The Celebrations in Chenzhou

(Southern Weekend)  The Whole City of Chenzhou Celebrated The Fall of Corrupt Officials.  September 21, 2006.  By Li Haipeng and Fu Jianfeng.

[in translation]

On September 19, Chenzhou city disciplinary committee secretary Zeng Jinchun was placed under the "control" of the investigative squad from the Hunan provincial disciplinary committee.  At around 4pm, at two different locations, this official, his wife and his chauffeur were taken away in five vehicles by nine persons from the provincial disciplinary committee.

In the evening of the 19th, the news began to spread around Chenzhou.  According to Chenzhou citizen Hu Guisheng, the firecrackers celebrating the removal of Zeng Jinchun went on for more than 10 minutes near the National Tax Office in the Beihu district.  Yesterday evening, the entire city of Chenzhou was involved in wild celebrations.  At around 20:30, our reporter heard the sounds of firecrackers from all over Chenzhou, and the skies above some places were illuminated by the light from the fireworks.  The Yichang county (Chenzhou) peasant Huang Yuanxun who had petitioned the provincial party committee secretary against Zeng Jinhua called our reporter and claimed that the city was filled with people and cars celebrating.  Some people wanted to have "all-night fireworks displays."  Among the banners carried by the crowd, one of them said: "Thank the party central for getting rid of a calamity for the people!"

This celebratory atmosphere took place in all the counties such as Linwu and Guiyang of Chenzhou city without exception.

Apart from the celebratory mood, the local officials and citizens did not believe that this was surprising.  The reputation of Zeng Jinchun was so bad that they had predicted many years ago that he would not be able to leave his job scott-free.  At the time of his arrest, it was less than a month before Zhen Jinchun was due to retire.

Apart from Zeng Jinchun, other fallen corrupt officials in Chenzhou city included deputy mayor Lei Yuanli, city committee publicity department head Fan Jiasheng and former housing pension administration center deputy Li Shubiao.  The peak of the clean-up was when Chenzhou city party committee secretary Li Dalun was placed under "double regulations" by the Hunan provincial disciplinary committee on June 1 this year.  At the time, a top leader of Hunan provincr put an annotation on the report of Li Dalun's case: "The heavens will not allow this.  Investigate thoroughly!  Investigate thoroughly!"

The detention of Zeng Jinchun by the disciplinary committee on the afternoon of the day before yesterday was the inevitable result of the "thorough investigation."

The distorted growth of the Chenzhou officialdom is principally due to city committee secretary Li Dalun.  In 1999, he was transferred as Hunan provincial government rural office director to become the Chenzhou city committee secretary, and it had been exactly seven years since.  But because the "Jiahuo forced eviction incident" was discussed broadly around the nation, the tough words "Whosoever dares to affect Jiahuo a short while -- I will affect him for his whole life" were known all over China.  Those words were uttered by Li Dalun.

Shortly before, the Li Dalun corruption case was investigated jointly by the Hunan provincial disciplinary committee and the provincial procuratorate and reported in "The Preliminary Report on the case of Li Dalun."  In the report, without including the 6 million plus RMB that local officials exchanged with each other during New Year, birthdays and travel as corruption, the couple Li Dalun and Chen Lihua had received bribes of 13.25 million RMB.  Li Dalun has family deposits of 32 million RMB, of which 31.55 million RMB has been frozen as "huge assets of unknown origin."

Based upon the tips from Li Dalun, the case of a mass corruption scandal was brought out.  The above report stated that as many as 150 officials and business persons were involved in the case.  Based upon the known number of officials involved in the case, the scope of this case set a new "record."

Li Dalun loved people to called him an "official scholar."  He was a member of the Hunan Provincial Writers Association.  He has published the poetry collections "The Years Are Like Poems" and "Collection of Dalun's Calligraphy," which were distributed to citizens as well as purchased by government officials.  The common citizens assessed Li Dalun as "he was a human for the first three years and he was a ghoul for the next four years," meaning that the damage that Li Dalun created in Chenzhou began mainly from his fourth year onwards.

