Advertising and Marketing

Ads on the Qinghai-Tibet railroad

The new train to Lhasa: a marvel of engineering, a miracle of construction, and a landmark in social welfare.

Zhu Zhensheng, administrative vice-director of the Qinghai-Tibet rail office, announced this week that the Ministry of Railroads expects to operate the line at a loss for the long term. As a service to the nation's rail passengers, hard-seat tickets on the new train are priced comparably to other national routes covering the same distance rather than reflecting the additional cost of the sophisticated technology that goes into maintaining a comfortable traveling environment at the roof of the world. Though sleeper tickets are priced a bit higher, Zhu said that it would still be difficult for the ministry to recoup its 33 billion-yuan investment in the short-term.

Along the same lines, Li Bingjiu, director of the passenger office of Beijing's rail bureau, said that in order to emphasize the public service nature of the Qinghai-Tibet rail line, commercially-oriented advertisements will be banned from the train, forever. Public service ads will be allowed, but anything suspected of being commercial in nature will not be accepted.

There's been quite a bit of commentary in the Chinese press this week on these two issues. Here's a selection of viewpoints:

Wang Wei in Zhujiang Evening News:

Truly preposterous!

The Qinghai-Tibet railroad has a projected investment of 33 billion yuan, and environmental investment alone is more than 1.5 billion. Investment follows many paths to generate returns - this is how the world works. Running commercial advertisements on the Qinghai-Tibet railroad would not only be in accord with economic rules, but is a win-win way to "benefit the world without plucking a single hair" - why not jump at the chance?

For some time, people have pictured the ministry of railroads as the "iron boss" - nothing good can be said about its service, and there is enormous resentment among the public. The annual price-hike at the Spring Festival, for example, or the high price of food and reluctance to give receipts on the train, or the fact that railroad employees do not need tickets - on and on, this all leaves people with an image of the iron boss as capricious, domineering, and extortionary. When will the iron boss remember that "the trains are the people's trains"? At the occasion of the Qinghai-Tibet railroad going into operation, however, the iron boss acts out of character, raising up a plank of righteousness and sacrifice. This "counterfeit standard" is laughable and invites scorn. What we want to say is that, since the Qinghai-Tibet trains are "the people's trains," no one should make them into a monument to their own integrity!

Ye Lei in Guizhou Metropolis Daily:

Crossing the backbone of the world, the Qinghai-Tibet railroad is as pure and unblemished as the snowcaps it crosses, drawing its mission from public welfare and not acting out of a profit motive. The Qinghai-Tibet railroad, like the railroad in the American west, has a strategic significance far greater than its commercial meaning, since its use in protecting national integrity and ethnic integration cannot be measured. However, strategic and commercial significance need not be inevitably in conflict; as the saying goes, "At the whistle of the train, gold falls like rain." Without waiting for practical experience, the rail ministry officials' announcement that they would see long-term operating losses is not very fitting.

From the announcement that the rail ministry expected long-term operating losses, I recalled a news item: a representative of the Beijing rail bureau said recently that "trains running on the Qinghai-Tibet line must be completely public service, and may never permit any advertisements suspected of being commercial." Can commercial and public service ads truly not coexist? In actuality, some commercial ads are really boosters for public service programs; speaking more generally, the income from commercial advertisements may be used in its entirety to supplement operations and keep costs in line. It can cut down drastically on financial burdens - isn't this even more of a public service? The more something is a public service, the more costs must be divided. "Never permit any advertisements suspected of being commercial" is an embodiment of a superficial view of two extremes.

The Qinghai-Tibet railroad has just begun operations; to announce future for long-term losses displays on the one hand the calcified thinking of the rail ministry officials. On the other hand, the business opportunities offered by Tibet are limitless; if the market is exploited in earnest, losses may only be short-term. Preparing for long-term losses reveals that the rail ministry is missing a spirit of creativity and development, and is an expression of their lack of confidence.

