About-face on tree plan a win for civil rights

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 22 April, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 22 April, 2012, 12:00am


An apology by Qingdao's landscaping and forestry bureau over its handling of a controversial tree-planting project is being seen as a victory for the civil rights movement on the mainland.

It came in response to a reporter's questions about the project, which was reportedly going to cost taxpayers four billion yuan (HK$4.9 billion) this year.

In an open letter on Thursday, the bureau admitted to flaws in its initial planning and an ensuing failure to inform the public about the project and promised to heed public criticism.

The about-face followed online criticism of some aspects of the citywide greening project, dismissed by some critics as a trophy project launched by the municipal government ahead of the International Horticultural Exposition to be held in the seaside city in the province of Shandong in 2014.

Residents were particularly outraged by the destruction of well-preserved lawns at landmark scenic spots to make space for trees and pavements and the planting of trees in shaded areas under flyovers. Their complaints fuelled an online civil rights movement rarely seen in the city.

Pan Qi, a 27-year old entertainment reporter for a local newspaper, is believed to have been the first Qingdao resident to voice her disapproval of the project.

Pan said it was not 'convenient' to give an interview when contacted last week, but referred to an earlier interview given to the China Youth Daily in which she said she felt 'a heavy kick in the guts' after seeing photos of the destruction of the lawn in the city's Huiquan Square in March.

'I felt like something in my house was destroyed and I had to check it out,' Pan told the China Youth Daily on Wednesday.

In a lengthy microblog entry on April 11, she documented her findings from spot checks, her frustrations when trying to raise her concerns with government departments and her vain attempts to get official information about the upgrades.

The entry, reposted nearly 3,000 times, led many other residents to take on government departments.