But there are other people who were forcibly evicted who do not share that assessment.  1999-2002 were the years in which Li Dalun focused on strong governance in Chenzhou.  In the latter four years, it cannot be said that he did nothing.  But no matter whether he was extracting personal profit or not, Li Dalun was always known to love huge construction projects.

The projects that this city committee secretary advanced included: the "integration of Chenzhou, Zixing and Guiyang," the "High-technology enterprise center" in Chenzhou, the "South-East connection project," the "Western development project," the "Xinglong pedestrian program," the "re-location of the city government project," and so on.  For these, the last four were widely criticized by officials and citizens of Chenzhou as projects that wasted money and effort.

At the beginning of the "Xinglong pedestrian street" project, everything seemed fine.  There was an extravagant gesture by the investor "Hong Kong Wanbang Industrial Company" to use marble stone to pave the "golden walkway."  Li Dalun looked proud when he inspected his personally approved "commercial center" and asked certain "ill-matched buildings" at the entrances to the pedestrian mall to be "dressed up."  But this project undertaken by the Hong Kong Wanbang Industrial Company owned by his Changde compatriot Zhang Ximing failed due to huge amounts of non-existent investments and illegal withdrawal of capital.  This would become a reason why Li Dalun met the Waterloo of his political career.

Li Dalun wanted to push his own design ideas on urban construction: "to use 5 to 7 years to build a new urban area."  Also, this city committee secretary never had any doubts about his ideas and he never compromised on anything.  While he was the Xiangxizhou party secretary previously, he promoted the planting of tobacco.  Li Dalun had a "Jiahuo forced eviction"-style slogan: If tobacco production goes up, the cadre is promoted; if tobacco production goes down, the cadre is demoted.  In terms of urban construction in Chenzhou, he encouraged the counties to build plazas and landmark bulidings, with one trial site in each county.

This approach directly reflects the personality of Li Dalun.  In Chenzhou officialdom, he had the reputation of being a bully.  "He scolded people at every meeting, even though he does not use filthy language."  On two occasions, he punished lower-level officials for napping and spelling mistakes.  Ironically, a local professor was able to point out that there were 33 spelling mistakes in "The Collection of Dalun's calligraphy" after he lost his job.

This professor also wrote that Li Dalun's calligraphy was shaped like "pigs in ink."  But the self-important Li Dalun obviously did not look at it that way.  Before retiring, Qu Longbin was the deputy mayor of Chenzhou working with Li Dalun.  The most memorable saying from Li Dalun was made at a meeting: "Over the eons, only projects are the grandest."

His subordinates began to try to please him, which gave Chenzhou a unique look: all the plazas are sumptuous and huge and many classical buildings are imitated and built.  When Lei Yunli was the Yongxing country committee secretary, he implemented "Ten Projects," of which the most influential one was the "People's Congress Hall."  This building not only looked the same as the building of the same name in Beijing, but it also had many conference rooms that were named according to the various towns.  In 2002, Guiyang county build the Ouyanghai Plaza which occupied 101 mu of land and is therefore the largest plaza in Hunan province.  In Chenzhou city, the biggest plaza is Wuling plaza costing 83 million RMB with the statues from "The Condor Lovers" in front of the city government office under construction currently.  According to the local officials, there will be several bridges over a moat in front of the office building, in the identical manner of the bridges in front of Tiananmen Square in Beijing.

According to the published figures, the financial revenue of Chenzhou has been growing at an astonishing rate of over 20% each year.  But some officials do not believe that.  Boastfulness was one of the reasons why people loathe Li Dalun.  "Li Dalun was enthusiastic about rankings and accomplishing statistical goals will gain heavy rewards."  According to a senior official who understood the situation, Li Dalun had said many times in meetings that the GDP of Chenzhou needs to reach number two in Hunan province.

