Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Monday, August 04, 2014

In case you hadn't heard

Does this offer an insight into Chinese political culture? Or democratic centralism? Or bureaucratic rigidity? Or just Monty Python-style stupidity?

Chinese Officials, Cutting Corners, Add 4 of Them to Running Track
There is a reason for building a running track with right-angle turns.

Yes, the laws of mass and velocity do mean that sprinting athletes must either slow to a jog before the turns or careen out of their lanes and into one another. But officials in northeastern China who built a running track with four neat right-angle corners cited a higher purpose: pleasing their leaders.

In a television news report that has spread on the Internet this week and flummoxed even people hardened to the absurdities of Chinese officialdom, an employee at the sports ground explained that the old track, with its old-fashioned rounded turns, was looking worn and they were in a hurry to spruce it up.

“A provincial-level leader was coming for an inspection,” said the unnamed employee at the Qinghe Forestry Bureau’s sports ground in Tonghe County, Heilongjiang Province. “To cope with the leader, we covered it over.”…
Television reporter tries taking a turn

For now, the rectangular running track of Tonghe County has joined other wonders that, to many Chinese people, exemplify a bureaucracy often consumed with maintaining pleasing, and often expensive and wasteful, facades…

One newspaper offered a perverse kind of admiration. “It would be difficult to find a second example of this kind of fakery and making-do in the entire world,” said a commentator in The Procuratorial Daily

The employee at the sports ground who was forced to explain it all said, “We all feel ashamed.” But when asked why the problem had not been fixed, he gave an answer that summed up the mystery of a box-shaped running track:

“If a leader doesn’t change it, then who else can?”

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