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A City with Two Faces

27 December 2006

In east China’s Shandong Peninsula (胶东半岛), there was a city that had lush green trees inlaid with pitched red roofs, and deep blue sea extended to meet the clear blue skies. But this only represented half of its face; the other half in the downtown area was the image of a town seriously run-down.

It all started in 1891, when Chinese army set up a military base at a fishing village by the Yellow Sea. Half a dozen years late, the area was colonised by Germans who began to construct Little Germany in the East, the result was the splendid Eight Villas (八大处) and shabby settlements of Chinese construction workers and labourers. After one and half dozen years, Germany in the East was lost to the Japan of the East. During the later stages in the city history, it had been repeatedly liberated and re-occupied, until 1949 when all the invaders were driven out of the mainland China. By then Qingdao was a strange mixture of astonishingly posh suburbs along the coastline where the foreigners used to inhabit, and a slum downtown area that alien occupiers made the locals to live. And this double-faced city scene hadn’t changed much for next forty or fifty years.

Then a grand opportunity knocked its door. That is not just because it has joined the rest of the country in China’s effect to reinvent itself physically, but also because it has been selected to host the sailing competition event as part of the Beijing Olympics in 2008.

And that finally and rapidly transformed the ugly half of Qingdao to match the gorgeous half.

A happy ending seems. But soon many people have discovered that its beauty is merely skin deep, beneath the dazzling appearance the disease of serious malpractice and raging corruption spreads. Right from the international design tender for the Olympic Sailing project in 2002 to recent global bidding invitation for the Cross-sea Bridge construction, behind the complicated decision-making process was a simple deciding factor: bribery.

As the result of mayor Du Shicheng’s active promotion, the city of 6 million people has crowded with nearly 800 real estate development companies. In some areas the housing prices doubled every year, well matching those in Shanghai or Guangzhou. While as many as eight golf courses were planed to be built, many city’s residents still have to cram themselves into slum abode penghuqu (棚户区) inherited from the occupation eras.

For this Qingdao is dubbed by the locals as Mop with Golden Lace (金边抹布) – a slummy city surrounded by luxury outskirts; and Mayor Du Shicheng is nicknamed Dusicheng (毒死城 meaning citicide), reflecting what they think he has done to the city, just like what pesticide does to pests.

When he was formally charged for property development related corruption last Saturday, December 23, firecrackers sounded everywhere in the city, and the web site of a local news service was flooded with responses to the point that the network was soon crashed. The locals viewed it as the best Christmas present they’ve received.

For a man who began his career as a humble village teacher in Confucian’s home province and rose to a position of national prominence, sadly he has failed to deliver another example of elevated humanity, but become a depressed footnote to the history. And Qingdao, a double-faced legendary city, has been transformed by him and his associates into a double-charactered metropolitan, half angel, half devil.

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