Frequent Bridge Collapses Help Boost China’s GDP

By Fang Xiao
Fang Xiao
Fang Xiao
September 12, 2012 Updated: October 1, 2015
a collapsed eight-lane suspension bridge in Harbin
Police investigate a collapsed eight-lane suspension bridge in Harbin, northeast China's Heilongjiang Province on Aug. 24. Eight bridges in China have collapsed this year. (STR/AFP/Getty Images)

Bridge collapses have occurred frequently in China in the last few years. The latest such incident occurred last month in the northeastern city of Harbin and has sparked renewed public discussions about government corruption and the practice of building low-quality infrastructure projects to help boost China’s GDP.

Since 2007, 15 bridges have collapsed in China. Only three of them were more than 15 years old at the time of their collapse, according to a report by the Shandong Business Daily.

On Aug. 24, a 330-foot long approach ramp of Harbin’s Yangmingtan Bridge fell over, killing three and injuring five. The bridge had been in use less than a year and is the eighth bridge collapse in China this year. The Harbin administration has so far not openly addressed the case.

Zhao Wenjin, the lead commentator of Lanzhou Daily, commented on the incident, saying, “With each collapse, we need to reflect: why are we chasing GDP?”

According to a Jingyang Net report, Wang Yang, Party secretary of Guangdong Province, said at a provincial Party meeting in 2009: “Sometimes the GDP number looks good, but it didn’t really create wealth for society. It was, instead, a waste of society’s wealth.

“For example, building a bridge creates GDP. When the bridge collapses and is taken down, it creates another addition to the GDP. When the bridge is rebuilt, more GDP is created. As such, one bridge resulted in three additions to the GDP. But it was a tremendous waste of resources.”

Mainland media Chinese Business Daily said that sticks and pebbles were found in the concrete that made up the Yangmingtan Bridge, and the metal wires on the surface were also not tied together properly.

Yet state experts insisted that there was no problem with the design or construction of the bridge; they said that the problem was with the four overweight trucks, the article said.

From the beginning, the Yangmingtan Bridge project was hailed by local officials as a star project. The local Harbin TV station praised the bridge as having broken several records in terms of design, construction speed, and technological innovation, China Daily said.

After it collapsed, Chinese netizens said it’s ironic that a bridge, which cost 1.8 billion yuan (US$284 million), was broken by four trucks.

“The Yangmingtan Bridge collapse demonstrates that corruption has become the foundation of China’s present-day investment-oriented economic growth model,” professor Xu Xiaonian of the China Europe International Business School was quoted saying in a Caijing report.

Senior economist Li Xinyue, who is a special correspondent for the Chinese economic magazine Jing Ji Shi, said that the last 12 bridge collapses in China were all blamed on overweight vehicles. No one was held responsible, and no one was punished for negligence.

To be a Chinese government official is a “truly lucky” thing, Li said.

Read the original Chinese article.

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Fang Xiao