The Village That Elected A Fugitive As Mayor

(Phoenix Weekly)  Bei Xiang (白翔) and Lu Minghe (吕明合).  March 22, 2006.

[in translation]

Zhang Jinshu seemed to have become a local 'legend.'  In July 2005, Zhang Jinshu was elected as village mayor for the third time, but he had to remain in hiding -- he is suspected of organizing an assault of villagers and is being sought by the police.  Although he is unable to show his face, he is still controlling village affairs secretly from afar.

A few villagers have reported to the relevant departments to demand the rescinding of the election results.  But the response was: there was no legal basis for annulling the election of Zhang Jinshu.

In Wangshe village, Ninghai county, Zhejiang province, a "wanted criminal" was elected as village mayor.  This brought worries and shocks to this changing village, and it has also created many problems for the relevant departments.

When Zhang Jinshu was elected as village mayor of Wangshe village, it was in 1996 and he was only 26 years old.  Zhang is small and skinny, but he has lots of friends ("many social friends") and that was why the villagers are scared of him.  Prior to being elected, he had been detained by the public security organization for stealing wood from the mountains.

During the election of village mayor in 1996, Zhang Jinshu vigorously charged that the former village director kept muddled accounts, and this resonated with many villagers.  The villagers said that the village cadres have historically been deficient in disclosing financial matters to the public.  "Finally, someone opened fired on them."

Zhang Jinshu is the fourth in his family, and he has seven cousins.  The Zhang family is one of the largest families/tribes in the village and is best known for "unity."  During the election, Zhang not only organized the family members but he also got some of the other larger families on his side.  According to villager Zhou Shaoping, their family had four brothers.  Apart from Zhou Shaozong whose residence was elsewhere at the time, the dozens of votes of the other three brothers' families all went to Zhang Jinshu.

Afterwards, Zhou Shaozong said: "We voted because he promised to make my second-brother Zhou Shaozhong a member of the village committee."  In the end, Zhang Jinshu won by a small margin.

After Zhang Jinshu became the village mayor, some villagers regretted the choice.  They said that it was the same old thing -- Zhang frequently acted on his own while ignoring the village committee, he replaced the village accountant on his own, and he refused to clean up the financial books when asked by the town office and he "set up his own little treasury and embezzled public funds."

The town leaders spoke to Zhang on many occasions and criticized him severely, but they could not rectify his behavior.  In May 1997, the town government issued a document that terminated the mayoral duties of Zhang Jinshu.

In 1999, Wangshe village held a new election and Zhang Jinshu won for the second time.  The villagers said that it was different this time.  Prior to the election, Zhang Jinshu not only kept making promises, but he also offered bribes to certain villagers.

In 2001, the Ninghai county government offered relocation for the 90 plus families of Wangshe village to move from the mountainous zone more than 800 meters high in order to help them escape poverty.  The new villager was next to the Xincheng district in Ninghai county, next to some newly constructed buildings owned by the county government.  A new highway passes right through the village, so that the land in the village became extremely valuable.  The land for a house can now be sold for several tens or even several hundreds of thousands of RMB.  This meant that the power of the village mayor has just shot up immensely.

Zhou Shaozong said that Zhang Jinshu overturned the original land distribution plan from the superiors.  "He gave all the good land plots to his supporters."  Those opponents who wanted a plot of land had to pay Zhang off.  Zhou Shaozong's residence was elsewhere.  In 1999, Zhang Jinshu promised to help him get his residence re-established in Wangshe Village.  Zhang demanded 10,000 RMB from Zhou, who could only offer 5,000 RMB.  Therefore, Zhang held the case up.

So the re-location of the Wangshe villagers fell into limbo.  As of 2002, only the dozen or so villagers who were on good terms with Zhang Jinshu received assignments, while the remaining 50 plus families were in limbo.

Zhang Jinshu's actions caused many villagers to be dissatisfied.  Wangshe village was quickly divided into two opposing camps.  Some villagers began to plan for the ouster of Zhang in the 2002 election.

Zhang felt uneasy and he began another round of vote-rallying before the election.

