As China Vows Austerity, Giant Brass Fish Devours $11 Million
By Chris Buckley, NY Times, October 12, 2013
HONG KONG—Chinese Communist Party leaders’ vows of a new era of humble austerity in government may have met their most exotic adversary yet: an $11 million, 2,300-ton, 295-foot-long puffer fish.
The brass-clad statue, which shimmers golden in the sunlight and switches into a garish light show at night, was built by the city of Yangzhong, in Jiangsu Province in eastern China, to lure visitors to a monthlong gardening expo that opened in September. The “puffer fish tower” has an elevator to take visitors up the equivalent of 15 stories into the sculpture’s belly to view the lush scenery near the Yangtze River.
But news reports and pictures online of the creature, floating on scaffolding with its mouth agape and eyes glowing green, have prompted many Chinese citizens to wonder: Why devote 70 million renminbi, about $11.4 million, of government money for a giant metal fish, especially when the party leader, Xi Jinping, has demanded an end to frivolous spending on officials’ vanity projects?
"Just how much of the 70 million went into officials’ pockets?" said one of the many mordantly outraged comments on Sina Weibo, a popular Chinese microblog service that is similar to Twitter. "The sculpture is so that we’ll have something to pay our respects to after the puffer fish becomes extinct," said another.
The sculpture garnered nationwide attention last month, after a Jiangsu newspaper, Modern Express, described its costs and size, citing Yangzhong government officials. The project is flamboyant, even by the bigger-is-better expectations of Chinese state-sponsored art. It uses 8,920 brass plates for the fish scales and is covered in lights that can pulsate in changing colors at night, the newspaper reported.
"A miracle of the architectural world," the Yangzhong government Web site exclaimed. "This is also an extreme rarity in the whole world."
That may well be true, but not everyone sees it as a virtue. Chinese news outlets said the brass and steel for the fish cost about $1.7 million, raising questions about where the rest of the money went.
But China is speckled with outlandish works of official art that vie with even a giant, glow-in-the-dark puffer fish for attention and outrage.
Critics berated a county in Guizhou Province for building “the world’s biggest teapot,” a 243-foot-high teapot-shaped tower, complete with spout, that was part of a $13 million project.
In Henan Province, in central China, a government-backed charity has been accused of corruption in spending about $19.6 million on a vast, unsightly sculpture of Song Qingling, the widow of Sun Yat-sen, a revered founder of modern China. Zhengzhou, the capital of Henan Province, is also home to a sculpture of two pigs in a frolicking embrace. From certain angles, the pigs might appear to be mating.