The ongoing experimentation in online governance and bureaucratic transparency continues. It would be interesting to do a comparison between municipal management department websites in China and elsewhere, to see what the categories of information are. Ningbo’s site has news such as the prosecution of an illegal construction project, or the announcement of an investigation team to look at township beautification projects; open tenders for construction projects around the city; announcements of successful bids; instructions for submitting bids; and customer service, such as the addresses and hours of official IC card purveyors (important to help citizens avoid buying fake cards). It looks like a lot of what the city management does is allocate money to various construction projects, and like bureaucrats everywhere a lot of those contracts go to a small circle of familiar faces. This is probably why there’s so much emphasis on transparency on the website.
But for a peek into pure officialese, we can’t forget the wonderful discussion forum, or BBS. You have to love Virtual China for the ubiquitous BBS. It’s hard to tell who exactly is contributing to the Ningbo City Management website BBS, but there you find posts with commentary on anti-corruption regulations, or city events. Here, one of the most-viewed posts: an angry citizen took photos of street peddlers setting up shop literally in the street, in the middle of the city, wondering where were the police? Comments focus on the Chinese project of raising the quality of the people, a favorite of the government AND everyday people:
This tells us two things: 1) that certain peddlers have absolutely no civilization consciousness 一点文明意识也没有, and 2) There’s a big difference between the presence or absence of city officials. Given Ningbo’s current situation, the city needs official management, and I support the city managers.
Talking about civilization consciousness to street peddlers is like playing the violin to an ox. 1, 2, even 3 officials there wouldn’t do any good. There’s no way to rule them by law.
Raising the overall quality of the people is a comprehensive, complex, and systemic project of the entire society. It may be too early to request civilization from the petty merchants and peddlers. The proportion of people in the city who have a definite level of culture is way too small.