The naming of a new subway station after a popular duck snack brand is proving hard to swallow for residents in Wuhan.
Hubei's provincial capital is scheduled to open Line 2 at the end of this year, and authorities have already sold the naming rights to seven of its 21 stations, generating 22.75 million yuan (S$4.46 million).
However, people have expressed mixed feelings over the fact Jianghan Road Station - in a historic area of the city - will be branded with the name Zhouheiya, a well-known snack company.
"The brand's name doesn't match the fame of Jianghan Road, which is an important place for us residents, famous for its long history and booming business," said Zheng Lifang, a 42-year-old Wuhan resident. "It even makes me dislike Zhouheiya a little, although I still like eating its products."
A 52-year-old man who only gave his name as Wang agreed, and said that he felt the decision to allow the company to buy the rights was the result of commercial interests trumping social concerns.
"The government will drop the sponsored name if the criticism is loud enough," he predicted.
Not all residents are against the name. Cai Yang, a student at Wuhan University, said he supported the decision.
"Zhouheiya is a famous snack brand and makes people think of Wuhan, so I'm OK with it," he said.
Line 2 is the city's first underground subway service and will pass through the city's busy downtown. Upon the completion of phase one, the subway will stretch 27.73 km, according to transportation authorities.
A spokesman for Wuhan Metro Group, the network operators, declined to comment on the residents' response on Wednesday. However, he did confirm that a six-year deal worth 5 million yuan had been signed with Zhouheiya in December.
Twenty-four signs carrying the snack company's name have been placed on walls throughout the station, although none were visible at its entrances on Wednesday. The name has not yet appeared on any official maps.
A spokesman for Zhouheiya declined to comment.
Many Chinese cities have auctioned off the naming rights for subway stations, largely to raise funds for operation costs, including Jiangsu province's Nanjing, and Changsha in Hunan province.
However, Tianjin's metro operator, which initially introduced the policy, has announced that four its 10 sponsored subway stations have already removed their company logos, while the rest will follow suit when contracts expire in 2013.
One of the reasons behind this decision is because passengers complained about the long names, saying they were confusing, according to an official with Tianjin Metro's marketing department.
Zhao Jian, a professor at Beijing Jiaotong University, said the subway-operating companies usually collect extra funds through selling the naming rights, but said the funds are "far from enough to help develop the subway".
Thousands of millions of yuan will be spent on subway projects every year, and the money collected from selling naming rights covers only a small part of the total expense, he said.
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