From the announcement that the rail ministry expected long-term operating losses, I recalled another news item: Beijing's statistics bureau sent a statistics enforcement team to 18 hospitals and 24 universities for an inspection, and found that the 18 hospitals had under-reported remuneration by at least 170 million yuan, and the 24 universities had under-reported remuneration by at least 580 million yuan, for a total of 750 million yuan. Hospitals and schools are the two sectors that make the most noise about lack of funding; this hidden income demonstrates the profitability of these sectors. Railroads in this country are still a monopoly, but long ago turned from loss to profitability. At this point in time, is there perhaps another motive to announcing that the Qinghai-Tibet railroad will operate at a long-term loss?

At the same time that medicine and education were experiencing large profits, they were unceasingly bemoaning their poverty, a move to make it appear that government funding was deficient. This migrated the source of their problems, and at the same time, they received more national funding. Is the ministry of railroads performing the same selfish accounting, disavowing any responsibility for future poor operation, while at the same time hoping to use this to receive additional financing?

Yi Ran on Eastday:

In an era of "360 professions, each looking toward money," to emphasize taking orders from the public good and not placing profit as the highest motive is a commendable goal. However, what is puzzling is that to "completely embody public welfare," it was decided to "never permit any form of advertising suspected of being commercial." Is placing public service and commercial ads up as polar opposites in accordance with the objective rules of the development of a socialist market economy? Is it in accord with the principles of dialectical materialism?

Advertisements are one form of publicity that introduce goods, services, or entertainment and sports programs. In a commodity society, this is a common and popular method - to contemporary Chinese people, advertisements are no longer unfamiliar; advertisements play an undeniable role in our daily lives and our economic behavior. Only during the Cultural Revolution, when advertisements were labeled "feudal, capitalist, or revisionist," was the voice of sales promotion silenced in China for ten years. Then Shanghai's Wen Hui Bao and Jiefang Daily led the way in running advertisements, and when an ad for a foreign brand appeared on Bund, it caused quite a scene. Even though it seems strange, perhaps even laughable, recalling that time, there truly were people who believed advertisements to be instruments of destruction. So today, when the market economy system is essentially in place, it is a bit strange for the Qinghai-Tibet railroad to cut itself off from commercial advertising.

In fairness, current advertisements are dominated by commercial ads, and public service ads make up a relatively small percentage. In my mind, though the Qinghai-Tibet railroad has decided not to reject public service advertisements, why should it not run commercial ads? Will banishing "any ad that is suspected of being commercial" bring about public welfare on the train? Or will doing the opposite damage public welfare? This is much too absolute, I'm afraid. As for "never permit," that seems a bit overdone.

Commercial ads and public service ads are perfectly able to share a space. Internationally, public transit, including trains, is commonly used to benefit the public - it is a type of social welfare program, funded in large part by the government, but in those train cars you can frequently see "ads that are suspected of being commercial." It seems that there is no conflict between this and public service programs! People won't question the quality of the public transit because they see these ads. This is one point.

A second point: if the Qinghai-Tibet line runs commercial ads, they could introduce products from the Qinghai-Tibet region to inland travelers, enlarging their understanding of Qinghai and Tibet, accelerating the circulation of products, motivating consumption in the Qinghai-Tibet region, and adding to the GPT of the Qinghai-Tibet regions. At the same time, it would give the Qinghai-Tibet line an additional bit of revenue. A flock of birds with one stone - why not go for it? How will this obstruct the public benefit of the Qinghai-Tibet line? Naturally, the content of the advertisements must be strictly controlled; ads for fake and inferior products and dishonest elements must not be allowed on the Qinghai-Tibet line, but healthy, honest advertisements can only benefit the flow of information between Qinghai-Tibet and the interior. At a fundamental level, this may bring prosperity to the people of Qinghai and Tibet, so why say they will "never be permitted"?

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There are currently 2 Comments for Ads on the Qinghai-Tibet railroad.

Comments on Ads on the Qinghai-Tibet railroad

thanks for sharing this.

i was going to say something on the stupid decision. fortunately there are many sane minds in China beat me to this. :)

If China wants people to move west into the TAR, it makes a lot of sense to subsidize this train.

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