The following is an excerpt from the book I Object: The Road to Politics by a People's Congress Member by Zhu Ling. The book is about former People's Congress representative Yao Lifa, who is more commonly known among the citizens of Qianjiang as "Representative Yao." The book is 'banned' by the General Administration of Press and Publications as announced by its deputy director. The translator of the excerpt below notes that he would have been reading/translating from this book if GAPP had not provided the free publicity.
As background, this excerpt concerns the dismissal of village officials who were elected by popular election. According to the law, they can only be dismissed through a recall vote by the voters. So their dismissal upon orders by town officials was illegal. Why were the town officials so adamant about removing so many of them? The typical situation is something like this (as described in detail in another chapter in the book): A small village used to be run by unelected officials who managed to run up huge debts. Of course, the debt burden fell upon the shoulders of the people. A villager then puts himself up to run for the position of village director with the promise of straightening out the finances. The villager is elected by an overwhelming majority and he begins to study the accounting books. He finds large amounts of entertainment and gift expenses, including those for town leaders. There were also mysterious expenses such as buying merchandise at exorbitantly marked up prices from the town leader's relatives. But before the village director can make any case, he is dismissed by the town leader for concocted reasons. That is the typical model.
This particular excerpt was chosen because it showed how the media -- both domestic and foreign -- impacted the progression.
The Investigative Team is Coming
On August 12, 2002, <Hubei Daily News> published an internal reference report titled: <Strange happenings in a model self-rule city for villages: 56.8% of Qianjiang city's village directors were illegally removed from their posts>.
The internal reference report is a type of secret internal periodical. Internal reference reports have different classifications. Some internal references are shown only to leaders at the provincial party secretary level; some are distributed to the various district commissioners; and then there are some that are top secret material reserved only for the eyes of the central government leaders.
Ordinary citizens do not get to read the internal reference reports. If someone leaks the contents overseas, there is the possibility of going to jail for leaking state secrets.
Internal reference reports are mostly about negative news, controversial topics, bad incidents, adverse public opinions and other sensitive content. Such content is inappropriate to be openly reported for the general public, but it is essential for the leaders to be aware about it as part of the policy-making process.
But because the internal reference reports can reach high up the hierarchy, they are very powerful.
This particular <Hubei Daily News> internal reference report was made available to the leaders at the department level or higher up. When the news about this internal report reached Qianjiang, the city leaders shivered. The immediate reaction was: "Disaster strikes!"
Ten days later on August 23, the provincial party leader issued a stern order to ask the provincial civil affairs bureau and the Qianjiang city committee and government to conduct a thorough investigation.
Three days later on August 256, the provincial civil affairs bureau grassroots political construction department director Jia Hong took an investigative team to Qianjiang and moved into the Qianjiang hotel.
Is the content of the internal reference report accurate? Was Yao Lifa a "showboat" who made things up like certain Qianjiang officials claim? Can People's Congress representative Yao Lifa be trusted?
Director Jia began her investigation with her usual powerful style. That night, she went to visit Yao Lifa to borrow something from him -- the investigative material about the illegal dismissal of village officials. She wrote him a receipt for the loan.
The investigative material amounted to more than three hundred pages of paper about the job changes in every village within Qianjiang city, including the name of the dismissed village official, the date of dismissal, the cause for dismissal, possible re-instatement, the number of times the official was dismissed, the official was replaced him/her, etc. Yao Lifa had made detailed notes on each and every item.
Qianjiang city also held a emergency meeting of all the town party and government leaders, who were asked to figure out how many village officials had been dismissed. At first, some towns attempted to muddle their way through. If ten village officials were dismissed, they reported five; if five were dismissed, they reported three. This was not the first time that they have played these number games. But this time, it did not work. Director Jia showed no pity and asked those towns which submitted fake numbers to re-confirm.
So the reports continued to come in and were rejected again. Qianjiang city party secretary Zhang was furious, and he gave the town leaders a tongue-lashing.
Even as secretary Zhang's anger had not subsided and the provincial civil affairs bureau workers were working overtime at the Qianjiang Hotel, the provincial People's Congress sent its own investigative team to Qianjiang to oversee the remedy to the problem of illegal dismissals.
Qianjiang is a small city of just over 100,000 people such that one can cover the whole city on foot in the time that it takes to smoke a few cigarettes. Yet there are two provincial-level investigative teams stationed there. For that period, the Qianjiang officials at various levels were like ants running around like crazy on a red-hot wok.
For the next six months, the town officials basically slept in their offices.
"The city party secretary was in a really foul mood during that period. He would call us at the town office in the middle of the night. Those days were really ... which town mayor dared to go home?" A town mayor sighed.
