With the sudden passing of a deputy mayor and Communist Party in western China, the state-run media may have gone a little too far in lauding him posthumously.
Xinhua, the Party-controlled news agency, reported June 4 that Li Jianmin of Ankang, Shaanxi Province had died on May 28. The piece went on to commend the official for his rectitude, honesty, and humble cave dwelling in a rural area.
“The home does not even come with a television set,” Xinhua said of Li’s cave home, which reporters supposedly discovered by accident. “The only electrical appliance is an old laundry machine. Observing this miserable and shabby existence, those who came across the scene burst out in tears.”
But Chinese netizens were unimpressed with Xinhua’s description of Li’s home life and pictures provided, and piled ridicule on the report.
“The Party media is insulting our intelligence,” one internet user wrote. “This deputy mayor’s ‘luxury house’ is 627 kilometers (about 390 mi) from the city of Ankang. Deputy mayor [Li] must be a bird-man who can navigate using a magnetic sixth sense to fly to work.”
Others speculated that the cave dwelling may have been Li’s former residence, given that the building is caked in dirt and the front yard is overgrown by weeds.
“Not only is there no phone or television, but the basic furnishings needed for daily life are missing,” another comment said. “It’s impossible to live or study here, not to mention the fact that the deputy mayor would have had to listen to the voice of the central government every night! What, is this propaganda article trying to tell the nation that the deputy mayor owns a second house?”
Even a simple life on the surface does not preclude dirty riches hidden beneath, as one user pointed out using the example of Wei Pengyuan. Wei, formerly the head of the coal directorate of the National Energy Administration, is known for having lived in a modest home but was found to be hoarding 340 million yuan ($51.7 million).
Others wondered about the cause of Li’s “sudden death.” Blogger Shi Sansheng speculated that Li Jianmin had committed suicide like several other officials implicated for corruption and being hounded by the Party’s disciplinary authorities.
In one particularly infamous case, Hao Zhuan, a Party secretary in Jilin Province, died when he fell from the sixth story of a building. The police claimed that Hao had slipped when wiping the window, a conclusion that met with wide public suspicion.
“Perhaps the authorities have a rule saying that even officials who commit suicide to escape punishment must be counted among the ranks of the good cadres,” Shi Sansheng wrote on his blog in reference to the Party’s efforts to portray it and its personnel as “great, glorious, and correct.”