The Chinese Peasants Study, Chapter 31

In a previous post, I had translated Chapter 30 from this book.  That chapter was about how Wen Jiaobao spent most of his time trying to penetrate the cordon that local officials built around him in order to get at the real situation.  Now this would be no issue if the leaders can always penetrate the lies with some extra effort.  Unfortunately, this is not true.  The following is a translation of Chapter 31 of the book, in which then Premier Zhu Rongji got bamboozled.  The story is astonishing, but it also leaves me dissastified with the explanation and the resolution.

The short summary of the event is this: Chinese Premier Zhu Rongji went down to Nanlingyuan in Anhui province to investigate the actual results of the Grain Purchasing Policy experiment.  Local officials put on a good 'show' by shipping grain from elsewhere and really impressed Zhu, who then signed a national law to put that policy into effect afterwards.

The two authors obtained the details of the story from third-party eyewitnesses, but they did not have access to either Zhu Rongji or the local officials.  I don't blame the two authors because the other two parties surely would not want to discuss this matter with them.  So here is what I wish I knew.

First, according to this report, Zhu Rongji was deceived.  In fact, he was deceived big-time.  He did not know this back then, but he should know it now.  What was his reaction when he found out?  I would have gone 'ballistic' and demanded the heads of those local officials on a stick!  Or perhaps Zhu Rongji still doesn't know because he hasn't read the book and everybody else knows the story but won't talk to him about it.

Second, why did these local officials do it?  It was a major project to import over 1,000 tons of grain from elsewhere just for Zhu Rongji to look at for one morning.  I can speculate on the usual reasons: 

(1) The public funds for grain purchase had gone into the pockets of the local officials, so they had to cover up their corrupt deeds;

(2) The local officials ignored yet another directive coming down from the central government and had to cover up their dereliction of duty;

(3) The local officials expected that Zhu Rongji would want to hear good news and they made sure that he got them.

Regardless of the reasons, I guess I am looking for justice and retribution, in a very public manner.

The two authors are being sued for libel by an official who was portrayed unfavorably in the book.  However, the Anhui provincial officials who were named in Chapter 31 will never file a lawsuit if there is any element of truth to the story here.

Chapter 31.

In Nanlingyuan of Anhui province, our investigation turned up a case in which Zhu Rongji was bamboozled.

At the time, Zhu Rongji was just appointed as the Premier of the State Council.  The reason that he came to Anhui province for inspection was quite clear.  He wanted to see how Anhui province was implementing the grain purchase policy that he had stipulated earlier.  More than once he said: "On the matter of agricultural policy, when the central government intends to issue a major policy, I will usually go to Anhui province to study the situation."

Towards the end of May 1998, Zhu Rongji came to Anhui province in the company of National Development Planning Committee Vice-Chairman Wang Chunjun, State Council Deputy Secretary Ma Kai and State Council Research Institute deputy director Ren Yicheng.

This was Zhu Rongji's fifth visit to Anhui province.  He happily raised the fingers on his right hand to tell the Anhui province comrades about his five visits.  The first visit was in 1987, when he came to a resource re-cycling and utilization meeting while he was still working at the National Economic Committee; the second visit was in 1991, when he came to inspect the severe flood situation in Anhui province; the third time was in the middle of December 1993 when the price of food was raised; the fourth time was at the end of June 1997 when the price of food was lowered and he visited both Henan and Anhui; this was his fifth visit.

He repeatedly said: "I have a connection with Anhui."

Still, there was no doubt that Anhui bamboozled Premier Zhu.

The comrades of Anhui obviously knew that Zhu Rongji's ancestral origins were in Nanlingyuan of Anhui province.  Therefore they arranged this inspection tour to take place in Nanlingyuan.

Nanlingyuan is a large food-producing county under Jiangcheng Muhu City.  There is a common saying: "Muhu rice city, Nanling rice silo."  Muhu is one of the four largest rice cities of China, and the rice city of Muhu depends on the Nanling rice silo.  In truth, Nanling not only produced food but also cooking oil, cotton, tea, silk and has always been a rich part of the country.

Nanling deserves it reputation as a county for producing food.  But when the news came that Premier Zhu Rongji is coming to Nanling to inspect the implementation of the national gain purchase policy, the leadership of Nanling and Muhu City were panicky.  That is because the grain storage houses in Nanling actually did not contain any grain.