At 9pm, June 21, 2002, Zhang and his election partner (the former secretary and accountant Chen Mafa) came to the home of Zhou Shaozong's second brother Zhou Shaozhong and took out 30,000 RMB to ask the Zhou brothers to vote for him.  Chen said that he has given 40,000 RMB to the family of villager Wang Jinping and 30,000 RMB to the family of Yu Minquan.  "The two families have ten votes.  Zhang Jinshu has enough votes already.  Even if you won't do it, Zhang is getting his seat with certainty."

In the end, Zhou Shaozhong accepted the 30,000 RMB and he called his brothers to ask them to vote for Zhang Jinshu.

When Zhou Shaozong heard the news, he asked his second brother to return the money.  He also wanted Wang Jinfa to persuade his brother Wang Jinping to return the money to Chen Mafa.  Zhou Shaozong said: "Zhang Jinshu took our money in order to bribe us.  If we vote for him to become the village mayor, he is going to take even more money from everybody."

The next day, Zhou Shaozhong and Wang Jinfa returned the money to Chen Mafa before the election started.  During the election, Zhang Jinshu lost by a margin of four votes and Chen Mafa also lost his job as village accountant.  Villager Yu Yanfei became the new village mayor.

But good days did not arrive for the Wangshe villagers.  The two camps -- Zhang Jinshu versus the Zhou brothers and Yu Yanfei -- escalated their enmity towards each other.  The nightmare was beginning for Wangshe village.

When Yu Yanfei took office, the first thing was to fulfill his promise to the villagers -- overturning the unreasonable land plot allocations made during the term of Zhang Jinshu.

But Yu's plan was vigorously obstructed by the forces of Zhang Jinshu.  Zhang and Chen refused to turn over the village mayor's seal for one year.  Soon after losing the election, they quickly spent the 180,000 RMB in the village public funds.

"The village could not even issue a death certificate.  We were forced to inform the superior departments many times, but it was useless," said Yu Yanfei.

Zhang Jinshu and Chen Mafa openly built houses on land that was not theirs.  When the village cadres tried to stop them, "they gathered the social elements to make threats."

The village committee asked for help from the superior departments once again.  But Chen Mafa and others ignored the request to stop and be subjected to investigation from the superior departments.  In October, 2003, the Ninghai county national land resources bureau and the Taoyuan Street office was forced to publish a public notice in Ninghai News to ask Chen Mafa and others to be accept an investigation.

On January 5, 2004, the village committee decided to resume allocation of housing construction.  While Zhao Shaoping and Yu Yanfei were heading towards the construction site, they encountered Zhang Jinshu in the street.

"The four Zhang brothers were there.  Villager Zeng Xiubin even brought two carloads of people -- they were hired people who carried sticks in their hands and knifes up their sleeves.  They didn't even say anything and they just charged right at us," said Zhou Shaoping.

Zhang Jinshu went at Zhou Shaoping with a knife.  Zhou was caught unawares and used his hand to fend off the blow.  Thus, he ended up with a 6cm long bloody wound on his hand.

Five months later, Zhang Jinshu was arrested by the Ninghai police.  During this period, the Ninghai national resources bureau also issued administrative penalties against Chen Mafa and Liu Chaolong and demanded that they return the illegally occupied land and demolish the illegal construction.  But Chen and others refused to cooperate.

In December 31, 2004, the Ninghai county court sentenced Zhang Jinshu to two years of supervision for the crime of deliberately injuring others.  From thereon, Zhang Jinshu assumed a more low-keyed profile in Wangshe village.  But nobody in the village dared to begin construction on the newly allocated land plots.

In April 2005, the more than 50 village families finally completed their construction process.  The village committee organized the villagers to begin construction.  Yet, during the construction period, Chen Mafa and Liu Chaolong organized women and senior citizens to block the construction.  The village builders called the police many times without results.

So Yu Yanfei hired a camera person, who hid in the forest across the construction site to make secret recordings of the obstruction in order to present as evidence later on.

At 10am on April 13, Yu Yanfei and Zhou Shaoping and various village committee cadres were organizing the work at the site.  Zhang Jinshu's cousin Zhang Xiaosheng appeared suddenly and wanted to negotiate with Yu Yanfei.  "Zhang wanted us to stop work.  He said that their men are waiting on the side.  If we don't stop, we will be responsible for the consequences," said Yu Yanfei.

When the negotiations failed, more than 30 men with sticks and knives charged into the construction site and began slashing away "like cutting up vegetables."

