01/15/2009, 00.00
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Chinese railways preach "harmony" to conceal inefficiency

For years, millions of migrants returning home for the Chinese new year have stood in line for hours in order to get onto overcrowded trains. The government has never been interested in creating a more efficient system. But this year it fears protests, and is preaching efficiency and courtesy.

Beijing (AsiaNews/Agencies) - The Chinese railway system has trouble handling the 188 million passengers expected for the celebration of the lunar new year. But this year, Beijing is afraid that the "usual" poor organization of the railways could lead to public protests.

For years, long lines of passengers have waited at the train stations for hours, first to buy tickets and then to get onto overcrowded trains. It is almost a ritual, and the government has always been indifferent to the urgent requests from the migrants to set up a system for selling tickets in keeping with the actual availability of seats, possibly by introducing "nominal" tickets.

But this year, the authorities are afraid of protests, especially among the many migrants frustrated because they have been fired, with no job to go back to after the vacation. One popular video on YouTube shows a ticket seller at the train station in Beijing printing tickets well before they were officially approved to go on sale. It is an open secret that employees of the railway do "favors" like these for travel agencies, which resell the tickets at a higher price.

Concern is high, and the state news agency Xinhua is appealing to the heads of the railway companies, speaking of "a real test of their capability to promote harmony as the global financial crisis and weakening domestic economy have aggravated the winter blues." The railway ministry recalls that President Hu Jintao has observed that "this year the discrepancy between supply and demand" for train travel is very serious, almost as if to provide a ready-made justification for the endemic dysfunction.

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