假大空的城市精神 – City spirit, empty words

自打去年北京弄了个城市精神之后,好多省市都在跟进,也折腾出自己的城市精神来。虽然说,什么叫城市精神,每个城市都说不大清楚,甚至,连什么叫精神,很多城市的管理者,大概也只有教科书上的概念,但一点不耽误他们打造自己城市的精神。北京的城市精神是六个字:爱国,创新,包容,厚德。个个都是好词,大词,从头到脚,除了肚脐眼没有疤瘌。谁敢不爱国呢,创新更是没错,包容也好,厚德还来自儒家典籍,透着厚重,民国的时候,好些大学的校训,都有这个词。据统计,自2011年以来,共有27个城市推出了自己的城市精神,都是两字两字排列的,或多或少都像是北京精神的复制品,出现“创新”的有11次,“开放”10次,“和谐”9次,“诚信”7次,“包容”和“爱国”分别是5次和3次。

据说,一个城市的精神,代表着这个城市的内在品质。看来,不仅是“幸福的家庭都是相似的”,连城市的品质,也是相似的。好词,而且合乎政治正确的好词,就那么多,你用了,别人也得用,不可能不用。因为,时髦而且符合领导口味的词儿,就那么多。

按道理说,每个城市都应该有自己的特色。每个城市的人,也有自己独特的精气神和行为习惯。比如讲,北京人大气,上海人精明等等。但是,一个城市的人,是一个复杂的集合体,即使城市再小,想用几个字来概括这个城市的精神,也是比较难的。民间许多对某个城市的概括,一般都是相当粗糙而且粗线条的。很轻而易举就可以在这个城市找出相反的例证,比如说,北京大气,你很容易就能在北京人中间找出小里小气的人。更奇怪的是,我们现在的城市建设,每每在刻意而且花大力气趋同,投入大笔的钱,搞大手笔的建设,把每个城市,都建得一模一样。一样的马路,一样的广场,一样的摩天大楼,连城市的雕塑,都差不多,广告牌,都是一个风格。现在你到任何一个城市的马路上,拍一张照片,然后传给别人,让他们说这是哪里。除非某人生活在这张照片所处的环境里,否则,没有人会认出地点来。城市的人也是一样,由于现在社会流通量骤然增加,每个大一点的城市,都是南来北往的人,移民的比重越来越大。甚至连一些原来传统特色保持的比较好的南方城市,当地土话都没有人说了。曾经显赫一时的粤语,竟然到了需要当地人保护的地步。

一方面,城市的管理者拼命把城市趋同,造的千城一面,一方面,他们却要出面,打造一个城市独特的精神。而且这种所谓的精神,居然用几个字,就可以概括出来。这样的神话,大概只能中国有。管理者脑袋里,说来说去,也就是那么点东西,不是创新,就是诚信。所以,所谓城市精神,也就只能是这种模样。大家彼此互相看看,哦,原来都是双胞胎,多胞胎,一个娘肚子里生出来的。

说白了,所谓打造城市的精神,既不可能是学者研究的概括,也不是民众智慧的结晶。无非是几个文人,再加上领导重视,攒一下,也就出来了。有这么个玩意,再讲文化建设,对上面就有的说的。说久了,也许某些老实人,自己也就相信了。也就是说,所谓的城市精神,就是地方文化建设的一部分,一部分比较能拿出来说事的东西。一种标准的领导工程,这样的工程,说起来,也不怎么费钱,因为不需要盖大厦,也不需要修马路,顶多制造几个标语牌,广告牌。大家也都知道,无论城市精神弄成什么样子,城市里的人,肯定不会按这个精神去生活。你说你的城市精神是诚信,说不定城里的人们,照样坑蒙拐骗。这种坑蒙拐骗,比别的城市一点都不差。但是,大家都是知道,做这样的官样文章,话一定要挑好听的说,这样,宣传出去,才好听。所谓的城市精神,就是这个城市官方刻意打造的一个花瓶,较不得真的。

