Can this possibly be accurate? There are photos going around of what is purported to be the inside of the Harbin Sixth Pharmaceutical Plant in northeast China, and it's easy to see why people are interested. They look like a Louis Quatorze-themed casino, a style one might call Vegas Versailles - bizarrely, crazily, relentlessly sumptuous. But don't take my word for it. Have a look:
There, as Dan Akroyd used to say, that wasn't so good now, was it? A little de trop for a state-owned enterprise, hm? You can find more views here, if you need them, but I can assure you that these are representative of the set. My own company is working on a new building; perhaps there's still time for us to hire these folks to do the interior.
When a correspondent sent these to me, my first thought was that this was some sort of Snopesworthy email legend. But perhaps not - Xinhua has picked it up, which makes one think that these shots are either (a) real or (b) something the Chinese government wishes to treat as real. Several stories also quote the weibo (Chinese Twitter/Tumblr-style microblog) of a journalist for state TV, Li Xiaomeng (李小萌), who has apparently also helped spread word of this throughout the Chinese online world.
The only clarification I can find so far is from an AFP story on the matter (and they must have been particularly amused/appalled by all that Sun King styling). This quotes a Beijing business newspaper confirming the photos as authentic, but that an official of the company has claimed that no, these aren't the offices, but the interior of an "art museum" that was constructed in the same new building. But that doesn't match up with other photos of the museum, apparently, so it's hard to say what's going on.
Except, of course, that some batch of lunatics considers this to be an appropriate use of public funds in Harbin (or anywhere). And that's worth thinking about. The connection with a pharmaceutical plant gives me the opportunity to talk about some things that have come up in conversation with various Chinese co-workers recently. The gigantic construction boom in China is well known. But this building, if it's anything like what it's purported to be, can serve as an illustration of the crazy aspect of the whole business. It looks from the outside as if China, in its attempt to come roaring to the top of the 21st-century league tables, is in serious danger of going off the rails. I get the impression that the government is committed to cranking up the GDP figures by any means necessary, and has decided that construction and infrastructure are the quickest and surest means to that end. Private real estate developers are thrilled to assist in this process, as are the owners of building companies and everyone else connected to the business. Need I add that huge construction contracts are, in every country and in every era, a notoriously easy way to hide kickbacks, payoffs, and corruption of every kind?
So I fear that China's incentives are misaligned. You get what you subsidize, and they're subsidizing a huge wave of construction. But how necessary are all these things? And how well are they being built? Will they all start falling apart ahead of schedule, and all at roughly the same time? And how much is being skimmed off the top during the whole process?