Shanghai residents' grit on show

Updated: 2013-03-30 07:54

By Hong Liang (China Daily)

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Shanghai residents should be congratulated for their fortitude in the face of thousands of dead pigs floating down Huangpu River, which is an important source of the city's water supply.

Other than an avalanche of complaints, sour remarks and wisecracks in blogsphere, which were expected, there was no report of panic hoarding of bottled water as seen in Wuxi, Jiangsu province, in 2007 following the outbreak of blue algae in Taihu Lake. Of course, that was six years ago.

Shanghai residents' stoic response to a calamity widely reported in print for several weeks and graphically shown on television, including repeated close-up shots of decomposing carcasses, seemed to indicate, as some commentators have suggested, their maturity, or, at the other extreme, deep apathy. But some 15,000 dead pigs floating down the upper reaches of the vital river is not something that any Shanghai resident can ignore. People in Shanghai are obviously concerned, but they have remained calm.

Yes, Jay Leno, the wisecracking US talk show host can quip about the Shanghai government's assurance of water quality. But most Shanghai residents seemed to believe it, without the need of the unsolicited offer by Shen Yiyun, deputy director of Shanghai Water Authority, to make a public show of directly drinking the water coming out of the treatment plant.

Rather than indulging in such an impish antic, which was neither asked for nor appreciated, the Shanghai government should take pride in its years of efforts that have won it the trust and confidence of the public, and be thankful for the understanding and support it received in return. The dead pig incident, disgusting and troublesome as it was, has demonstrated that the qualities of Shanghai residents are worthy of a cosmopolitan city of global stature.

But it has also revealed the remnants of an outdated bureaucratic mindset that is yet to be completely purged. Much of the public criticism of the government handling of the incident is focused on the lack of transparency, especially in the initial stage.

Many Shanghai residents learned of an unusually large number of pig carcasses floating down the river toward the city from messages posted on various Internet chat rooms before the municipal government officially acknowledged the fact on March 8. This has led many bloggers to question if the government was trying to cover up the matter, a charge that has been officially denied.

Questions were also raised about the origin of the dead pigs. Although it has been made public that the dead pigs were thrown into the river by the many pig farmers in Jiaxing, Zhejiang province, the reason why the number was abnormally large was never explained to the satisfaction of the public. Officials both in Shanghai and Jiaxing have repeatedly denied the outbreak of a plague. But the sudden increase in pig carcasses in the river has remained a mystery.

Some observers have speculated that the Jiaxing government's intensified crackdown on the sale of dead pigs to unscrupulous butchers forced the pig farmers to dump the carcasses into the river because they could no longer find buyers. But there must be some way to keep dead pigs out of the river and, of course, dinner tables.

What the public is most concerned about at this stage is how to persuade pig farmers upstream to stop dumping dead pigs and other refuse into the river. The Shanghai government cannot do this alone. It'll need the full cooperation of the Jiaxing authorities. But Shanghai people expect their government to at least devise a plan so that they can know what it will take to achieve this goal.

Meanwhile, it's imperative for the Shanghai government to be extra vigilant in ensuring the quality of drinking water. One slip now, for whatever reason, could nullify all previous efforts in building public confidence.

(China Daily 03/30/2013 page5)