Tofu-dreg project

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Tofu-dreg project
Simplified Chinese豆腐渣工程

"Tofu-dreg project" (Chinese: 豆腐渣工程) is a phrase used in the Chinese-speaking world to describe a poorly constructed building, sometimes called just "Tofu buildings". The phrase was coined by Zhu Rongji, the former premier of the People's Republic of China, on a 1998 visit to Jiujiang City, Jiangxi Province to describe a poorly-built set of flood dykes in the Yangtze River.[1] The phrase is notably used referring to buildings collapsed in the 2008 Sichuan earthquake disaster.[2][3][4][5][6][7]

In China, the term tofu dregs (the pieces left over after making tofu) is widely used as a metaphor for shoddy work, hence the implication that a "tofu-dreg project" is a poorly executed project.[8]

According to Chinese architect Li Hu, tofu-dreg projects in China are vastly outnumbered by buildings without construction flaws. Li said that in most cases, ill-constructed buildings don't collapse but merely have a reduced lifespan or leakages.[9]

2008 Sichuan earthquake[edit]

This kindergarten was among the many schools in the disaster region that suffered heavy structural damage.

During the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, many schoolhouses collapsed; resulting in the death of students. These buildings have been used to exemplify tofu-dreg projects. The collapses were linked to allegations of corruption in the construction of Chinese schools.

…School construction is the worst. First, there’s not enough capital. Schools in poor areas have small budgets and, unlike schools in the cities, they can’t collect huge fees, so they’re pressed for money. With construction, add in exploitation by government officials, education officials, school managers, etc. and you can imagine what’s left over for the actual building of schools. When earthquake prevention standards are raised, government departments, major businesses, etc. will all appraise and reinforce their buildings. But these schools with their 70s-era buildings, no one pays attention to them. Because of this, the older school buildings are suffer[ing] from inadequate protection while the new buildings have been shoddily constructed.

— A construction engineer using the pseudonym "Book Blade" (书剑子) [10]

On May 15, 2008, Geoffery York of The Globe and Mail reported that the shoddily constructed buildings are commonly called "tofu buildings" because builders cut corners by replacing steel rods with thin iron wires for concrete reinforcement; using inferior grade cement, if any at all; and using fewer bricks than they should. One local was quoted in the article as saying that "the supervising agencies did not check to see if it met the national standards."[11]

The state-controlled media has largely ignored the tofu-dregs schoolhouses, under directives from the propaganda bureau's instructions. Parents, volunteers, and journalists who have questioned authorities have been intimidated or arrested.[12][13][14][15] In order to silence the issue, riot police officers broke up protests by parents; the authorities set up cordons around the schools; and officials ordered the Chinese news media to stop reporting on school collapses.[16]

Climate change[edit]

Construction emissions[edit]

Tofu-dreg construction stems from speedy, shoddy work and often uses cheap and quick materials, mainly concrete.[17] The speedy construction and pouring of sub-standard concrete leads to poor building and infrastructure quality, causing the issues seen during natural disasters like the Wenchuan Earthquake.[17] Concrete production contributes to large percentages of individual greenhouse gases,[18] and construction contributes to about 40% of the world's greenhouse gas emissions, mostly coming from the materials used.[17][19] From 1980 to 2011, China led in cement production, producing more cement in a two-year period than the U.S. produced in the entire 20th century.[17][page needed] All of this cement production has led to vast emissions of greenhouse gases; China's emissions from cement alone rivaled total greenhouse gas emissions of entire countries.[17] Tofu construction only leads to more construction when buildings must be replaced; after the Sichuan Earthquake, China finished close to 29,692 projects to rebuild areas affected by the earthquake.[20] Even without natural disasters, Chinese constructions have still failed: "One Australian reporter counted four collapsed bridges in just nine days in July 2012."[17] Chinese officials acknowledge these issues as well, giving life expectancies of buildings and warning of future collapses of buildings as they age and reach certain life spans.[17] Even in reconstruction efforts, tofu-dreg construction remains prevalent: Sources from the post-earthquake county of Yongcheng reported moving into buildings already having cracked walls in newly built apartments.[21]

Overall effect[edit]

Tofu-dreg construction is connected to grandeur projects of Chinese government entities, many of which are wholly unnecessary to their intended purpose and are constructed simply to show outsiders that China is developed. By allocating the country's best resources to wealthy cities, China's rural areas are subjected to repeated infrastructure disasters, which not only leads to the expenditure of more natural resources in order to rebuild, but also releases pollution during infrastructure collapses.[17] China's construction industry is a significant contributor to the overall climate crisis, and although China has made plans to reduce the nation's carbon emissions with renewable energy and upgraded industrial equipment, the majority of China's rural and poor areas continue to depend on materials such as cement and steel which carry a heavy carbon footprint.[22] The result, as exemplified by tofu-dreg projects, is recurring collapses and intense natural resource use. In addition, poorly-constructed work areas (such as factories) have led to devastating events such as factory fires, pipeline leaks, and workplace explosions.[17]


