Liu Shinan

Down with wasteful destruction

By Liu Shinan (China Daily)
Updated: 2007-01-10 06:30
Large Medium Small

Down with wasteful destructionA 20-story tower was brought down by a controlled blast on Saturday in Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province.

News reports said the explosion was a perfect success: Little impact was caused to the environment thanks to advanced technology employing twice the average amount of dynamite used for similar buildings because the tower was "very strong" with a structure of reinforced concrete.

Since it was in such a good condition, I wonder why the building was torn down. According to reports, the building had to be removed to make way for new development. An additional major reason is that the building, only 500 meters from West Lake, marred the "scenic beauty" of the world famous tourist attraction.

The blast has drawn extensive criticism. Many critics blame the decision-makers for their "short-sightedness" in constructing the building 13 years ago. Undoubtedly, these decision-makers do deserve criticism. If they had not acted on rash impulse in the construction project, if they had given more consideration to the design of the building with regard to its surroundings, there would not be today's regrettable (actually, dreadful) destruction.

Down with wasteful destructionHowever, the decision of today's decision-makers is also questionable. Is it really a cogent argument that the building must go?

The rationale for destroying the tower is that it will remove a blemish from the otherwise perfect West Lake scenery. My question is: Has anybody thought of the cost of the blast? I do not mean the expense of the explosives. I mean the value of the tower. The tower was reportedly built in 1993 with an investment of more than 20 million yuan ($2.5 million) and experts said it could stand for at least 100 years. Why couldn't the building continue to be used? Does the alleged renaissance of West Lake's beauty really merit this cost? And was the visual damage the tower inflicted on the scenery really that serious?

The tower was a teaching building of Zhejiang University. In other words, the building was constructed with public money since the university is a State-owned institution. But let us not be so quick to blame the local government for wasting taxpayers' money, since the property was reportedly sold to a Malaysian developer for 2.46 billion yuan ($315.3 million). And let us assume that the cost of the tower was included in the deal, hence there was no loss to taxpayers. Even so, the waste is still intolerable. Money cannot buy the right to dissipate either natural resources or artificial wealth.

The destruction of the building also represents grave disrespect for the architects and builders, who doubtlessly feel immense pain to see their child perish after only 13 years.

Controlled explosions of old buildings have been widespread in China in recent years. Just one day after the Hangzhou tower was demolished, a 22-story tower was brought down in Qingdao, Shandong Province, East China. Four days earlier, a tower was blasted in Guangzhou in South China's Guangdong Province.

One must admit that some of the buildings do need to be destroyed because they are not safe or because they stand in the way of vitally necessary infrastructure projects. But one cannot deny that many of these buildings are still in good condition. Their destruction is a disgusting act of dissipation.

I have not investigated whether similar things happened in Western countries during their development. But I know that Chinese ethics do not tolerate such behavior. The Chinese language has a vivid word to describe such spendthrifts baijiazi, literally an unfilial son who dissipates the family's fortune.


(China Daily 01/10/2007 page10)