rumors of excess: the shenzhen universiade

I’ve been talking to people about how much Shenzhen spent on the Universiade and the rumors are flying.

According to a report from the Expenditures Department, Shenzhen Municipality budgeted 17.39 亿元 (272 million USD according to my online currency converter), or roughly 36.4% of the 2010 expenditure budget. In 2011, there were two adjustments to the budget, bringing the official total spent on the universiade to 29.15 亿元 (457 million USD). So yes, I’m trying to imagine the “difficulties” that the center overcame to insure the smooth opening of the Universiade (克服各种困难,助力大运顺利召开), after which there were no more universiade expenditures. So how much is roughly 457 million USD? One answer is, Shenzhen spent 92% of the first quarter total trade between China and Cambodia (498 million USD) on a collegiate sporting event.

But it’s unclear what this money was actually spent on and whether or not, for example, they include infrastructure upgrades or just money spent on flower arrangements and strategically placed sculptures.

According to rumors I have heard and seen online, the Expenditure Department figures seriously under report how much was spent. Indeed, I’ve heard that Shenzhen spent so much its had to delay payments on other bills. For example: “具可靠消息:光是街道刷墙就花了50个亿,地铁投入,场馆建设。 保守估计应该在9000亿以上。(According to reliable sources, Shenzhen spent 7.8 million UDS on painting buildings alone. If we include putting in the subway and building stadiums, a conservative estimate is over 141 billion USD.)“

Most guesstimates have settled around 3000亿元 (47 billion USD), depending on which infrastructure developments are included and whether or not District expenditures are considered part of Shenzhen’s total expenditure on the universiade. However, the interesting aspect of this gossip has been that many are phrasing it in terms of tax spending. In other words, Shenzhen’s ongoing attempt at fiscal transparency and accountability has impacted the rumor mill. Indeed, some news reports (here, for example) are explicitly phrasing the debate in terms of the government’s responsibility to tax payers.

Now, I find the assertion that the Government is accountable to those who pay taxes fascinating because it redefines belonging in the city according to economic contribution, rather than hukou status. And there’s the rub. The neoliberal definition of a citizen in terms of tax payments is an alternative to the government’s definition of rights to the city in terms of hukou. Indeed, taxes are becoming an important source of political claims in Shenzhen. But as we in the US know, taxes alone are not enough to insure justice; fiscal accountability is only part of a larger debate about how we hope to structure public life.

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