The construction of a 21-km-long concrete and marble dragon along the ridge of a mountain near a national forest in central China's Henan Province has become a controversial national issue.
The Zulong Company has completed construction on the dragon's 29.9-meter-high head and 800 meters of its body at a cost of more than 30 million yuan (US$3.9 million), with the final cost expected to be 10 times that amount.
Company president Li Shumin said the monumental project would be completed by 2009 in time to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China.
Critics of the project say it is a waste of money and will damage the local environment, while supporters say it will attract visitors and create jobs for local people.
Zulong's vice president, Li Xiong, said the company will continue building the giant stone dragon and is determined to make it a success despite the controversy
An online survey by the leading Chinese portal website Sina.com shows more than 91 percent of over 65,500 respondents disapproved of the dragon, which is said to be the longest in the country if not the world.
The dragon snakes its way along the top of a ridge of Shizhu Mountain, which was designated as a national forest park in 2005. Along with its mammoth head and impressive, twisting length, the dragon will form a wall nine meters high and six meters wide along the backbone of the ridge.
Some 5.6 million pieces of white marble and gilded bronze are to form the dragon's scales as a move that is "symbolic of the country's 56 ethnic groups." Display rooms offering themes of filial piety and patriotism are to be set up in the dragon's hollow body.
For a fee, people will be able to have their names and messages inscribed on the scales, and companies can advertise on the dragon's head.
A Henan newspaper quoted an official with Xinzheng City as saying that the dragon is a business project and has nothing to do with the government.
But Li Xiong disputes this statement, saying: "How can this huge project have nothing to do with the government? The lands belong to the state, you know, if the government didn't approve it, how can we build this dragon on it?"
The land used for construction is reported to be wasted land, and he added that the government has even promised relocation arrangements for the villagers living on the mountain, which indicates the government's support for the project.
The director of the Xinzheng municipal publicity department strongly denied the reported involvement of the government. "The government never invested a penny into this project. They told the media that our government supports them and it's the government's important project -- they are just using us to gain publicity to attract further investments!"
However, on February 5, the stone dragon project was given permission to build by Xinzheng City's Development and Reform Commission and was submitted to provincial and national development and reform commissions, according to Henan Business Newspaper.
Exactly where the building funds came from is quite a mystery now. A company official from the press department of Zulong told Legal Evening News
yesterday they have rejected any direct investments. He said they have been developing a unique product for the project, which they expect to sell, using the money they earn as further investment toward the project.
His comments have contradicted previous statements made by the company. Even the official website never mentioned the "product," but it did welcome foreign and domestic enterprises, social organizations, venture companies, and funds.
The official also said the reported "30 million yuan" figure is not correct, but he did not elaborate on the true figure.
The dragon project was first launched in 2002 by a returned overseas Chinese but stalled after running short of funds. Zulong Company was founded in October 2005 with a registered capital of 1 million yuan (US$129,381).
However, the government may now step in to decide the fate of the dragon. Due to the media frenzy that followed public discovery of the project, the provincial environmental protection bureau has sent a team to inspect the construction site.
Li Shumin confessed to the media yesterday that the project hasn't passed the examination of environmental authorities. If it cannot pass the examination, it will be terminated immediately.
(Xinhua News Agency, China.org.cn by Zhang Rui March 28, 2007)