Tens of thousands of people participate in a red song gala in Chongqing on June 29 to celebrate the 90th anniversary of the Communist Party of China. Photo: CFP
The southwestern city of Chongqing has been drawing admiration as well as controversy in recent years for its characteristic development involving a reduction of the wealth gap, integration of the rural and urban population, a "red culture" revival, and a high-handed crackdown on organized crime.
A new round of criticism over the so-called Chongqing model resurfaced over the past few days after it was announced by the local government that Wang Lijun, Chongqing's deputy mayor and former police chief who became a hero of the gang-busting campaign in the past few years, was said to be on a "vacation-style" leave of absence and later said to be under investigation after a sudden visit to the US consulate in Chengdu.
Some are saying this incident shows that the Chongqing model is doomed to fail because of the absence of a systemic change under the rule of law. Others argue that the latest surge of naysayers are only self-proclaimed liberal intellectuals who are targeting the "Chongqing model" as they attack whatever they believe to be connected to former leader Mao Zedong's era.
Although controversy over the Chongqing model never stops, the level of success it has achieved in terms of economic development and the improvement of local livelihoods tells its own story. Some scholars believe that the municipality's methods are the solution to obstacles China has met during its reformation.
Chongqing has seen annual double-digit economic growth for the past few years, and even shared the top national ranking with Tianjin last year with a growth rate of 16.4 percent.
In 2010, the government spent 300 billion yuan ($47.6 billion) to improve local livelihoods, promising to build 30 million square meters of government-subsidized housing, as well as create millions of jobs by financially supporting small and medium enterprises.
In a pioneering project, Chongqing also successfully integrated over 1 million rural citizens into the city's social security system, covering them with healthcare that in the past was only available for urban dwellers.
It appeared that Chongqing had succeeded in reforms where other Chinese cities had stumbled or even dared not to go, winning the city widespread praise.
"The Chongqing model brings hope to China's economic reform," Hong Kong-based Yazhou Zhoukan magazine wrote in a 2009 article.
The city's successful practices have also drawn the attention of central government leaders, who lauded Chongqing's achievements during televised inspection tours, prompting speculation that such a model might soon be applied nationwide.
In a survey by Oriental Outlook magazine last year, Chongqing was selected as one of the country's 20 cities with the happiest people, and was the choice of over 200,000 people who participated in the survey.
"There have been fewer street robberies, traffic is more organized than ever and police are also more polite," Yu Dandan, a 26-year-old media worker from Chongqing, said about the changes she has experienced in the city in recent years.