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

The Lantern Festival show offers the Shanghai authorities a good chance to prove they can effectively control and manage crowds. Canceling the show is not the right answer to safety concerns, better planning and better preparation are. Yet responses like the one in Shanghai is nothing new in Chinese cities. People are often advised to stay home and avoid visiting public places after a public tragedy, be it a stampede or the killing of innocent people by criminals or terrorists.

While Shanghai residents like their city to be compared with New York City, the Big Apple's response to a tragedy or crisis is often starkly different from Shanghai's. Following an abortive attempt by extremists to trigger a car-bomb explosion in Times Square in May 2010, the then mayor Michael Bloomberg urged people to go about their business in normal fashion to show that New Yorkers can't be defeated by terrorists. Of course, the New York Police Department and even the National Guard were deployed in subway and over-ground train stations and other major public spots to protect the people.

The Big Apple's New Year's countdown, which has been held in Times Square since 1907, is the best example of crowd management. The event was not cancelled even on Dec 31, 2001, although the US had suffered the worst attack on its mainland just three and half months ago.

For several years, I have been observing first-hand how NYPD manages and controls the crowd right from the first arrivals at Times Square in early afternoon. Of course, the about 1 million people who gather at the square are orderly and pretty well behaved, making police officers' job relatively easy.

Shanghai officials, especially top police officers, should visit New York City to see how it handles such large crowds and why it remains the top international city. And they must remember that canceling the Lantern Festival shows is not a good way of demonstrating that Shanghai has learnt a lesson from the bloody tragedy on the Bund.

The author, based in Washington, is deputy editor of China Daily USA.

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