to replace beer withwater at the fountain.

But even that could not pacify public anger. People cannot helpasking: how could anyone come up with such a lavish idea when the whole country has been told repeatedly to economize? And how couldthe organizers of the event approve of the idea?

"It's not the government that is to foot the bill," Zhang told Xinhua. "The whole event was sponsored by Anheuser-Busch urban development fund."

According to Zhang, the fund will sponsor 8 million yuan (964,000 US dollars) a year to assist Harbin's urban development in thecoming eight years. Besides the beer festival, it was also to foster education in the underdevelopment regions of the city and to sponsor international trade fairs to make the city better known in the world.

Moderate consumption: key to resource efficiency

"The beer fountain scandal is not a coincidence," said Wu Hengju, an economist with Heilongjiang Provincial Academy of Social Sciences. "It's just one of the many examples of extravagance."

Behind the extravagance, however, is a lack of social responsibility and apathy towards prodigality, said Wu.

"If we squander what we have today, we'll have nothing left tomorrow," said You Liying, a Heilongjiang University professor. "It's more than the government's job to build a resource-efficiency society -- each business, each individual person has his own role to play."

Big companies in particular, she said, should learn to economize resources consumption.

"Excessive packaging, for example, is a big problem nowadays. Many domestic manufacturers like to adorn their products with extravagant and unnecessary packaging material, and many consumersare quite willing to open their wallets," she said.

The forthcoming Mid-Autumn Festival, which is to fall in mid September, for example, will test how successful China is in building a resource-efficient society.

In the past decade, mooncakes -- a traditional dim sum marking the festival -- were put in extremely expensive boxes made of wood, silk or even gold to become presentable gifts.

When mooncake manufacturers gathered in Beijing last month for a presentation of this year's products, many vowed to economize onpackaging and limit the price for each pack of the dessert to around 100 yuan (12 US dollars).

"It's essential to build a healthy consumer culture," said Wu Hengju. "one that encourages moderate consumption and denounces extravagance."

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