July 27th, 2012 | Shanghai Daily Cadres who toady advance through ‘rocket’ promotions
IN recent years there has been a surge of controversial promotions of young cadres in China.
On January 18 this year, an online expose revealed the “rocket-speed” promotion of Jiao Sanniu, a Tsinghua University graduate and civil servant in Wuwei City, Gansu Province.
Within just half a year, Jiao rose through the official ranks from a grassroots office clerk to something of a vice county chief.
At 23, Jiao has realized the ambitions that would have taken an ordinary cadre decades or a lifetime to fulfill.
Skepticism of Jiao’s credentials soon followed, but local authorities immediately justified their decision, citing his good education, talent and work ethic.
Nationwide, Jiao’s meteoric rise isn’t without precedent. In August 2011, Mou Yang was nominated as a candidate for the job of township governor in Yidu City of Hubei Province, and she eventually was elected the deputy governor. She was then 25, half as old as her colleagues of the same status.
Also in Hubei, at age 29, Zhou Senfeng was named the acting mayor of Yicheng City in 2009, and came to be known as the “youngest of China’s mayors.” He is now deputy Party chief with responsibility for an immense forest in Hubei.
These speedy career advancements are presumably the envy of fellow cadres, but to the public, there is something fishy about these unusual personal success stories, for they sound too good to be true.
Many suspect nepotism in the rapid rise of these young political stars. Rumors of their identities as scions of blue-blooded families sometimes do turn out to be true, and trigger a tide of rebuke.
But there is more to the public concerns, which authorities often dismiss as cynical, than just cronyism. Public skepticism centers on whether these officials are judged on merit, or whether due process is skipped in their evaluation merely because they are the proteges of powerful superiors.
Although the practice of seeking political patronage is centuries old, it has so thrived and evolved now that a prominent speaker has publicly railed against it.
Li Jingtian, deputy executive director of the Party School of CPC Central Committee, recently warned of the danger of opportunism, including patronage, in a training session of cadres in Beijing.
According to Monday’s edition of People’s Daily, Li outlined six forms of opportunism – or tao qiao, as he put it – associated with up-and-coming cadres working their way up the official hierarchy. They go as follows.
1. Some young cadres focus less on working for public well-being than on formulating a career trajectory. They draw up elaborate plans on how to curry favor, get ahead and remove obstacles.
2. Some are keen on getting political mileage. Before a program even begins, they boast about their “rich experience” and try hard – sometimes going so far as to commit frauds – to win recognition from above.
3. Some believe less in the benefit of self-improvement or hard work than in ingratiating themselves with people capable of changing their destiny. For this purpose, they bribe families of superiors and their aides.
4. Some are media-savvy. They crave exposure and adulation totally unmerited given their meager contributions. Some hire ghostwriters to play up their deeds and give away their “works” on every possible occasion to gain visibility.
5. Some are indiscriminately affable to their bosses, subordinates and peers and offend nobody. They have no principles. All they care about are the nominations and the votes they’ll get in internal elections.
6. Some are sufficiently cynical that they would rather do less or nothing to avoid making mistakes. They have no sense of responsibility.
“Those who turn to opportunism often are good for nothing, while able officials won’t lower themselves to play dirty tricks,” Li was quoted as saying.
And although opportunist careerists are a minority, they would be a bad influence if they succeed, in terms of undermining the enterprise of honest cadres, he added.
It’s hard to say if Li was being economical with words when he said opportunists are a minority. At least his is a less scathing comment on our officials’ cachet than many citizens would perhaps have given.
From time immemorial, court mandarins, eunuchs and scholars had all contributed to the perfection of the art of sycophancy, but it surprisingly took a modern-day sugar daddy to compile dynasties of accumulated wisdom into written records.
Zhang Erjiang, ex-Party secretary of Tianmen, Hubei, was sentenced to 15 years behind bars in 2002 for taking bribes. He was said to have kept 107 mistresses.
But even his sexual debauchery was eclipsed by the jaw-dropping publication of his book titled “The Way of Subordinates,” a pamphlet devoted to teaching the skills of flattery.
Like Zhang, many a Chinese official are veteran sycophants, and this owes significantly to the top-down system of cadre selection, in which the bosses’ words matter the most.
And usually a staged show of loyalty would elicit favors and ensure one’s next rung up the ladder, no matter how contrived and unabashedly disgusting the display.
In a most notorious case in 1997, hundreds of officials traveled a long way in more than 120 cars to attend the funeral of the stepfather of Du Baoqian, ex-Party chief of Lushi County, Henan Province. Du is an intimidating figure.
Among the mourning crowds, three township governors stood out with their dramatic bawling and howling at the wake. They competed to outdo each other in the grieving contest, as though it was they who lost their loved ones. It was only at the gesture of a satisfied Du that they stopped. Their hysteria paid off well – the trio was soon promoted.
Mou Pizhi, an official-turned-writer for Xinhua, wrote in a 2008 column that astute flattery is the recipe for success in politics. Having once flattered his way up the ladder, it was his turn to enjoy the flattery of subordinates, he wrote.
Mou is right in saying it’s human nature to enjoy being fawned upon, but flattery is a tricky indicator of loyalty.
In effect, for seasoned grovelers, it’s important to be able to hedge bets, turn on a dime and switch allegiance between targets of sycophancy, depending on their value.
Once the targets run out of value, they are expendable. To many treachery and perfidy are the price of success.
Those who fail to see this Machiavellian logic risk being betrayed or stabbed in the back at their most vulnerable moments.
Despite the hidden malevolence of many ruthlessly on the way up, their superiors are willingly blinded by flattery. And patronage has flourished to the detriment of down-to-earth officials who loathe wheeling and dealing.
Power of example
It’s therefore crucial to set examples, said Li of the Party School. Take Wu Jinyin, a township Party head in Henan Province. He has remained in his humble post for 28 years.
Throughout his service he had been sent to numerous backwaters to work and wherever he was in charge, he brought fortune and improved living standards.
Grateful locals erected monuments to his contributions, but Wu smashed them all. Finally people had to engrave their odes on a cliff to avoid being erased by the modest Party chief.
Certainly Wu is an example to follow, but at present the power of example can hardly rival the great pull of opportunism.
This brings us back to the beginning. How do we discourage officials from simply looking up at their boss and encourage dedication to public service, something to which they occasionally pay lip service?
Authorities have already put in places measures like publicizing proposed appointment of officials for scrutiny.
Besides, peer review and popular ratings as criteria in assessing candidates’ eligibility for potential jobs carry heavier weight.
Yet the fact that every year civil servant selection exams are dogged by online allegations of nepotism and rigged test scores signifies that the job is far from finished.
In his Party school speech, Li concedes that if China’s system can benefit the honest and block opportunists, the bureaucracy will be much cleaner.
Easier said than done. But authorities may do well to start by decisively quelling rumors that many emerging political stars obtain their promotions by merit, not by sycophancy.
By Ni Tao