After Beijing’s city spirit campaign was launched last year, many copycat ‘spirit of the city’ campaigns emerged. Although it’s not clear what the ‘spirit’ of every city is exactly, and, despite many city administrators possessing a merely academic understanding of the term ‘spirit’ itself, it hardly stops them creating their own ‘spirit of the city’ campaigns. ‘Beijing Spirit’ comprises four, two-character words: patriotism, innovation, inclusiveness and virtue. All of these great, big words – except that all of them are so utterly generic. Who would dare be unpatriotic? Innovation is even less fallible, and similarly inclusiveness. Virtue is clear throwback to the Confucian classics – during the Republic many universities even had it as part of their motto. According to statistics, since 2011, a total of 27 cities have published their own ‘spirit of the city’, all in a series of two character-words, and more or less a replica of the Beijing slogan: ‘innovation’ appears 11 times; ‘openness’, 10; ‘harmony’, 9; ‘integrity’, 7; ‘inclusiveness’ and ‘patriotism’, 5 and 3 times respectively.

The words selected to describe the ‘spirit’ of a city are supposed to reflect the inherent qualities of that city. But it seems much in the way that ‘all happy families are alike’, the same is true of cities’ inherent qualities. There’s only so many ‘nice’ words one can choose from, especially when conforming with the ‘right’ words acceptable according to government policy. Once someone starts using one word, pretty much everyone has to. There’s only so many words that are both fashionable and suit the taste of the leaders.

It’s reasonable to believe each city has its own characteristics and that the people of each city have their own unique manner and behaviour. For instance, that Beijingers have big tempers and Shanghainese are cunning and savvy, and so on. However, the people of a city form a complex assembly, and even if the city is small, it’s rather hard to sum up the spirit of the city in just a few words. The general ideas that people have about a city are typically quite rough and broad-brushed. It’s often very easy to find counter-examples in that very same city. For instance, let’s take the hot temper in Beijing, you’ll easily find some meek and mean people in Beijing. Even more surprising is the state of urban architecture: deliberately and with great effort, we invest large sums of money on construction, so that in the end every big city will look the same as every other. The same roads, the same squares, the same skyscrapers, even the sculptures are roughly similar, and the billboards on the same mode. Today, if you stand on a major road in any city, take a photograph, and then ask someone where it is, unless the person actually lived in the neighbourhood where you took the photo, nobody would know where it is. It’s the same for the people in the city. With increased movement in society today, in every large city, people are always on the move, and the proportion of migrants is ever increasing. Even some southern cities which used to preserve their tradition very well are losing their local dialect. Even the once mighty Cantonese language has come to the point where the locals need to protect it.

On the one hand, the city administrators are desperately working towards a convergence of cities, making a thousand of them alike; on the other other, they would to come forward as developing cities with their own unique spirit. And this so-called spirit needs to be such that it can be summed up in just a few words. This is the kind of myth that might exist only in China. In the head of the city administrators at least, it is, and if it’s not innovation, it’s honesty. Therefore, the so-called ‘spirit of the city’ can be nothing different. We look at each other and say, of, so they were just twins, triplets, all children of the same mother.

To put it plainly, the so-called spirit of the city is not the result of scholarly reflections, nor the deep wisdom of the people. It’s just a few writers, supervised by officials, who thought for a while, and came up with it. 有这么个玩意,再讲文化建设,对上面就有的说的。And if we say it long enough, maybe some honest people will start believing it. In other words, the so-called ‘spirit of the city’ is partly an outgrowth of local culture, partly just stuff that people have made up.If you look at the standards for the work of leadership, that kind of work, ultimately, is not that costly, you don’t need to build new building or fix the roads, all you need is a few signs and billboards. As we all know, no matter what the ‘spirit of the city’ is, the city people certainly won’t lead their life based on this spirit. Say the spirit of your city is honesty, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the people there won’t be scammers. There’ll be just as much scam as in other cities. However, we all know that with this kind of official talk, you just have to use nice big words, and so propaganda is nothing but a pleasant thing to hear. The so-called spirit of city is just about officials arranging flowers in a vase, but has nothing to do with truth.

1 Comment

Join the discussion and tell us your opinion.

A digest of online China – July 2-8 Marco Polo Project blogreply
August 8, 2014 at 4:19 pm

[…] Chinese cities are launching a new wave of urban sloganeering, led by Beijing’s ‘spirit of the city’ campaign – Zhang Ming gives a critical opinion on the practice. This text has already been translated, and is already available in English! […]

Leave a reply