Back in September we told you about the new eco-city of Dongtan out on Chongming Island. It seems that it’s made the news again though it seems that this new Reuters report doesn’t tell much of anything new. A couple of trivial new facts: all the cars will be electric, and the precarious wetlands, which are what the environmentalists are mostly concerned with, will be protected and separated from the eco-city by a 5 km buffer zone. The reporter (we saw no byline) then does what every reporter does when they want to seem like they’ve canvassed local opinion — talk to a cabbie. See for yourself:
“But local people won’t be able to just move there. It will mostly be Shanghainese.”
There is already some resentment against the island’s authorities over the preferential treatment of outsiders, notably the influx of immigrants displaced by the Three Gorges Dam project.
“Many of them have come here with government aid while we have to fend for ourselves,” said a fellow taxi driver, a portly man in his 40s.
The Chinese government hails Dongtan as a model for others to mimic and vows to protect the environment of the island, which is bigger than Cyprus and sits in the mouth of the Yangtze river.
Excuse me, but we think you spilled some bullshit there. Look, we wring our hands as much as the next person about the widening gap between rich and poor in China, so we applaud Cabbie Yu’s sentiments, though we still prefer to see proof first, rather than just speculate. The problem is that when you look at the second statement, about the influx of immigrants — you run into trouble. Shanghaiist has been to Chongming twice, and both times not as a tourist (there are plenty of better places to visit), but in order to learn more about said immigrants, mostly from the Three Gorges Dam area in and around Chongqing. (You can find background info here and here and here.)
Yes, we know that the Reuters report is not about the Three Gorges Dam resettlement projects but is about Dongtan and the Arup eco-city project, but nevertheless, these quotes that the reporter offers are misleading in that they make Cabbie Yu seem like some poor guy trying to make ends meet while all the Three Gorges Dam welfare mothers are lying around whining about being far from home. The situation is not that simple — talk to most of the Three Gorges people and they’ll give you an earful about the difficulties of their lives — how they are only given small plots to farm and thus have a very limited income, how they cannot understand the local Chongming dialect, how they are discriminated against for that very reason. Ask them, too, if there’s any friction between them and the construction workers from Anhui.
Shanghaiist is well aware of the limitations imposed on reporters and writers in terms of both length and content. Yet we gripe because whenever a reporter bothers to quote the “man/woman on the street” you get you hopes up expecting to find something interesting, not the one-sided complaints of the cabbie that in all likelihood, was the reporter’s driver. This has become just a little too cliche for our tastes.
Photo from savingcranes.org.