It's good that some Chinese cities have decided to go green by borrowing foreign expertise showcased at the World Expo.
The Oriental Morning Post reported yesterday that quite a few cities, such as Shanghai and Tangshan, have signed memorandums of cooperation with certain foreign cities that demonstrated their low-carbon experience in the Expo's Urban Best Practices Area.
Such cooperation appears to heed the call of China's top leadership on Monday to promote harmony between man and nature. A good call indeed. But the devil is in the details. What, after all, is a good model of harmony between man and nature? Are foreign experiences all good? Even if they are all good, I have yet to read reports about Chinese cities signing memorandums with ancient Chinese urban wisdom in promoting man-nature harmony.
I went to my hometown Yangzhou during the National Holiday earlier this month. It's partially modern - terribly modern, and partially old - wonderfully old. In the old city center, car traffic was so congested that even pedestrians and cyclists could only move ahead like snails. That's the result of a Chinese city copying the ugly modern Western model of urban sprawl.
But surpassing Shanghai, Yangzhou offers a pedestrian ready access to trees and lanes that are more than a thousand years old. Once you elbow your way out of that commercial crowd in the city center, every direction points you to deep shades, mossy roads and ancient temples where peace prevails. In Shanghai, you're walled up in concrete, there's no escape. Even in the World Expo area, you see few trees, let alone running water in creeks that are the basics of a better city, better life.
In addition to learning the best of the West, Shanghai and most other Chinese cities should look inward for wisdom from ancient Chinese cities in giving the most space to history, not to highrises.