But these projects did not gain Li Dalun the praises that he was expecting.  In 2002, an official at Yueyang city was promoted to the provincial level.  In discussing this with colleagues, Li Dalun described how that official was not as good as himself and gave the impression of being disrespected.  In the same year, Li Dalun wrote in a poem: "People's comings and goings are history, so where is the famous man of yesteryear?" in a seemingly complaining tone.

A Chenzhou official said that Li Dalun wrote a letter to the leader to ask for a promotion.  Instead, the letter achieved the opposite effect.

In Chenzhou, that year was regarded as the turning point when Li Dalun turned from "wanting to claim results" to "actively being corrupt."  From this year, it was his personal mark to use construction projects to enrich himself.  From there on, Chenzhou opened an ill-boding tarot card: on one side, there was extravagance and profits; on the other side, there was corruption and chaos.

In 2002, Li Dalun had established himself in Chenzhou  But still, he began cleaning up the officialdom.  Certain closely connected officials were placed into important positions through various means, while some powerful officials from before were put on freeze.

As for the broadly rumored "selling of job positions," the Hunan provincial disciplinary committee and procuratorate report have no obvious records.  An official said that the officials paying brides were mostly making investments on Li Dalun over long periods of time, so that it is difficult to break out the amount for a specific promotion.  But a Chenzhou official said that he understood that the selling of job positions existed in Chenzhou, and it was necessary to pay just to "keep one's job."

Combining the perceptions of various Chenzhou officials that we interviewed, the relationship between Li Dalun and Zeng Jinchun was approximately one of "give each other face," "clear delineation of sphere of influence" and "Zheng Jinchun obeyed the orders of Li Dalun."  When the two got together, they became the two most powerful persons that the people can see.

Li Dalun's first pot of gold came when he changed his approach in 2002.  At the time, the Chenzhou City National Land Resources Department office needed to be re-decorated.  Li Dalun stuck his hand in.  "Some people said that he made away with 4 million RMB, but it was not that much," said one official.  "It was a very small project."

In the next few years, Li Dalun's appetite grew a lot bigger.  His Changde "literary friend" Xing Lixin got the contract for the construction of the high-class expressway between Guiyang and Jiahuo.  Li Dalun even called the city transportation director directly to ask for an additional 10 million RMB in the budget estimate.  Finally, the transportation director came up with an unusual excuse: in order to be ready for the birthday of Mao Zedong, the expressway had to be completed before December 26 and therefore the project required an increase in the budget.

The moving of the "four major departments" in Guying was awarded to Changde businessman Sheng Lishnge.  The preliminary budget was 160 million RMB.  According to Chenzhou Daily News at the time, the project was supposed to operate on a balanced budget basis with contributions from various parties.  By the time that the construction was completed, the cost was 230 million.  The Guiyang finance department could not pay for this, and so under the intervention of Li Dalun, the county government transferred almost 10 million from the farmland and forestry preservation funds, asked the bankxs to lend 8 million and then "called for" each person in the party and government organizations to provide loans between 10,000 to 20,000 RMB so that the project was paid up.

Li Dalun liked to be known as a "literary official."  Even though his poetry and writings were treated with contempt by experts, he lived in a decent house.  His home is inside the Chenzhou city committee courtyard with a mansion number of 001.  There is a car lane leading from the entrance.  To the left of the car lane is a pond around which green trees grow and white birds gather.

According to the locals, the first search of Li Dalun's house resulted in the removal of 8 million in cash and  precious objects.  The special investigative squad came with a big truck.  Later, because there was so much stuff, they obtained another truck.  The seized antiques were all contained in wooden boxes built from wood and nails.  There were about 200 wooden boxes.

Among the seized objects were pure gold decorations, a jade unicorn weighing more than 30 kilograms, the paintings of Zhang Daqian and Huang Yongyu, and one dollar bills dated back to when the United States of America was founded.  There were two valuable stones that could not be moved because they were too heavy.