It is not unusual for the national grain silos to be empty.  The grain purchase programs determined at the national level were difficult to implement locally.  The central government set the price and purchased the grain.  If there was any loss, the local government had to pay the difference.  Over the last few years, the price of food had been falling.  Most of the cadres at the food-producing counties were not even getting paid for their salaries, so that there was no money left to spend on subsidizing food purchases.  Without the subsidies, the grain purchasing stations could either play games by marking down the prices, or undercounting the weight, or limiting the purchase volume, or simply refusing to purchase.  Therefore, many grain stations would rather have empty storage houses.

Now that Zhu Rongji wanted to come here, neither Nanling nor Muhu wanted him to see that they were not implementing the national grain purchase policy.  They only wanted the Premier to see that his ancestral place was prosperous and the people were content.

So they had to fake it.

At the time, the Erling Grain Station in Nanling County was in serious economic problems  Apart from a small amount of grain in the number 6 store house, all other store houses are basically empty.  The fakery at Erling Grain Station commenced on May 18th and it involved a large number of people.  Over 1,031 tons of grain were shipped over from Sanli, Yidun, Kungshan and Zhenqiao.  Including drivers, more than 200 people were involved in the transportation and transfer of the grain.  During the four days between May 18 and May 21, the workers at Erling Grain Station barely slept a wink.  On the first night, Grain Station director Liu Hung worked until till 2am, the second night until 4am and then he did two all-nighters after that.  On those unforgettable four days and four nights in Erling, the restaurants and teahouses in town were bustling with workers who were taking their turns to come over to eat and drink.  Trucks were constantly moving in and out, disturbing the nightly peace for the nearby residents.

In this county, deputy county leader Hu Jiangping was nominally in charge of grain administration.  Since she was a female who was not qualified for the job, the deputy county leader Tang Chunwo who was in charge of education was assigned to the frontline of grain transportation.  When Grain Station director Liu Hung was interviewed by us, he said that the short, rotund Tang Chunwo stayed at the site to direct activities.  On the day before Zhu Rongji arrived, Muhu City Committee deputy secretary Wei Faifo led a whole group of provincial, city and county officials to check on things.  Since Wei Faifo used to be a committee secretary in Nanling, the people there recognized him.  As to who was the leader of the fakery, nobody knew for sure.

On the day when the Premier came to inspect, all the Grain Station workers were told not to be there.  The Grain Station director was 'demoted' to be a storehouse worker.  The post of the Grain Station director was assumed by Sanli Central Station director Yu Shuihua.  With this heavy responsibility, Yu Shuihua was the busiest person of all because he had to memorize the script that was prepared for him by his superiors.  He had to memorize all the production numbers as well as the regulations concerning the grain so that he can field any questions that Premier Zhu Rongji might have.

The Nanling police was not idle either.  Before the Premier arrived at the Erling Grain Station, they used various excuses to arrest three "uncooperative citizens" who had said that they would inform the Premier about what is going on.

With everything in place, Zhu Rongji and his group innocently came into this fakery.

At 10am on May 22, 1998, Zhu Rongji could not imagine when he was happily shaking the hands of everyone who was there that none of these people actually worked at this gain station.  The Grain Station director Liu Hung was sent off to a corner where he did not get to shake hands with the Premier.

The person responding to Zhu Rongji's questions was the fake Erling Grain Station director Yu Shuihua.  Actually, Yu Shuihua was only a live prop in this farce.  He had to put on an act based upon the script as directed by someone else.

All of this was recorded for the news report that CCTV eventually broadcast to the whole world afterwards.

Zhu Rongji asked with concern: "Are you open to purchasing?"  This was his biggest concern because the harvests had been very plentiful and the price of grain was falling.  Therefore, the various grain stations were known to be slow in purchasing.  If they ignored the national policy instruction to purchase the surplus grain from the peasants, the peasants would suffer and this would affect their motivation to plant more grain that will guarantee a steady production supply.

But Yu Shuihua answered fluently: "We are open for purchasing!"

Zhu Rongji was quite happy and nodded to ask: "How much grain did you buy last year?"

Yu Shuihua was proudly to throw up a huge lie: "Last year, we purchased 5,000 tons.  So far this year, we are up to around 1,700 tons."

Zhu Rongji asked again: "This grain station serves one town, or several towns?"

"One town."

At this time, Zhu Rongji thought about it and asked a series of questions: "How many hectares are there in this town?  What is the productivity per hectare?  What is the total production volume?"

Yu Shuihua answered without having to think: "The whole town has 2,300 hectare.  The total production volume per year is 15,000 tons."

Yu Shuihua only knew how to recite the numbers that were prepared for him, but he did not realize that there may be contradictions behind those numbers.

