China carries the can for one man?s deluded dream

To be a Politburo member is often to be as helpless as a naive Xinhua foreign editor trying to persuade his superiors that quotation marks around ?Taiwan independence? just look a bit petty.

The central leadership must have collectively spluttered on their shark?s fin soup at the sight of a 800-metre concrete and marble dragon reclining nonchalantly on a mountain ridge in Henan province. And they must have been pounding their skulls with the red hardback edition of the Chinese constitution on hearing that the dragon?s total length will be 21 kilometres, its total cost could be up to four billion yuan and it is all being done in celebration of 60 years of Communist rule in 2009.

Obviously this story has been lapped up by the international media which has used headlines like: ?China to build 13-mile dragon to fire up tourism?. It implies a Chinese government tourism think-tank has huddled together and come up with a triumphant plan to make Henan a hotspot for the world?s travellers. In fact, the whole harebrained scheme, similar to the painting a mountain green incident (which prompted the inevitable headline, ?Why did China paint the mountain green??), is being propounded by an egocentric maniac with an incredibly poor taste in giant concrete and marble animal garden features who wants to be remembered as the man who made the Great Wall look like a picket fence.

Li Xiong, president of the Zulong company behind the dragon, says it will cost more than ?260 million and he hopes Chinese people all over the world will contribute.

?The finished dragon is to wear 5.6 million scales of jade or gold-coated bronze. People can pay to carve words on the scales, and inside the body there will be trains and clubs. It will be a place for cultural activities and relaxation,? he said.

?I am not afraid of attacks. Our ancestors built the Great Wall, and now I am building the Great Dragon. I will succeed.?

It is another example of the chaos that reigns far away from Beijing?s influence. Not even the local authorities know what is going on. Apparently, the project was halted for not going through the correct planning procedures back in 2003. Xinhua has reported that the dragon is already under threat as it appears to constitute a serious breach of environmental regulations.  The local environmental department has only just managed to get out of the dark:

The Zhengzhou environmental protection administration said they had learned of the project through media reports.

And someone is of course lying:

A Henan newspaper quoted an official with Xinzheng City as saying the dragon is a business project and has nothing to do with the government. Zulong Company vice president, Li Xiong, told the media that the dragon project had support from the government.

Meanwhile, China looks like a crazy place to the rest of the world and the politburo has to find an excuse not to attend a 60th People?s Republic of China birthday party in Henan.

I do wonder what the central government really thinks about incidents like this. Is it similar to working for Xinhua? Do China?s leaders fill the corridors of the Great Hall of the People with exasperated wails even though they know that very few people are listening? Do they have as much chance of berating the man behind the Great Dragon as I have of any form of acknowledgement of my existence from the director of my department? Do they bang on about China?s international image as much as I do when I see a story from the diplomatic desk? Or do they giggle about it (did you see the thing?s head - it?s enormous hee hee!) over morning tea?