Compared to the powerful outsider official Li Dalun, Zeng Jinchun had more of the colors of local Chenzhou officials.  Today, his unavoidable demise was not due to abuse of public power, but because he put himself in a bind.  Within Chenzhou officialdom, a well-known rumor was that this disciplinary committee secretary wanted to continue in his job and therefore changed his age to two years younger.  His greed in wanting to hold on meant that he was now caught up in a clean-up campaign.

The people of Chenzhou assessed Li Dalun and Zeng Jinchun this way: while Li Dalun does not ordinarily directly harm ordinary citizens, Zeng Jinchun was not like that.

As city disciplinary committee secretary, Zeng Jinchun was famous for "having many relatives" and for leveraging his power to monitor government officials.

Before 1995, Zeng Jinchun was famous for taking special care of the interests of his relatives.  According to an official who worked in municipal administration, several of Zeng Jinchun's relatives were selling vegetables on a bridge and they always had personal notes from Zeng to show the municipal administrators.  After 1995, these special favors escalated as his relatives enter to work in the city government.  One official said that there are more than 40 of them.

But the more important characteristic of this city disciplinary committee secretary is his ruthlessness.  In Chenzhou officialdom, a secret that everybody knew was that one must not offend Zeng Jinchun, or even disobey him.  Otherwise, he will find an excuse to put you under "double regulations."  Also, any official who refuses to hand over resources that Zeng wanted would also have to worry about "double regulations."

Before 2002, Zeng Jinchun was relatively careful about what he did.  At the time, his wife was at the city committee family planning department and she was not being promoted quickly enough.  According to a city disciplinary committee official who worked with Zeng Jinchun, Zeng was unhappy but he could only criticize some of the family planning directors.  On one occasion, Zeng issued a "warning" to family planning director Chen Yinghua, but this disciplinary measure was never carried out.

2002 was an important turning point for Zeng Jinchun, Li Dalun and the entire Chenzhou officialdom.  That year, they sensed that there was tremendous excitement from the rapid economic growth in coal mining and real estate.  When Li Dalun took charge in 1999, coal mines yielded miniscule profits and the Chenzhou government had to mobilize other people to start mines.  In March 2002, the small coal mines were everywhere and out of control.  Over the past four years, the price of coal had gone from 120 RMB per tonne to over 400 RMB per tonne, and tungsten had gone from 30,000 RMB per tonne to 120,000 RMB per tonne.

From this year, Zeng Jinchun increased the use of "double regulations" to engage in the control and raiding of mining interests.  Many interviewed officials said that they knew of some officials who were placed under "double regulations" because they refused to hand over their mining rights, or else they were investigated and threatened for offending Zeng.  "When officials have their own problems, they become afraid of Zeng," said one official.

In Chenzhou officialdom, there are two completely opposite views about the working style of Zeng Jinchun.  One class of people said that he was loyal, guileless, interested in sticking his head into everything, "sending notes everywhere" and somewhat naive.  The other people said: bully, vicious, ruthless.  These two sayings make an interesting comparison about how Zeng Jinchun dealt with his relatives and outsiders.

But all interviewed officials said that his nickname of "Mining director Zeng" was well-earned.  Among Chenzhou officials and citizens, there is a black joke: "All the mines in the city are under his administration."  Zeng Jinchun used his unique powers as disciplinary committee secretary to force county and department heads to follow his command on matters of approval and supervision of mines.  Everybody knew that, and it created all sorts of easily seen bad effects.

Chenzhou city Yichang county Jiangshui village farmer Huang Yuanxun has spent many years fighting against Zeng Jinchun by reporting "government-mine collusion."

Huang Yuanxun began by reporting on the Yongfu coal mine in his village, and he eventually reported on Zeng Jinchun himself over more than five years.  This coal mine created problems with unpaid wages, industrial accidents and farmland collapse.  But the coal mine boss Huang Shengfu was close to Zeng Jinchun about which Huang Yuanxun obtained some indirect evidence, and therefore he reported Zeng Jinchun for being the "protective umbrella for a bad coal mine."

