Books

Dreck, the new bestseller by your local party secretary

Yesterday's China Daily had a profile of Li Dalun, the Party secretary of Chenzhou, Hunan, who is being investigated for corruption by the provincial-level government.

The article includes a brief mention of Li's literary aspirations:

Li saw himself as a passionate poet...As a member of the Hunan Province Writers' Association, Li has published a poetry collection entitled "The Years Are Like Poems" and "A Collection of Dalun's Calligraphy." The two books were distributed to local citizens and purchased by government officials.

Apparently, Li was not without talent: he enjoyed a reputation as a scholar-official, was published frequently in local literary supplements, and consorted with writers and thinkers. Following the disciplinary action against Li in June, Chinese online media unearthed a 2003 Chenzhou Daily article that quoted from a discussion Li had with essayist Yu Qiuyu:

Speaking on secretary Li Dalun's newly-published essay and poetry collection The Years are Like Poems, Yu Qiuyu said, secretary Li Dalun has a special literary identity, and the particular life and position that he occupies allows him to record society. So during composition, he should not avoid his own work; rather, he should rationally record the details of his work. Churchill won the Nobel Prize in Literature based on the detailed record he made of his life and work. People in government should make a record of history, a valuable, detailed record of China's reform and development. Empty, imprecise essays are flimsy and short-lived. Writing should keep in mind a larger scope; it should not always sing of the moon and wind, for that is superficial. The Tang and Song was the golden age of the essay, and the great essayists of the Tang and Song were all politicians. Their discourses, including those of Wang Anshi, Su Dongpo, Liu Zongyuan, and Han Yu, possessed an awareness of life and an understanding of society. Their essays were closely connected to the society, politics, and economics of the time, and formed one of the mainstreams of society. Throughout their essays we can see a gentle brightness.

Of course, not every scholar-official can be a Su Dongpo or even a Lung Ying-tai. But many of those who write weak paeans to the wind and the moon would not be published at all if it were not for their position. Despite repeated efforts by local governments across the country to put regulations in place prohibiting officials from abusing their positions to publish and distribute their books, the problem still persists.

In a recent issue of Southern Weekly, two separate opinion columns addressed the issue:

This is how cultural garbage is produced

by Yan Quan / SW

I recently went to the supervision and inspection unit of a particular government department for work-style building, and a deputy of that office said to me, "I've heard that you really like books. Come, let me take you to have a look at our storeroom. There are lots of books there - take however many you want, since at any rate they are all stacked there and no one wants them." At first, I thought that it was that their reading room wanted to get rid of outdated printed material. But when the storeroom was opened and I looked inside, that one look shocked me! Hundreds or thousands of books and magazines had settled like dust on the floor, randomly piled up in there. I searched for the needle in the haystack, but low and behold, there was not a single volume worth reading. So I clapped the dust off my hands and said to him, "You call these books? This is nothing but a pile of cultural garbage. Go ahead and close the door."

It turned out that these books were the "Pioneering Work Histories" and "Exemplary Biographies" of former and present leaders of that work unit. Of course, if they truly had made pioneering efforts for the country, brought wealth to the people, and steadfastly pursued the public good, or if they had been honest, upright officials, then perhaps something ought to be recorded in the annals of history to be transmitted to those coming after. Regrettably, nearly all of the individuals and events chronicled in those books and magazines were "inflated accomplishments" (or even disasters) and "airbrushed personalities."

According to someone's preliminary calculations, the amount that some work units spend each year on writing and publication of these so-called advanced experiences, sample materials, TV specials, and news reports ranges from as little as five to six thousand yuan to as much as thirty or forty thousand. A comrade at one work unit said, "We haven't been paid in half a year, but the leaders have money to publish books; and it's not only their own books - the books the leaders' leaders put out also take their money out of our department. The last time, an upper-level official came to our department himself wanting our sponsorship, and as soon as he opened his mouth it was 6000 yuan." He also said, "Most frightening is when a book about our leader 'wins a prize,' since if it 'wins a prize,' then our work unit has to pay to go to Beijing to claim (buy) the 'prize'." And that amount isn't peanuts - a gold needs 8000 yuan, a silver 5000, and even a bronze requires 3000 yuan. Then add to that the subject of the book, and the author, and if they want to bring their families - all the random stuff (eating, drinking, shitting, pissing, and sleeping) requires at least twenty or thirty thousand yuan. If this happens, then travel funds, as well as cooling, heating, and holiday allotments are all used up in exchange for that gold-plated "prize cup" and "prize certificate" that sits on the exalted leader's desk.

