Web campaign shows Chinese riches don't trickle down to shabby villages

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 18 December, 2012, 12:00pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 18 December, 2012, 2:48pm

If government office buildings in China were a representation of people’s wealth in more rural areas, most of the country’s thousands of counties would appear steeped in luxury and excess.

Take Jinan's new office building for example. The Shandong capital has a massive "Pentagon-sized" government office complex with a reported price tag of 4 billion yuan (HK$4.9 billion).

But look past the official facade, says angel investor and philanthropist Charles Xue, and in fact, at least 681 of China’s 2,800 counties are bogged down in grinding poverty. To expose this stark contrast, Xue has come up with an ingenious and cost-effective public awareness campaign via social media platform Sina Weibo, China’s most popular microblogging service.

“I ask you all to upload to Sina Weibo photos of government offices in these poverty-stricken counties alongside photos of local schools and farmers’ houses. We want to know how our taxpayer money is being used for poverty alleviation. Let’s see how many photos we can get up! Join together to support! Forward this! Upload!”

As of Tuesday, Xue’s post on weibo has garnered more than 61,600 forwards and over 19,000 comments.

“I support this proposal! Our county is poverty-stricken but the level of consumption in the provincial capital is too high!” wrote one user on weibo.

“Why should taxpayer money that can be used  to build a good school for children be used to build a government office complex? Indignation…” wrote another.

Many photos have since surfaced on weibo of grand government buildings juxtaposed against dilapidated village houses and rundown schools.

A recent survey found China's wealth gap to have widened drastically in recent years. The country's Gini coefficient, a measure of income equality on a scale of 0 to 1, is now at 0.61, a figure much higher than the global average of 0.44, and 50 per cent above the "risk level" for social unrest. 

Several photos of the Guangshan county government building in Xinyang city, Henan, were posted on weibo, with many expressing resentment towards the government’s failure to prevent a knife attack at a school that left 20 young children injured on Friday.

The failure of the school board to employ "a single security guard" or staff member at the school's gate has been the subject of much public scrutiny in recent days following the attack and has prompted calls for the government to invest more on school and public security.