Pride of the nation or waste of money?

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 13 October, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 13 October, 2005, 12:00am

The Shenzhou VI launch dominated online chat rooms, with most contributors supporting the space programme as a source of national pride.

Bulletin boards and internet sites were flooded with messages of praise and wishes of good luck for the two astronauts.

'It is a great feat which enhances Chinese self-esteem and China's national defence power, and positions the country as a giant in the world,' one respondent said.

Echoing the views of thousands of others, a contributor to Xinhua's chat room said: 'Let us pray for a safe return.'

But the space programme was not without its critics, and a range of negative opinions about the mission also appeared. Some suggested money should not be spent on a space programme when the country could not afford to clothe and feed hundreds of thousands of people in poverty-stricken areas.

They said the money would be better spent on things that had a direct impact on people's everyday lives.

'Why should we be so excited? Can the liftoff make a tiny change to the daily life of us poor workers managing to live on a matter of hundreds of yuan a month?' one message on the portal read.

Another contributor agreed. 'There should be no more such 'image' activities by political leaders who are trying to make achievements during their terms. The projects just tire the people and drain the treasury.'

But these critics attracted their own critics, who said the opposition was shortsighted and did not recognise the space project's remarkable contribution to China's scientific and technological progress and national defence.

A message on the popular portal said: 'Though the successful liftoff cannot make much change to our everyday lives, it will enhance China's national-defence strength in space, earn us a favourable position in the global military arena, and ensure a safe environment for China's economic development.

'If China is a top-level military space power and has scientific and technological strength, Japan and the US will not dare to show any sabre-rattling towards China. That's great!'

Local media reports that the two astronauts - Fei Junlong and Nie Haisheng - were both born into poor village families elicited calls for greater respect for the huge rural population and improvement of farming communities.

'Stop criticising farmers as ignorant. They are great parents to national heroes,' a respondent said.

Some people said the government should be on the alert to monitor spending on space projects and to make sure there was no corruption involved.

One suggested: 'Reliable organisations should be despatched to supervise the investment.'