If you haven’t already, go ahead and check out my piece in Slate that takes a look at China’s “golf police,” bulldozed fairways and plenty of local politics. And make sure you also peruse the companion photo essay with images of the destroyed golf course and rural village life from Ryan Pyle.
Folks unfamiliar with the way China works may be a bit confused how a country can experience a golf course boom during a supposed moratorium on golf course construction. Those who have spent time in China do not suffer from such confusion. In fact, the Chinese have several sayings for the disconnect that often exists between Beijing’s best intentions and how they are interpreted, or simply ignored, out in the provinces. Here’s a sampling:
上有政策, 下有对策 (shàng yǒu zhèng cè , xià yǒu duì cè)
“Where there are policies from above, there are counter-policies from below.”
山高皇帝远 (shān gāo huáng dì yuǎn)
“The mountain is high and the emperor is far away.”
政令不出中南海 (zhèng lìng bú chū zhōng nán hǎi)
“Policies and commands stop at the gate of Zhongnanhai.”
Of course, in the case of golf, it’s debatable whether Beijing was really that serious about its 2004 “moratorium” in the first place. Golf courses are good for business — or, at least, they are supposedly a sign that business is good (for a while, anyway … the struggling U.S. has around 17,000 of them). But China is also a developing nation with 600 million peasant farmers, which explains why golf headlines coming out of the country often seem at odds with each other.
For example, in my Slate story I reference a China Daily item from early December entitled “Golf defies rules to gain ground,” which discusses illegal land use and the latest crackdown on golf course development. A little more than a month later, the very same state-run mouthpiece ran a story with this headline: “China on verge of a golf boom.” It made no mention of the supposed crackdown and featured outlandish statements such as:
Han Liebao, director of the Golf Education and Research Department at the Beijing Forestry University, said the appropriate number of golf courses for Beijing should be about 370, based on an assumption that every middle-class Beijinger would play one round per week.
Emphasis mine. Reuters’ recent coverage of golf in China has been similarly antithetical (and at the same time accurate). On March 2 they told us China was teeing up for a “golf explosion.” And on March 7 their headline read: “Only one of 20 Beijing golf courses legal.”