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A Little Background on the Shenanigans in Shanghai

We’ve been covering the events in Shanghai for Ethical Corporation readers as an increasing number of senior officials have been implicated in the city’s pension fund scandal – it’s recently been announced that the man who runs the Shanghai F1 race track has been pulled in for questioning. The fall out continues – and one upshot is that companies with an exposure in Shanghai (notably property companies) may find this affecting their business operations, ability to raise finance or reputations if they are linked to disgraced politicians.

Anyway, the biggest head to roll so far is Chen Liangyu, formerly the Party Secretary for Shanghai – this is the most important post in the city in reality. So here are some previous shenanigans Mr Chen has been involved in for the background:

Yangshan – the Yangshan Deepwater Port is pre-eminent among Chen’s legacy to Shanghai and was controversial from the start. Ship captains didn’t like the location due to fast running waters, Ningbo was considered a better location but didn’t have the political clout to change the decision. The entire complex was widely known to be Chen Liangyu’s pet project. Despite the arguments, the port’s construction moved ahead. A major problem, little reported, was that in order to meet the tight deadlines for phase one of the port, work continued throughout the winter in appalling weather conditions – the result: a scary number of workers lost at sea, and in one instance, more fatalities when a ship sent to rescue men in trouble also lost several of its crew. Phase one was completed on time, and opened without some workers being able to attend due to their detention at the bottom of the sea. When the port did open, it was an instant success due to an order that all lines shipping to Europe relocate their operations there. One party of stunned European shippers we accompanied to the port noted that the port lacked a rail link – deemed fairly essential for efficiently offloading and on-shipping cargo. It seems that Shanghai could influence most things but not the lumbering Ministry of Railways.

Chongming – Comrade Chen led the charge to spoil the delightful car free nature reserve and migratory bird haven of Chongming Island, offshore from Shanghai. With Shanghai desperately short of green space and in urgent need of a surrounding ‘green lung’ to limit the polluting effects of untrammelled urbanisation and local industry, it was decided to destroy Chongming and turn it into part of the world’s largest shipyard complex bringing together the former Jiangnan yard and two others. Massive shipyards operating 24 hours a day are not considered attractive, either by holiday makers in need of recuperation, or migratory birds looking to rest their tired wings. Chen did not display many ornithological friendly tendencies. Of course, we are told that Shanghai residents are delighted by being home to the world’s largest shipyard – however, the hundreds of Chongming islanders now driving taxis around Shanghai invariably beg to differ at great length.

EXPO – Comrade Chen championed EXPO fever as his answer to Beijing’s Olympic bid. At the time, we asked a random sample of 50 Shanghainese if they were proud to be hosting EXPO 2010 – all 50 unanimously evinced pride. We asked the same 50 to describe the operation and point of an EXPO – all 50 admitted they didn’t really know what an EXPO was. Now 54,000 people are being relocated to make way for the EXPO tents. When the Shanghai media decided that news of Olympics 2008 preparations interested people more than EXPO developments, the local papers were ordered to restrict their reporting of 2008 news to the minimum stipulated by Beijing, and emphasis EXPO.

Compensation – Comrade Chen was involved in various arguments over the level and form of compensation and relocation payments made to Shanghai citizens as their homes were cleared for development in the city centre. Many were unhappy at low compensation rates and relocation to the margins of the municipality. Notable was the row over Jing’an district, were residents protested rushed relocation and poor compensation rates – they were arrested en-masse, prevented from travelling to Beijing to petition and their lawyer was arrested on charges of revealing state secrets and spreading Christianity. The same year, 14 other Shanghai lawyers had their licenses to practise removed for taking similar compensation cases.

Tongzhis – Perhaps the least offensive, but most bizarre, fiasco was Chen’s short lived campaign a couple of years ago to change Shanghai’s service industry etiquette. He criticised the widespread use of the terms xiaojie and xiansheng (Miss and Mr) as terms for addressing waitresses and waiters in restaurants, bars, etc. Too bourgeois, and rarely heard in Beijing. Keen to appear less bourgeois, yet not to imitate Beijing, Chen suggested using the term tongzhi (comrade) as a unisex mode of address for service workers. More than anything else, this revealed the disconnection between leaders and masses – in the intervening years since their elevation to the hallowed corridors of Shanghai City Hall, the term tongzhi had become widespread as a slang word for gay men. Someone eventually plucked up the courage to whisper in the Party Secretary’s ear, and the idea was quietly dropped.

Paul French, China Editor, Ethical Corporation

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