On the economic balance-sheet, this is undoubtedly deep in the red, and the political losses are even deeper since the subjects of the books are filled-in and touched to make them into "models". When writing a novel invention is a requirement, but these are personal profiles or reportage literature written up in a news format. And if a fake model is set up using fake news it will obscure the true models; fake accomplishments set off by fake news will cause people to doubt the veracity of real accomplishments; fake data set out using fake news will erase the value of the real data. Like Dream of the Red Mansions says, "When the false is true, the true becomes false." In an atmosphere where lies follow one after the other, people will be led astray into a maze.

The more someone yearns for the adulation of others, the more suspect his intentions. Who among the truly honest and capable officials cares for the flattery of others? Who has seen or heard of heroic models like Lei Feng, Jiao Yulu, and Sun Fansen asking for praise from others or grabbing public funds to publish books about a whitewashed version of themselves? If you want to look behind the flatterers to find the true face of the people seeking praise, you're not likely to miss your guess.


The following piece is slightly adapted from one that the author originally posted on Xinhua Online in June. Shi Fei, a writer from Jiangsu who comments frequently on corruption, now keeps a blog on People Online.

Royalties and corruption

by Shi Fei / SW

The article's been published, the book's been issued, the author has picked up the contribution fee or royalty, all nice and legal, and all's right with the world - this has nothing to do with the tide of corruption, so how can the two be dragged together?

A few days ago, I went to a certain city for an interview. I have an old friend who is head of the city party office's secretarial department, so naturally I first went to him to pick up a number. Entering the hall and going into the office, I had just picked up my tea when someone came in with a letter. A courier, and besides the several letters, he also had a postal money order. I automatically glanced at it - 800 yuan, a contribution fee sent from the city's party newspaper to ____, the party secretary of that city. Since I also write articles, I felt a sudden "brotherly affection" for this colleague, and, curious and surprised, pointed to the money order: "Your secretary writes?" My friend the department head grinned, and let me know the truth. The city recently held a training class whose topic was constructing a new socialist countryside, and Sir Secretary had presented an important speech at the opening ceremony. The paper had published the entire text, close to ten thousand characters. Then he shook his head dejectedly, and said: "Actually, that piece was the work of my hands. The secretary didn't add a single word - he only read it aloud one time." Ah, so that was it.

I know that the standard fee for an opinion piece in that city's newspaper is 30 yuan per 1000 characters, so how was it that it doubled under the secretary's name, to 80 yuan? Even granting such a thing as "superior works, superior fees," I'm not certain that my friend could claw his way up there, so apparently the secretary's name and mouth are worth money. You can discuss it yourselves - should officials take this kind of contribution fee, should they take it like this? If they make a habit of taking it, ten or twenty times a year, then that's thousands or tens of thousands in annual receipts, and if some are put out as books that's an additional fee - does this amount to corruption?

I couldn't get around it, and asked my friend: what's up with this? An official, who lives off of tax receipts, gives a lecture or report as part of his job, using something someone else has prepared to "teach from the text," and not only is the report published in newspaper under his name, but he receives an abnormally high fee for it to boot. Isn't this a classic case of abusing one's position for personal gain? And to be so brazen about it! My friend waved his hands at me. "No, no," he explained: this pattern, "a secretary writes, the chief reads, publication brings money, and the secretary is envious," is common practice. Maybe you're a little deaf, my brother! Have a look around - how many places can you find where this isn't the way it's done?

I didn't believe that other places also worked like this, so I picked up the phone and called the director of the party office in another city - an old classmate, who when he heard my reason, laughed and said: we do it like that, too. Another call, and the same thing; another call, the same thing. My friend grabbed the phone and slammed it down: "Save your money. There's nothing here that's unexplainable. The earlier travellers have left tracks, things to compare to - people had already done it long before."

The question of corruption in the area of contribution fees should be treated with the proper emphasis and seriousness by the relevant departments; it should not be permitted to continue. Article 11 of China's Copyright Law states "Where a work is created according to the intention and under the supervision and responsibility of a legal entity or other organization, such legal entity or organization shall be deemed to be the author of the work." According to this designation, when party officials read at various functions articles and other documents written by secretaries or passed by research groups, these represent the intent of a particular party committee or government department, and they are carrying out the responsibilities of their position, so the true authors ought to be their party committee or government department, and not the official who "teaches from the text." The contribution fee should be passed on to the state treasury (or local treasury), and not the pocked of the official who "teaches from the text." For this reason, I recommend that the central government issue an ordinance requiring all party and government officials whose lectures or articles are written by others in the course of carrying out their official duties submit all proceeds from the publication of those documents to the local financial department. Otherwise, they should be punished for abusing their position for illegal gain.

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Comments on Dreck, the new bestseller by your local party secretary

Interesting, instead of scholars studying to become officials, now officials use their position to pose as scholars.

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