Last December, National Safety Monitoring Bureau chief Li Yizhong came to inspect the Yongfu coal mine and Huang Shengfu reported false figures on production and mineworkers.  This caused Li Yizhong to blow up immediately and accused the coal miner boss of being irresponsible and uncaring about the lives of the coal miners.

The Chenzhou officials cannot not understand how the city disciplinary committee secretary Zeng Jinchun, who had nothing to do with the coal industry, ended up being appointed the leader of the Chenzhou coal mine re-organization group.

Apart from his ties to the coal mines, there are some other connections that are even more obvious.  In Chenzhou, certain corporations have the bronze front-door signs "Economic Development Environment Liaison Office" but the sub-title is actually the Chenzhou city disciplinary committee which is completely unrelated to "economic development environment.  The issuance of these bronze signs implied that the companies have certain powers of exemption when inspected by various Chenzhou city departments.  Each bronze sign is worth 400,000 RMB.  Just for this alone, the Chenzhou disciplinary committee under Zeng Jinchun takes in more than 10 million per annum.

Before Zeng Jinchun was placed under "double regulations," many middle- and lower-level Chenzhou officials were concerned that this person would be hard to go after.  Their reason: "The auditing, public security and procuratorate departments cannot monitor the disciplinary committee."

Among all the negative news from Chenzhou in recent years, the "Number one case in national pension funds" of Li Shubiao is one of the few cases that are not connected to Li Dalun and Zeng  Jinchun.  According to the figures published by the Hunan province procuratorate, among the 120 million RMB pension funds misused by Li Shubiao, 80 million RMB was lost on gambling and 40 million RMB was retrieved.

The deputy cadre director with the nickname of "Playboy" wore 10,000 suits and platinum buttons.  These exorbitant exhibition were not restricted among Chenzhou officials to Li Shubiao alone, but it was also obviously manifest in the city publicity department director Fan Jiasheng.

Fan Jiasheng was guilty, and this was strikingly similar to Li Dalun.  But for the Chenzhou officialdom, this former publicity department director was famous for being "bad."  Fan is slightly overweight and pays attention to being very strict with a permanently shiny hairdo.  The Chenzhou officials have a universally bad impression of him with relatively negative opinions: such as selfish, hypocritical, tasteless, disloyal with other officials, and so on.

When Fan Jiasheng was the party secretary of Anyan county, he was corrupt even though this was an impoverished county.  At the time, Fan Jiasheng built two electricity transformer stations, one big bridge and one toll station whose revenue became his personal "money printing" operation.  At the time, there was a Anyan county saying: "Jia caused people not to have a living."

Actually, even the lower-level officials could not make a living.  For the purpose of highlighting his accomplishments, Fan Jiasheng removed the label of impoverished county for Anyang.  Due to his severe regime, the employees of the county party and government could only earn about 300 to 400 RMB per month.

Some Chenzhou officials said that Li Dalun did not appreciate Fan Jiasheng at first and was wary of him.  But later for inexplicable reasons, he supported the latter.  An irregular event was that when Fan Jiasheng joined the city standing committee, the number of popular recommendations was not publicly announced.

By this point, Li Dalun had concentrated control over governance, planning, finance, construction and other powers, "leaving only the coal mining rights to Zeng Jinchun."

In Chenzhou, Fan Jiasheng was a certain standard-setting official.  When he was appointed the director of the publicity department, some officials believed that officialdom has reached a point of absurdity no longer acceptable.  An official with the city commerce department recalled: "At that moment, I felt that Chenzhou was finished."

At the same time, Li Dalun's "literary friend" Xing Lixin from Changde appeared in Chenzhou officialdom.  This construction businessman focused on the engineering projects that come through Li Dalun's connections.  But on other occasions, he intervened on personnel decisions.  According to local media reports, the "Jiahuo forced eviction case" brought down certain officials which were then re-instated through Xing Lixin's intervention with Li Dalun.

