Weekend reading: The Music Has Stopped

There’s a ripping yarn in this weekend’s Sydney Morning Herald, from Fairfax’s Beijing correspondent John Garnaut. He writes from an anonymous county in China’s Anhui province with a tale of rampant governmental corruption of the sort you’d never read in the gormless Pravda.

(At this point I should probably stick in a plug for the Book Cafe on Mohamed Sultan Road. They airfreight the weekend editions of the Times of London, the NYT, and the SMH – all of them a nice change if you’re sick of the Straits Times’s unswerving devotion to being the most absorbent bird-cage liner in Asia.)

The title: Party goes on until the music stops.

The second paragraph is a winner (emphasis added):

For four years the officials at Mingshan county* (the name has been changed to protect officials, scholars, peasants and businessmen who spoke candidly with the Herald) have tried to build sparkling new offices at the sunny, southern foot of a geometrically pleasing mountain, protected from the north winter wind and facing the southern sun. But higher tiers of government have repeatedly squashed the “face” project as a waste of taxpayers’ money.

The Mingshan officials’ crusade was not helped by media attention on another group of Anhui local officials building themselves a mini-replica of the US Congress. That local government’s Communist Party chief was last month charged for arresting and then murdering the whistleblower.

You can read the whole article here, but here’s one more little clip that might shake your faith in the Chinese economic miracle:

Perverse official incentives are shaping the entire economy. Resources are systematically tilted towards construction because that generates the fastest and largest kick-backs. Manufacturing is also encouraged because it provides an ongoing revenue stream. Public and private sector services are neglected because they are more difficult to milk.

In Anhui province real estate construction rose 64 per cent in the first nine months of last year compared with 2007, according to the Economist Intelligence Unit. The amount of land under construction rose fourfold in the seven years before that. Hefei, the provincial capital, is now a forest of high-rise scaffolding. The central government has just approved a magnificent new international airport, in keeping with the national fashion, although there is no evidence that Anhui needs one. The deserted, four-lane highway that heads south-west out of Hefei is being duplicated into eight.

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