People’s Daily, the Chinese Communist Party’s mouthpiece, published a commentary criticizing former Beijing mayor Guo Jinlong for the way he handled the public’s disbelief of the official death toll from a heavy storm last weekend.
Guo and a vice mayor of the city resigned on July 25. The commentary criticized Guo for “having made a mistake” in handling the aftermath of the storm.
“Actually, apart from ‘negative news,’ people are more interested in how the government handles the ‘negative news,’” the People’s Daily piece claimed. “During those days, Beijing’s Party leader emphasized ‘reporting the deaths from the disaster to the public on time.’ Only when a report is made on time, with high quality and quantity, will it lessen people’s sensitivity to the death toll. Then people will be able to learn from disaster like Friedrich Von Engels said.”
An official death toll of 37 was released less than 24 hours after the rainstorm. Many people in Beijing believe the number given is lower than the actual death toll to avoid harsh criticism of the city’s poorly maintained infrastructure, including an old drainage system that could have contributed to the heavy flooding. Guo demanded that the Beijing government investigate the official death toll the day before his resignation.
On July 3, at an internal Communist Party meeting for officials of Beijing, Guo was selected as the new Communist Party Secretary for Beijing, a position seen as more powerful than that of mayor. In the past, in order to secure his power, new leaders of China would want to put trusted candidates on three vital positions: head of Central Security Bureau, head of the Military Region of Beijing and Beijing’s party leader. Mentored by current communist leader Hu Jintao, Guo’s new appointment to the party leadership in Beijing marked Hu’s final step on controlling these three positions. Guo was thus spelled as a promising candidate for the new generation of Politburo leaders, to be elected in the 18th National Congress in October.
Shi Zangshan, a Washington-based expert on China, said that the timing of the message of People’s Daily is not accidental. “For communist mouthpieces to name and criticize Beijing’s party secretaries has been extremely rare for the Chinese Communist Party,” said Shi. “This is not just a casual decision.”
The criticism by People’s Daily casts a shadow over Guo’s future. Known as Renmin Ribao in Chinese, People’s Daily published messages with heavy communist undertones during the Cultural Revolution. Editorial pieces by the People’s Daily tend to be interpreted as an announcement of policies or personnel changes.
Several other high-level communist officials in China have had to leave their posts after deadly incidents or mishandling of disasters. In 1988, Ding Guangen, former minister of railways, resigned after many people died in a series of train crashes. Meng Xuenong, another former mayor of Beijing, left his office after failing to further conceal the spread of the SARS epidemic in his city.
Editor’s Note: When Chongqing’s former top cop, Wang Lijun, fled for his life to the U.S. Consulate in Chengdu on Feb. 6, he set in motion a political storm that has not subsided. The battle behind the scenes turns on what stance officials take toward the persecution of Falun Gong. The faction with bloody hands—the officials former CCP head Jiang Zemin promoted in order to carry out the persecution—is seeking to avoid accountability for their crimes and to continue the campaign. Other officials are refusing any longer to participate in the persecution. Events present a clear choice to the officials and citizens of China, as well as people around the world: either support or oppose the persecution of Falun Gong. History will record the choice each person makes.
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