Then Zhu Rongji turned around and discussed the detailed accounting with Yu Shuihua: "Although you have purchased quite a bit, but if you subtract the peasants' personal food stock and seedlings, you have not collected all of the food!  How can you say that you are open for purchasing?  It is possible that the total production from a hectare of rice paddy is less than 350 kilograms?  You have to speak the truth!"

Yu Shuihua is a smart person, and he had prepared himself for various types of possible contingencies.  Although he knew that he was exposed in this case, he did not panic.  Instead, he appeared to be ever more confident and he just opened his two hands and said: "We tried our best.  We have used up all the available grain storage houses and they are all full!"

Zhu Rongji looked around at the grain storage houses and smiled.  At that moment, Yu Shuihua appropriately made a gesture to welcome the Premier to see for himself.

Under the direction of Yu Shuihua, Zhu Rongji entered into grain storage house No. 3.  

Looking at the grain that was piled high neatly, Zhu Rongji could not resist the urge to personally get to the top of the pile.  Because the grain pile was fairly steep, the two security guards with him held their hands on his side to help him ascend.

Looking down from the top of the grain pile, Zhu Rongji smiled happily because he saw that the grain policy that he instituted was not only implemented but also achieved excellent results that were even better than his expectations.

Later that day, at the forum in Muhu City, he emotionally said: "While I was the Vice-Premier, my most important focus was food.  You can say that I spend more energy on the food issue than on finance.  Since becoming the Premier, the first thing that I went to inspect is agriculture in Anhui!"

He said that even in a city, no matter how relatively important industrialization is, the most important thing is still agriculture.  The various levels of the party should know agriculture best and to know the problems that people face, especially the problems faced by the peasants.  Otherwise, how are you going to be a good secretary or a good mayor?  The peasants form the largest group in the Chinese population and so the foundation of the national economy is agriculture!

He reflected seriously on why he had come down here to investigate the situation.  He said that for a big country such as China, a policy will have to go through certain phases during its implementation.  After implementation, there will be some empirical experience from which revision and perfection must be made.  It is not that he does not trust the local comrades and he emphasized: "Anhui is one of the places that is most determined to implement central government policies."

Zhu Rongji could never have imagined that the place that he praised highly as "the place most determined to implement central government policies" not only failed to implement but played a huge con game with him.

After a rainstorm in Anhui, we were at the home of Grain Station director Liu Hung who had just retired from his post.  He was painfully recounting for us the loss due to the fakery.  He said that the 1,000 tons of grain was not a small number.  To transport the grain back and forth, the cleaning of the storage houses, the spoilage, the utility bills, the wastage and other incidental costs, together with the affected purchasing season for vegetables, totaled to more than 100,000 RMB.  Already reeling from a financial shortfall, the Erling grain station had suffered a much greater setback.

But he was only accounting for the financial damage.

When we looked at the photos taken at the scene by the Xinhua reporter Yu Ji, we saw the Premier Zhu Rongji listening with a delighted look to the "fake station director" Yu Shuihua making his "report" and we felt an unspeakable sadness.

If they can present a fakery to Premier Zhu Rongji who is known to hate people who fake accounts, then who can believe that anything is real?

This kind of fakery not only ruins the quest for the truth by Zhu Rongji who traveled all over the country, and it also soils his sincere and earnest concern for the 900 million Chinese peasants.

If the premier of a country with 1.3 billion people is unable to obtain true and accurate information about his people, then how can we expect the central government policies to be flawless?  This is without even bringing up the possibility that the results from the fake investigation could be very misleading to the point of causing inestimable harm.

We should note that Zhu Ronji's trip to Anhui reaffirmed his determination to carry the national plan to purchase grain.  Within ten days or so after he returned to Beijing after Anhui, he signed a State Council decree in the name of the Premier for the "Grain Purchasing Regulation."  He had upgrade the grain purchasing policy from the previous "notice" to the legally powerful "regulation."  During this period, there were about sixty counties in seven provinces which were implementing various reforms to reduce the tax burden on the peasants.  With the official introduction of this new "regulation", all other types of reform came to a stop.

Of course, that was the epilogue.

We can say now that before signing this State Council decree, Zhu Rongji went to Anhui to inspect to see how this grain purchasing policy worked in a practical case study and to determine if any revision or perfection were warranted.  That was why he carefully stated to the Anhui comrades: "It is not that I don't trust the local comrades."  It was a regrettable thing that in the first major investigation effort by Zhu Rongji since he became the Premier, he did not get the truth about the situation.  The Premier as well as the "Grain Purchasing Policy" all lost a significant opportunity for "revision and perfection."

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