And Finally

Gone for a Song

Plans afoot to rebuild ancient capital

Gone for a Song

Living in the past: Kaifeng

In China, it seems, everything can be quantified. That became evident once again this month when a senior government official published the latest score for his ‘national revival’ index. After a bout of meticulous number-crunching he had calculated that China’s ‘revival’ was 62.4% complete.

Yang Yiyong is the director of the Social Development Research Office, a unit of the country’s powerful economic planner, the NDRC. He last calculated his country’s ‘revival’ status in 2007, when the data produced a 47% score.

You may be wondering what goes into Yang’s formula. Well, he says it takes into account China’s ‘economic-based comprehensive national strength’ as well as the nation’s ‘all round social progress’. He calls the index a “rigorous academic achievement”, reports the Securities Times.

It might seem rather a bizarre task to seek to measure such an abstract concept. But in China – as WiC has often reported – national status is a touchy subject, with the country still smarting from its invasion by Japan last century, as well as its ‘humiliating’ cession of sovereignty to European powers in the wake of the Opium Wars.

The same concept of revival is also taking tangible form in Kaifeng. In the 12th century it was not only China’s capital but the world’s largest city. Under the Song emperors Kaifeng had grown into the world’s most sophisticated metropolis with a population of 700,000.

It was the administrative centre of a country that was unquestionably the richest on Earth. One of China’s most famous paintings – The Riverside Scene at the Qingming Festival – is a beautiful reminder of the city’s ancient glory and commercial clout (see WiC86).

Fitting then, that with all this talk of national revival, Kaifeng’s authorities have announced a plan to build a replica of their ancient city. According to the Beijing Morning Post the local government wants to bulldoze large parts of the existing city to make way for the old. Back then the city in Henan province was known as Bianjing, and had served as the country’s capital through seven imperial dynasties. Today it has fallen behind in the development stakes, with its GDP of Rmb100 billion ($15.7 billion) ranking just thirteenth among Henan’s 18 prefecture-level cities. The plan aims to reverse this, drawing as many tourists as the Terracotta Warriors now attract to Xi’an.

But not everyone thinks it is a good idea. Real estate developer Pan Shiyi warns it could prove a “waste of resources” while the editor of the Global Times deemed the idea “delusional”. The Beijing Morning Post calls it a “gamble” too and questions how it will be paid for. Revival doesn’t come cheap. At a time when local government finances are in the spotlight, Kaifeng plans to borrow Rmb100 billion (20 times the city’s tax revenues) to fund its construction.

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