Notebook

December 27, 2011 10:24 pm

Desperately seeking smart apparatchiks

Could an outspoken party governor, illicit baby-boomers and the fining of good Smaritans be signs of change in China, wonders Rahul Jacob

Zheng Yanxiong seems determined to make headlines for the wrong reasons. He had his 15 seconds of fame as party governor of the small city that oversees the rebellious village of Wukan. Not content to use police to blockade the village and try to starve it into submission for more than a week, Zheng sent the villagers a video attacking them for trusting journalists rather than the government.

“If foreign media are reliable, pigs can climb trees,” he thundered. “They would be so happy to see our socialist country troubled with turbulence.” Wukan’s residents were demanding an investigation into the sale of communal land by party officials to a well-connected Hong Kong businessman, and the death in police custody of a popular leader of the protests. Far from trying to sound conciliatory, Zheng, 48, sounded like an eccentric school principal. “If you wouldn’t cause trouble, we wouldn’t have to arrest people. Don’t you think it costs money to hire armed police?”

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Zheng is unlikely to get promoted to China’s Politburo, but such is the banality of most Chinese Communist party officials, however, that many of China’s vast population of internet users actually applauded Zheng’s directness – even if they disagreed with what he said.

His stream of consciousness rant about how officials’ work was getting harder every day because “ordinary people are getting smarter and have more demands” was seen as more personally revealing than other party officials would have dared to be. All this suggests that if democracies get the leaders they deserve, dictatorships don’t deserve the tolerant citizens they rule. It’s not just that young people in Wukan and elsewhere are becoming cleverer in the way they question authority, but that officials like Zheng are not getting any smarter.

Outwitting the one-child policy

Guangzhou’s media have breathlessly been reporting a who dunit of a baby boom – all in one family. Leaving nothing to chance after having tried to have children for years, a wealthy couple decided to use eight eggs for in vitro fertilisation – and all eight were successfully fertilised. Guangzhou media say that the couple expected only two or three babies from the eight eggs because of the uncertainty with in vitro fertilisation. Two surrogate mothers were then enlisted to the cause and duly gave birth to triplets and twins while the biological mother gave birth to triplets – all in the same month of September 2010. (The story surfaced this month when a reporter found photographs of the children in a photo studio)

Banx illustration

Like something out of 101 Dalmatians, the household has gone forth and multiplied. The couple have a staff of 11 to look after the four boys and four girls. Local newspapers who love the lifestyles of the rich and, er, fertile have had their calculators ready: one paper put the cost of the pregnancies and the births at Rmb 1m with monthly expenditure of about Rmb 100,000. No one appears to have quantified what fines the couple will have to pay the government for thumbing their nose so spectacularly at the one-child policy. Using surrogate mothers is illegal in China so the local government inevitably has promised an investigation. But, only this summer, the regional head of the population commission wondered aloud if it was time to change the three-decade-old one- child policy. Perhaps the city should applaud the couple for trying to reverse the population’s greying.

Good Samaritans

A couple of Saturdays ago, scholars and lawyers met at a Guangzhou university to discuss the societal problem that people in communist China tend not to help people who have an accident, or elderly who fall on the pavement because they are afraid of being sued in court for damages. This has happened a few times recently when judges, doubtful anyone would help someone out of the goodness of their hearts, have fined good Samaritans. The conference in Guangzhou called for new laws to protect the wrongfully accused. The government pledged to reward people who helped strangers. But, that is only part of a solution as cases may still end up in court. You heard it here last: China needs a more humane legal system, preferably one that does not allow the detention of people leading peaceful protests.

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