Bureaucracy

The many forms of official approval

JDM100818jiangzongfu.jpg

Jiang Zongfu (姜宗福), the former vice-mayor of Linxiang, Hunan Province, has a national reputation as a straight-talking civil servant. In January, he took Zhang Yimou and the producers of the “Impression” series of outdoor music and lights extravaganzas to task for overselling the productions to tourism-hungry local governments, saddling them with excessive production fees that they are unable to recoup. Then in April, he posted another contentious essay about the high price of housing: “Property developers have kidnapped the government; take care the economy does not execute the hostage!”

Although it was an open letter to the party secretary of Yueyang, Hunan, that first brought him to the attention of municipal leaders in 2004, Jiang’s latest online postings did not find favor with his superiors, the Guangzhou Daily reports:

“Recently, my boy, your posts have been red-hot online. As your elder, I’ll give you this word of advice: do not publish anymore. No good will come of it. Every official wants to make progress, but you can’t do that simply by making postings...” one official warned him. Ultimately, a member of the Linxiang municipal committee leadership had to personally intervene.

The leader’s warning only made Jiang more recalcitrant: “It is my own personal matter to post on the Internet. What’s wrong with talking about macroeconomics online, which has absolutely nothing to do with Linxiang? And I promote Linxiang too.”

Taken aback by his questioning, the official hemmed and hawed for a moment before saying, “Your stated status is vice-mayor, so doesn't that mean you represent the Linxiang People’s Government?”

After a week, the organizational department called Jiang in for a chat and told him that he was being transferred, to become assistant to the president of the Hunan Vocational College for Nationalities.

Now that he’s out of politics, Jiang is writing a book that will expose the “hidden rules” that determine who succeeds in the halls of power. For example, he describes how an official’s signature on a document, ostensibly approving it, can actually be a coded signal to kill the project (illustration by the Oriental Guardian with English captions by Danwei):

JDM100818approval.png
Jiang Zongfu's approval, decoded

Jiang explained the subtleties to the Guangzhou Daily:

There are unwritten rules for everything. Take a leader’s signature for example. A horizontal signature means “This can be left undone.” A vertical signature means “Follow-through is essential.” If the period after “approved” is solid, it means that the task must be completed “wholeheartedly.” If the period is hollow, it means it is 100% impossible, or to put it in officialese, “an empty signature.” How do you sign your name? It’s already been arranged.

When he was transferred, Jiang Zongfu did not have the opportunity to deliver the final remarks he had prepared: “Unfortunately, I was unable to change Linxiang. Fortunately, Linxiang did not change me.”

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Comments on The many forms of official approval

China is blessed to have leaders such as Jiang Zongfu.
The people are not stupid and will remember who spoke the truth when it was difficult to do so. The current wave of property developments without solid economic foundation is very reminiscent of the US residential housing bubble, but more dangerous because the local leadership is often deeply involved. How can they face the people when their projects fail?

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