Villager Yu Shengli cried out "Stop fighting!" but before he even finished, he was slashed in his head, back, buttocks and legs and he passed out.  Another villager named Zhou Zuguo was slashed more than ten times, including a long (more than 10 cm) knife wound on his waist in the back.

According to the compact disc supplied by the villagers: the attackers knew who their targets were, they worked very quickly and fiercely, and afterwards they left the scene quickly on the vehicles by the road.  Many villagers were injured, and blood covered the construction site.  Amongst them, Zhou Shaoping was the most severely injured, with a 10 cm knife wound on the top of his head.  He also lost his front teeth and had multiple broken bones on his body.

The police arrested the attackers Zeng Xiubin and Lin Xinbo, and they determined that Zhang Jinshu and Chen Mafa were the masterminds.  The Ninghai public security bureau issued arrest warrants for Zhang Jinshu, Chen Mafa and Liu Chaolong.

In June 2005, more than one month after the assault incident, another village mayoral election took place in Wangshe village.

The unexpected thing was that Zhang Jinshu, who had a warrant for his arrest, was elected as village mayor for the third time.

Prior to the election, the friends and relatives Zhang Jinshu, Liu Chaolong and Chen Mafa went around lobbying for them.  "It seemed that Zhang was hidden around the village all along," said Yu Yanfei.

The villagers said that they have reported the matter to the street office.  They asked why a wanted criminal such as Zhang Jinshu can participate in an election, and the street office replied: According to the law, there are only three conditions under which the right to be elected is withdrawn: someone has been deprived of their political rights; someone is a mental patient who cannot exercise the right to be elected; someone who has been arrested for a major criminal case and who are being investigated, prosecuted and judged by the prosecutor and/or court.  Zhang Jinshu did not fall into any of these three categories.

Villager Yu Jijiao is a non-Zhang-family villager who cast his vote for Zhang Jinshu.  When the reporter asked him about the things said about Zhang Jinshu, he refused to reply.  The surrounding villagers called him lacking in righteousness, but Yu said, "I will vote for whomsoever gives me a  house.  I need to live."

The principal forces against Zhang Jinshu were Zhou Shaoping's brothers and Yu Yanfei.  The person who would compete against Zhang Jinshu was Yu Yanfei once again.

The opponents of Zhang Jinshu delayed the Wangshe village mayoral election for one month.

On the night before the election, several people came to Zhou Shaozong's home for a discussion.  They claimed that if the Zhou family would give their 18 votes to Zhang Jinshu, they can received 1 million RMB.

Yu Yanfei also received a phone call from a stranger who said: "I give you 200,000 RMB for not becoming the village mayor.  Otherwise, you will be responsible for all consequences."  One morning several days later, Yu Yanfei got out of bed and opened the door to the front courtyard.  Suddenly, a cloth doll fell to the ground from the door frame.  The arms and legs of the doll had been cut off.  The ground and door frame had been splattered with red ink.  The keyhole to the door had been sealed with glue.

Yu Yanfei's uncle Yu Zimu was also threatened.  Someone warned him that he could either vote for Zhang Jinshu or abstain, or else his land plot would become a vanished dream.  On election day of July 11, Yu Zimu did not dare shore up and his family chose to abstain.

Zhang Jinshu received 108 votes in the end to, and defeated Yu Yanfei by eight votes to become village mayor.

Afterwards, the Taoyuan Street Office did not negate the election, although it did not declare the election valid either.  The office was trapped in an impossible situation.

But the missing Zhang Jinshu began to silently exercise his power.  Yu Yanfei said that Zhang went through secret signings to divide land plots among his friends and relatives.  The friends and relatives of Zhang Jinshu, Chen Mafa and Liu Chaolong are speeding up housing constructions, even though none had approval from the national land resources bureau.  When the reporter went to the site, there were more than 30 three-story villas there and their owners were all villagers who were intimately connected to Zhang Jinshu.

On the other side of the villas is an empty lot.  Dried grass patches were scattered over the bare foundation.  These are the lots that were allocated to more than 50 families by the previous village committee.  Although these villagers have legal documents, they dare not begin work.  More the past three years, they have been mostly living with relatives; some of them even lived in shacks.

The villagers are deeply confounded and they don't why their village has become so messy.  In this village, people are divided and opposed to each other.