Chris Devonshire-Ellis: Is China’s ?Face’ Culture Sidetracking Real Development Goals?

Some aspects of the Chinese culture such as “face” have long been the subject of opinion and debate over the endless discussions between China and the West. “Face” is being seen to be perceived in a good light, and one can be given “face,” attain it through hard work and piety, or even have it taken away. “Losing face” is a major issue in China. While relatively harmless in a social context, I feel it seems to be increasingly getting out of hand when it comes to government expenditure. While what people do with their own personal money is their own affair (and Chinese consumers recently surpassed the British as the main buyers of fine Bordeaux), when it comes to government, things seem to be becoming excessive. It’s a curious phenomenon, especially as conspicuous consumerism or showing off have long been regarded as inappropriate and undesirable character traits not just by Chinese Confucianism, but by the traditional values of the Communist Party themselves.

Recent examples include the artistic, such as The Bund in Shanghai now possessing a bull sculpted by Arturo Di Modica – the man behind the similar sculpture on Wall Street in New York City. At 2.5 meters tall and weighing in at 2.7 tons, the Shanghai Bull is the same size as the Wall Street version, but “redder, younger and stronger,” which is fair enough, but Shanghai officials had apparently wanted one twice as large as the one on Wall Street. The city requested a bull that was younger and stronger than New York City’s bull to symbolize “the energy of Shanghai’s economy,” Zhou Wei, the head of Huangpu district told reporters at a briefing. “That’s why the head of The Bund Bull looks up while the Wall Street Bull looks downward,” he said. That may be playful rhetoric, but it is also a matter of face, and taking it away (in this instance from New York) would previously have been considered rude.

While the Wall Street Bull moved quickly onto new pastures after its initial installation in front of the New York Stock Exchange, and is currently grazing in Bowling Green Park, Shanghai’s bull faces Pudong with a prominent arse end pointing at the old colonial structures. Accident of design maybe, but every time I see it I can’t help thinking about that, while also noting it should be matched by sculpted piles of bull poo, such is its somewhat constipated posture. It has very large testicles too, and apparently it’s considered good joss to rub them. In two years’ time, the bull’s nuts may blind oncoming traffic. Yet facing Pudong with its butt towards the old colonial buildings does seem rather a statement, deliberate or not.

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