Beijing hopes to tackle corruption with Clean Politics Park

BEIJING - Some Chinese city governments have a new answer to corruption: public parks.
Written by Tom Hancock, Contributor

BEIJING - As anyone in China will tell you, solving the country's ongoing problem of political corruption is no walk in the park. Unless you’re walking through Beijing’s “Clean Politics” park, that is.

The 50 acre public park, which opened last June, takes “Clean Politics” as its theme. Built on the bank of the ancient canal that once linked Beijing with Southern China, the park is filled with statues of exemplary government workers from China’s past. Yu Chenglong, a famously honest eighteenth century civil servant who is the subject of the Chinese opera “The Honest Official,” gets his own statue, as does the first local government official to join the Communist Party.

The park also features some abstract sculpture. One giant effort resembling a broken Rubik’s Cube is plastered with the Chinese character “Qin,” meaning hard work, and there’s also a spherical statue called the Harmony Ball. Even the plants reflect the theme of political honesty. The orchid, bamboo, chrysanthemum, and plum blossom plants surrounding the statues are known as the “Four Gentlemen” in traditional Chinese art.

The park is part of a wider "Clean Politics" education drive.

One statue shows a government official in front of large bronze mirror, “Government officials can come look in the mirror themselves when they visit the park, and consider if they’re truly honest,” Chen Jie, a local resident visiting the park with her husband, said. Plastic signs made to look like tree trunks stand at intervals throughout the park, containing speakers which broadcast inspirational sounding electronic music, including the theme song from the film “Chariots of Fire.”

Political corruption is widespread in China, which ranked 78 out of 179 countries in Transparency International's Corruption Perceptions Index last year. Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao called corruption “the biggest threat” to the country’s stability in comments last March. The head of Beijing’s city disciplinary committee, the government body responsible for investigating corruption, was present at the park’s opening ceremony.

China’s government sees investment in “Clean Politics Education,” as one way of reducing corruption, and Beijng’s Clean Politics Park is not the first of its kind in China. The city of Taiyuan advertises itself as having the largest Clean Politics themed park in northern China, which is a “key site for the spreading of clean political education,” according to local media. A similar park in Yulin, Southern China features statues of corrupt government officials as examples to be avoided. In total, at least eight Chinese cities have similar parks.

But on a cold and windswept January morning, visitors to the park downplayed the park's political implications. "I'm just here for the scenery," Chen said.

Pictures: Tom Hancock.

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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