Page 1 of
WUKONG China's dented image
projects By Wu Zhong, China
HONG KONG - In China, some
infrastructure projects are known as "image
projects", or signature projects that are launched
and built not so much for the convenience or
interests of people but mainly to show off the
"correct leadership" and performance of officials
in charge - ie, to polish their image.
With the fall of Shanghai Communist Party
secretary Chen Liangyu last September, two such
"image projects" in Shanghai
been scrapped or suspended, which further
symbolizes how quickly the influence of the
so-called Shanghai clique is diminishing.
The first is the project to build the
world's largest Ferris wheel, the "Shanghai Star",
in China's largest commercial metropolis.
As early as mid-2002, the then Shanghai
government announced its plans to add a giant
Ferris wheel to its ultra-modern skyline by 2005
that would overtake the London Eye as the biggest
in the world.
In late 2002, Hu Jintao
replaced Jiang Zemin as the general secretary of
the Chinese Communist Party and, in March 2003,
Wen Jiabao replaced Zhu Rongji as the premier.
Both Jiang and Zhu were former Shanghai leaders
and known to have given their favored support to
In early 2004, Hu
and Wen started to impose macroeconomic controls
to rein in the country's economy, putting a brake
on the construction of impractical, unneeded
But Chen was defiant of
Beijing's belt-tightening policy. So after a brief
period of silence, Shanghai began in early 2005 to
beat the gongs again to clear the way for the
construction of the Shanghai Star project. The
Shanghai media declared then that the Ferris wheel
was part of Shanghai's drive to become one of
Asia's foremost entertainment and shopping
And to further justify the plan,
the giant wheel was said to be one of a series of
vast construction projects to be completed in time
for the 2010 World Expo in Shanghai. When
completed in 2008, the wheel, built on top of a
50m-high entertainment complex, would spin
alongside the Huangpu River, just north of the
However, three months
after Chen's dismissal, Shanghai Mayor Han Zheng,
who was named acting party secretary of the city
immediately after Chen's fall, announced in
January the cancellation of the Shanghai Star
project, apparently for its "political
The second is the even
more controversial plan to build a 35 billion yuan
(US$4.58 billion), 175-kilometer high-speed
magnetic-levitation (maglev) train route linking
Shanghai to Hangzhou, the scenic capital city of
neighboring Zhejiang province.
now operates the world's only commercial maglev
system on a 30km run between Shanghai's financial
district and the city's Pudong airport.
Construction of the Shanghai Maglev began in March
2001, and public service commenced on January 1,
The Shanghai Maglev could hardly be
called a commercial success. Because of its unique
technology, Shanghai Maglev could not be linked to
the Shanghai underground mass-transit system, and
as such it virtually goes nowhere. Travelers often
complain that the Maglev train doesn't really drop
them off anywhere convenient and they still have
to take a taxi to their destinations. It is
expensive - 50 yuan (US$5.40) for a one-way
ticket) - which also deters potential passengers.
As a result, the trains are 80% empty, making the
service commercially non-viable.
Nevertheless, the Shanghai government has
still been eager to build more maglev rail links
to other cities.
Several years ago, when
the Chinese government began to plan for a new
1,400km high-speed railway linking Beijing to
Shanghai, there was a proposal to use the maglev
technology, which sparked fierce debates.
Specialists and Ministry of Railway officials
strongly opposed the proposal because of its
impracticality, high costs and high risks. In the
end, the central government vetoed the proposal.
However, early last year, Beijing gave the
green light to Shanghai's plan to build the
Shanghai-Hangzhou maglev railway, supposedly under
political pressure from the Shanghai clique. The
Shanghai-Hangzhou railway is more or less a local
link in the Yangtze River Delta, where Shanghai
holds a leading position. Construction of the
Shanghai-Hangzhou maglev railway, which uses
German technology and is designed to run at a
maximum speed of 450 km/h, was scheduled to start
by the end of last year. It was generally believed
that the line would be operating by 2010, when
Shanghai hosts the World Expo.
May 26, the state-run Xinhua News Agency reported
that the Shanghai-Hangzhou maglev project had been