While the investigative teams were getting on with their work, Yao Lifa kept receiving telephone calls from the village officials who were dismissed. They told Yao that the town cadres were forcing them to concoct a set of lies along with the villagers.
What to do? When lies are repeated a hundred times, a thousand times, they become the truth. But the truth must not be suppressed. After a brief hesitation, Yao Lifa dialed the telephone numbers of some reporters.
On September 12, 2002, <Southern Weekend> used its front page to publish the story about the illegal dismissal of village officials in Qianjiang city titled <187 popularly elected village officials were dismissed in three years -- the gridlock in grassroots administration in Qianjiang villages>. This report made a detailed description and analysis about how Qianjiang illegally removed the elected village officials.
Once <Southern Weekend> reported on the illegal dismissal of village officials in Qianjiang, public opinion erupted across the country. On the relatively free Internet, netizens made condemnations.
One netizen post: "This is a political scandal!"
Another post said: "Darkness! Sorrow! What kind of democracy is this? This is just a con game."
Another post said emotionally: "We'll just kick aside all the stones in Qianjiang that are blocking the path to democracy! Will the relevant departments please get rid of all of them!"
One post said: "We firmly support People's Congress representative Yao Lifa."
Yao Lifa had no idea that the matter about the illegal dismissal of village officials had drawn such a huge response. He is a "backwards" person. He does not have a mobile telephone. He does not have a computer. He does not know how to get on the Internet. He does not have his own email account. He does not even know how to type. He has not even heard of the popular QQ chat.
When <Southern Weekend> appeared in news kiosks in Qianjiang, Yao Lifa used his usual primitive method. He rode all over the city on the bicycle and spent his own money to purchase several dozen copies to distribute. He was worried that there would be a recurrence of the case when the relevant departments bought up all copies of the newspaper. He had only one thing in mind: to let as many people know as possible.
At the time, the national civil affairs bureau chief in Beijing read the report in <Southern Weekend> and he immediately ordered: "The political rights department should investigate the situation in Qianjiang." The grassroots political rights and community construction department received the instruction from the director and contacted the Hubei provincial civil affairs bureau to ask them to investigate and then report the results back to the civil affairs bureau. The Hubei provincial leaders also made another request to Qianjiang.
So before the two investigative teams had left Qianjiang, another set of documents asking for an investigation has shown up at the Qianjiang party and government offices. The officials had not even absorbed it when the Hubei provincial publicity department came with a stern telephone call to demand to know why the foreign media were reporting on the case of Yao Lifa.
By coincidence, on the day after the <Southern Weekend> report, the famous American newspaper <Washington Post> published an article titled <Bringing Revolution to China's Villages; Democracy Activists Challenge Old Guard>. This article proclaimed Yao Lifa to be a democratic warrior and contained detailed descriptions of the Dongtan incident, the problem with the teacher wages, the illegal dismissal of village officials, etc.
Prior to that, <The New York Times> also reported on the democratic election of Yao Lifa in its international page with a story titled <Far From Beijing, a Semblance of Democracy>.
Through these famous overseas media, the name of Yao Lifa became known across the world. His name was read and mentioned uncountable number of times.
This was really a case of "good things do not get out of the door but bad things travel to thousands of miles away." The sham that Qianjiang city put on village self-rule was now hyped up by foreigners. This was more than about losing face for Qianjiang; this had become a problem for the international image of democracy in China.
At the late night meeting of leaders, Qianjiang city party secretary said with a grim look and a loud voice, one word at a time slowly to the town leaders: "Tonight, I am going to give you people a final chance. If you do not come clean in your next investigtion, you ought to consider what you would do after you are dismissed from your jobs."
This ultimatum was very powerful. So the correct results came in.
The results shocked everybody. The number of dismissed village officials counted by the town leaders was even higher than the number counted by Yao Lifa.
Yao said that this was obvious. His number stopped in May, but the investigation ended four months later in September. This meant that the town cadres had not been idle as the game of dismissing village officials continued.
The investigation of the dismissal of village officials ended in September 2002. This was the time when the village officials would have completed their three-year term. anyway
The relevant Qianjiang city departments made a solemn promise to restore the jobs of the dismissed village officials by October 10. But most of those village officials said, "No, thanks." Their terms had ended, and the restoration of their jobs was meaningless.
In the "remedy," not a single town cadre in Qianjiang city was held administratively or legally responsible for illegally dismissing those village officials. <The village committee organization laws> meant nothing to these law-breakers! ...
So it had only been a false alarm. The Qianjiang town cadres smiled at each other and gave deep sighs of relief. ...
"Do you feel as if your efforts had totally gone to waste?" I asked Yao Lifa.
"No. After this investigation, the villagers have learned more about village self-rule and increased their awareness for democracy. Only with awareness for democracy can it really take root ..." said Yao Lifa.