A lot. When prohibition becomes a government’s first reaction to deal with problems, the following is what’s going to happen.
One of the campuses of Chenping Elementary School is located in Chenping village, Teng county in China’s southern province of Guangxi. Between the residential area of the 30 school kids at the village and their campus is a reservoir. Every day, these kids need to paddle through 500-meter-long water on a bamboo raft to get to their school. Some of them are as young as 4 years old.
When the news went viral online, many netizens asked why in a time when China is one of the world’s economic powerhouses, there are still kids who need to risk their lives to get basic education. They urged local government to work out a solution.
A few days later when journalists came back to the village, they found that instead of standing on thin rafts, students were in the water. After the news broke, local government, in an attempt to solve the problem, set up a sign at the reservoir saying “Students rafting to school is prohibited.” These kids are now left with no choice but to swim to school.
The propaganda department at Teng county explained that students’ rafting to school was due to the lack of safety awareness on the parts of parents who wanted to take shortcuts. Was it?
Below the water where Chenping village’s school kids were crossing is a bridge. But the bridge is easily flooded during the several months of rainy season when water level at the reservoir rises. Villagers have been swimming to get across the reservoir for more than 30 years. To raft is indeed a shortcut. It’s a shortcut to avoid getting soaked twice a day.
This is a typical case of how some of China’s local governments deal with issues that they deem as hurting their “face.” Cover-up and prohibition have become their best practices because the ultimate goal is to “save face” in front of higher authorities, not to solve the problem.
For example, when two high-speed trains collided and slammed into the ground in Wenzhou two year ago, the first reaction was to bury the wreck and ban press. When news about private school bus accidents were on the rise, the official solution was to ban private school buses. And most recently, to solve “online rumor mongering,” bloggers on Weibo, China’s Twitter, are told to self-censor and to refrain from reposting.
The sad thing is that such mentality is seen at almost every level of the government. It’s as if it never occurred to them that a more open and transparent system could solve all the problems.
[Pictures from Caijing]