Chinese accountability

On my first visit to China a couple of months ago, I realised that everything we have all heard about China is pretty much right. The main point being that it has awesome infrastructure (clean, wide roads, for god’s sake – how do they do it!).

But the real eye-opener was the undercurrent of government accountability  that one noticed. A couple of simple examples illustrates this.

At the Shanghai international airport, every immigration officer’s desk has a little widget on it (a little screen with two small buttons next to it), kept facing the traveller. Once the immigration officer processes your visa, they press a button. As soon as that button is pressed, the little screen lights up and asks you to ‘rate’ your experience with the immigration official – was the official’s work satisfactory or not? In effect, the traveller is treated as a ‘customer’ and you are being asked to rate your ‘purchase experience’. Presumably the results of this go into the relevant immigration officer’s appraisal systems and therefore is of importance to them.

Now, Roads. I went to Hangzhou, China’s 6th largets city (ie. not it Shanghai or Beijing). The roads across this city were wide and clean and the only roads in India which I can compare these to are in Lutyens’ New Delhi.How can a relatively small city in China consistently maintain all its roads at a quality comparable to the less than 0.5% of India’s best roads? The answer I thin is again, accountability. Having good roads is important for a country and its citizenry and therefore is important for its local government. Remember, city roads are made and maintained by the local government of the city and clearly they believe they need to do this job well.

Popular discourse in India & the west seems to suggest that China is ‘un-democratic’ and even ‘dictatorial’ and therefore does not represent the aspirations or needs of its people. Maybe. But there is no doubt that somewhere in the Chinese system, there is a regard for the the ordinary man that one misses sorely in India.

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5 thoughts on “Chinese accountability

  1. Hi Hari,
    I haven’t been to China myself, but from what I am told the disparity between urban and rural China is vast – perhaps more than in India. But, I do like the concept of immediate rating of the officials at the airport. If we attempted to introduce it here, the first thing would be a STRIKE.
    Best,
    Lubna

  2. Yes Lubna, I have heard of the urban-rural divide too. I did not venture out into rural areas, so cannot say. However, I did take a train from Hangzhou to Shanghai which passed through some semi-urban areas. All very orgniased it was. But who knows how the truly rural areas are.

  3. I live in the Middle East. Being an Indian, and having traveled to China 6 times now, I read this post with much interest. I have been to lesser known cities like Shao xing, Zhang jia jie, Guiyang, Harbin, Ningbo, Jin Yang and a few others. Therefore, I hope you would hold my personal experience and opinion about these places in some consideration.

    My observation was that each one of these places had what it takes to be a ‘city’ in any other country I can personally think of. Besides being quite reasonably clean, the public facilities, including the toilets were well maintained overall, and you could instantly feel that there was some form of modernization taking place in most of these cities; highways being built, western-type entertainment facilities coming up etc. etc. I came across night-clubs, bars, ice-rinks, spas, large shopping-malls, Burger King, KFC, Italian / Japanese / Mexican Restaurants…you name it.

    As you might know or not, some of these places are Chinese minority dominated, i.e. the Chinese minorities like Tujia, Miao etc out number the majority Han group. These minorities are considered to be disadvantaged in some way. However, that fact didn’t seem to have hindered the development of their cities much, I guess.

    One other little point I noticed is that the environment authorities or whoever is in charge, seems to be sparing some effort in raising awareness about recycling and conservation, as the tourist places and streets have large signboards educating the public about issues (humorously enough, one public toilet I entered had a large board talking about the ‘World toilet day’ and at least 10 points stating the need for clean public toilets! lol!)

    That was the good part. Yes, there are people begging in streets, there are crimes being committed, food containing questionable materials and what not. But, I would say that the positives in my travels to mainland China so far have out numbered the negatives.

    p.s. One blog I would recommend for underground news is ChinaSmack.com (written in English by a Chinese girl from Shanghai). It features tabloid-like news that you don’t see in the mainstream media.

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