Premier Wen’s Sneakers

China’s premier Wen Jiabo’s sneakers are worn out and repaired and worn out again, and repaired again. It is praised as setting an examplary of being thrifty, a traditional Chinese virtue. But China’s rising economy also means that maybe this virtue is no longer what China needs today. 

Here’s a report from South China Morning Post dated 31 July 2006: 

…the story has also raised interesting questions on whether mainland leaders also need to set an example to boost consumption, the weakest link in the economy.

Just as a manager of the Double Star group, a private mainland firm which produced the premier’s shoes, reportedly suggested, Mr Wen should have bought a new pair of shoes – which cost only 100 yuan – instead of having his worn-out shoes repaired several times.

If everyone emulated the premier by repairing worn-out sneakers, the shoemaker could be in trouble, the manager said.

Indeed, the mainland media should make a big deal of Mr Wen finally deciding to swap the shoes for a new pair because the significance should be just as great.

For Mr Wen and other mainland leaders, turning domestic consumption into an engine of economic growth has been an important priority issue to rebalance the economy, which for the past 20 years has been powered mainly by exports and fixed-asset investments.

But they appear to be at a loss on how to encourage people to spend more, and many government policies appear to discourage spending. The latest example is the central government’s hot-headed policies to crack down on property speculation.

As property prices in major cities soar, the leadership has released a series of measures, including one ridiculous policy of 70/90, ordering local authorities to make sure 70 per cent of new residential properties contain flats of no more than 90 square metres.

It remains a mystery just how the magical figures came about, but the policy is causing controversy among officials and homebuyers, particularly in the cities of Shanghai, Beijing, and Guangzhou…

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