And Finally

Tremors online

Another example of a netizen outcry producing greater disclosure

Tremors online

Artist's impression of Beichuan National Earthquake Museum

There are all kinds of museums, with new ones opening all the time; the BBC, for example, reported this week that a man in Northern England had opened a museum devoted to the cars and gadgets used in the James Bond movies.

But an ‘earthquake’ museum in China has been greeted with derisory comment by the nation’s netizen and academics – in no small measure because the price tag of the Beichuan Seismic Museum is Rmb2.3 billion ($336 million).

Beichuan was one of the worst effected areas when an earthquake struck Sichuan last May. Over 1,000 students at the Beichuan High School died when the school building collapsed, and 80% of Beichuan County’s buildings were destroyed.

Netizen fury has focused on the excessive cost of the museum, as well as the distastefulness of turning the site of a natural disaster into a tourist attraction. There is also a general sense that the money could be better spent. “What use is it building a museum,” asks one online critic. “Think what more important things can be done with Rmb2.3 billion? How many public roads could be built, how many electric wires laid.”

Fighting a PR rearguard action, government officials have been seeking to ‘clarify’ issues relating to the controversial plan in recent days. Lin Jizhong, Beichuan County’s deputy secretary of culture and tourism told Xinhua: “We are very grateful to netizens for their concern. But the Rmb2.3 billion is not only for building a museum. In fact, the entire programme is planned to extend over 8 square kilometres, and will include a museum district, as well as a conservation zone. It is a vast project.”

Indeed, the government is now saying that only Rmb135 million will be spent on the museum building itself, with the other Rmb2.2 billion going on the protection of ruins, road construction and other remedial public works.

Lin also wants to address the public’s other prime concern: “The views of the netizens are consistent with ours – we also object to turning the earthquake-stricken zone into an entertainment area.” He says the county has even restricted the access of busloads of tourist that wanted to visit the area.

One of the museum’s planners also told the Oriental Morning Post that the 45,000 square metre museum would have a construction cost of just Rmb3,000 per square metre. He did not consider that to be high, especially since the building had to be made earthquake-proof.

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