  1. ^ Cary, Eve. "China's Dangerous Tofu Projects". Retrieved 2021-11-20.
  2. ^ Shuk-ting, Kinnia Yau (2013-12-05). Natural Disaster and Reconstruction in Asian Economies: A Global Synthesis of Shared Experiences. Springer. ISBN 978-1-137-36416-6.
  3. ^ "墨西哥地震學校倒塌 豆腐渣工程核准人判208年 | 國際 | 中央社 CNA". (in Chinese). 16 July 2021. Retrieved 2022-01-18.
  4. ^ "糗!金正恩建設是「豆腐渣工程」 強風一來屋頂直接被吹翻 | ETtoday國際新聞 | ETtoday新聞雲". (in Traditional Chinese). 30 December 2021. Retrieved 2022-01-18.
  5. ^ "20秒害死502人:26年前的豆腐渣工程,成为韩国人永远的痛_湃客_澎湃新闻-The Paper". Retrieved 2022-01-18.
  6. ^ "新加坡惊现建筑"豆腐渣"工程". 南洋视界. Retrieved 2022-01-18.
  7. ^ 新加坡眼 (2016-06-19). "新加坡也有豆腐渣工程,倒下的瞬间,太吓人了!". 新加坡眼 (in Chinese (China)). Retrieved 2022-01-18.
  8. ^ "Rising death toll, popular anger in China quake". World Socialist Web Site. May 21, 2008. Archived from the original on 2013-03-16. Pu Changxue, whose son Pu Tong died crushed in a classroom, said: "This was a tofu dregs project and the government should assume responsibility" (...) Tofu dregs—the messy leftovers after making bean curd—are a common expression for low-quality work.
  9. ^ Rizzardi, Pier Alessio; Hankun, Zhang (2018). The Condition of Chinese Architecture. TCA Think Tank. ISBN 978-1-9164537-0-8.
  10. ^ "A Construction Engineer's Thoughts on the Sichuan Earthquake". China Digital Times. May 22, 2008.
  11. ^ YORK, GEOFFREY (May 15, 2008). "Why China's buildings crumbled Survivors blame corruption, shoddy construction and cost cutting for the collapse of so many 'tofu buildings' – and even state media outlets are asking questions". The Globe and Mail. Archived from the original on October 10, 2008. Retrieved February 26, 2009.
  12. ^ Cara Anna, Sensitive China quake photo removed, Associated Press via USA Today, 6/14/08. Retrieved 6/29/12
  13. ^ Lee, Diana and agencies (February 10, 2010), Fury at jail for quake activist Archived June 4, 2011, at the Wayback Machine, The Standard
  14. ^ "Press Release: Family Visits Still Denied to Sichuan School Teacher Punished after Quake-Zone Visit". Human Rights in China. 2008-07-29. Archived from the original on 2009-01-09. Retrieved 2008-10-17.
  15. ^ "Sichuan Teacher, Liu Shaokun, was Released to Serve his Reeducation-Through-Labor Sentence Outside of Labor Camp". Human Rights in China. 2008-09-26. Retrieved 2023-05-20.
  16. ^ Wong, Edward (July 24, 2008). "China Presses Hush Money on Grieving Parents". The New York Times. Archived from the original on April 16, 2009. Retrieved April 22, 2010.
  17. ^ a b c d e f g h i Smith, Richard (2020), China's engine of environmental collapse, London: Pluto Press, ISBN 978-1-78680-663-5, OCLC 1164185270
  18. ^ Miller, Sabbie A.; Moore, Frances C. (March 23, 2020). "Climate and health damages from global concrete production". Nature Climate Change. 10 (5): 439–443. Bibcode:2020NatCC..10..439M. doi:10.1038/s41558-020-0733-0. ISSN 1758-6798. S2CID 214618351.
  19. ^ "Putting the construction sector at the core of the climate change debate | Deloitte Central Europe". Deloitte. Retrieved 2023-05-05.
  20. ^ Yang, Fang, ed. (February 24, 2012). "Sichuan post-quake reconstruction completed successfully". Chinese Government's Official Web Portal. Archived from the original on June 28, 2013. Retrieved May 5, 2023.
  21. ^ Lim, Louisa (May 13, 2013). "Five Years After A Quake, Chinese Cite Shoddy Reconstruction". npr.
  22. ^ Liu, Zhu; Guan, Dabo; Crawford-Brown, Douglas; Zhang, Qiang; He, Kebin; Liu, Jianguo (August 2013). "A low-carbon road map for China". Nature. 500 (7461): 143–145. doi:10.1038/500143a. ISSN 1476-4687. PMID 23925225.