More importantly, Xing Lixin talked loudly, "often using the tone of Li Dalun" and ordinary officials were very wary of him.

Many officials received the signal: the hidden rules have gotten the upper hand.  At this stage, corruption was ready to show its face without any logical basis.  Such were the facts: certain officials had lost their will to seek a future in politics and they hoped instead to trade their power for rent.

Before Zeng Jinchun was subjected to the "double regulations," Huang Yuanxun did not know whether he controlled his own fate.  Actually, under the perverse arrangement of Chenzhou officialdom, even the most powerful local officials could not be confident about their own fates.  On the hill behind the Chenzhou city government office, there was a building named Wuling Pavilion in imitation of the ancient style.  Chenzhou Daily News reported that its construction was to "elevate the quality of the city."  But the local Chenzhou officials and citizens knew that this was the building that the local officials constructed to "ward off evil."

When "warding off evil" became an urgent psychological need, the officials brought out the "master" who told the city government to construct the Wuling Pavilion.

Wuling Pavilion is uncompleted as yet.  Previously, Chenzhou deputy mayor Lei Yunali was sentenced to a postponed death penalty for corruption and city government secretary general Xiao Pengjin was murdered in a hotel under mysterious circumstances.

In truth, the principal should not have bothered to trouble with fengshui because the answer could be found with people like Huang Yuanxun.  This farmer had been filing complaints about how the people have suffered under these officials and social conflicts need to be resolved.

The Meijiag mining district of Yichang county was another focus of interest outside Chenzhou city.  Huang Yuanxun worked his heart out about how Zeng Jinchun "protected" the coal miner owners, Fan Jiasheng restricted media reporting and Li Dalun refused to govern the coal mines.  Along the road going around these towns, all the trees have been blackened.  Today, people don't have drinking water and the farmlands are fallow.  Such is the evidence of the latest corruption cases in Chenzhou.

Huang Yuanxun has been living in a house and growing bamboos and peppers.  There has been an offer of 100,000 RMB for his head.  He has sent his final testament to the provincial party committee by mail.

In the Luoxin road construction project in western Chenzhou, Luoxin villagers gave up 105 mu's of land to requisition.  The land was first-grade farmland yielding 500 kilograms of produce per year, but the official documents listed them as being "fallow nine out of ten years."  The villagers that they signed the contracts through "cajoling and lying" by the cadres.

Finally, in Luoxin village, the contract was signed and the construction began.  The construction obstructed the river, and caused the river water to be diverted.  A typhoon this summer caused the house of the brothers of Zhou Jiazhong to be washed away by the river flood.  The villagers complained that their 19,000 RMB per mu was inadequate, but they did not have all the facts.  Informed sources in Chenzhou said that the land development in their area was closely connected to the project for the Dream Home mansions in the area in which Li Dalun's wife Chen Jianhua was intimately involved.

According to this informed source, the local construction department documents showed that a certain company sold the land to Chen Jianhua at 80,000 RMB per mu, which she promptly accepted and then resold the land to the developer 400,000 RMB per mu or five times her cost.

The relation in the officialdom/citizen realms is shown in the prices of these two pieces of land.  It is much more difficult to obtain documentary evidence.

When Li Dalun was placed under "double regulations," he said that "he wanted the party organization to retain his party membership so that he can go back to his Changde hometown in Taoyuan to repent."  Taoyuan county is often regarded as the perfect paradise in the story of Tao Yuanming.  This dream seems both pathetic and poetic, but it is hard to say if Li Dalun understood how the common people actually live.  The peasant petitioner Huang Yuanxun's wife assessed herself and her family as follows; "We are just people who eat sour peppers with our rice."  She meant to say that she and her husband are very humble and hardworking.

On September 19, Huang Yuanxun finally sensed that he had a hope of victory.  "When I first heard the news, I was so excited."  He said, "I and several other petitioners will hire a drum band to celebrate."