Potemkin Villages* in China

March 21, 2007 12:00 am Last Updated: March 21, 2007 12:00 am

“The village representatives tell lies to the community and the community representatives lie to the county level officials. The lies do not stop there. The lies continue from level to level, up to the Chinese State Council. The Chinese State Council gives directions, which will then move back, level by level, until it reaches the lowest level. Once the officials have read the directive, they will go to have dinner and the directives become empty words from their mouths.”

Yang Zhifu, 70 years old and a delegate at the Chinese People's Political Consultation Conference (CPPCC), was allowed to read this above slogan, commonly used among Chinese people, to Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao during the CPPCC in Beijing on March 3. It is rumored that Yang Zhifu was not a delegate slated to present a speech during this particular plenary session. Yang Zhifu may have obtained permission after handing a note to the Prime Minister, asking to be given the opportunity to speak to the assembly. According to observers of the incident, Wen granted his request and announced his name as the next speaker. The Prime Minister listened to the speech and appeared deep in thought, according to witnesses. Since that day, this people's slogan read by Yang Zhifu has spread rapidly on the Internet in China.

Deception by Chinese Officials

Willful misrepresentation is commonly employed by Chinese officials. It is not a secret in China that officials at all levels conceal facts and publicize falsehoods. The following example illustrates this fact. A few years ago, then Prime Minister Zhu Rongji announed that he would look at the Grain Supply Center of the Nanlin District in Anhui Province. Local government officials quickly obtained loads of grain from surrounding cities, seeking to prove to the Prime Minister how well the city council had fulfilled its obligations. The officials had purchased as much grain as possible from the surrounding farms. The deceived Prime Minister expressed his approval of the “excellent work” by the staff of the Grain Supply Center. Prime Minister Wen Jiabao is well aware of such deceptions and reportedly often lets the officials know this. It is rumored that he often walks without preamble while investigating the work of local officials and visits a farmers' family that had not been told what to say beforehand. He also refuses to leave the car when visiting a farmer's family who was tutored ahead of time.

Just as his predecessor Zhu, Wen appears to want to truly bring change during his time in office. One questions is: Can he truly accomplish this, or is he going to fail just as his predecessor did, as long as he holds onto China's totalitarian Communist system?

Can brakes be applied to the increasing discontent in the heart of the populace?

It is without doubt that the highest administrative body in China, the Chinese State Council, no longer can control the wide network. Due to want of an official control system and a judicial system that acts arbitrarily, local officials have increasingly taken matters into their hands. They turn ever more corrupt, thus leading to increasing conflicts and discontent among the common people over local governance. In the meantime, such conflicts in entire localities are being sealed off from public view, and tanks and the military are brought in to contain the conflicts. How much longer can the people's resentment at the corrupt officials be contained?

*The Russian Minister Grigori Aleksandrovich Potemkin purportedly erected fake villages to fool Empress Catherine the II into believing in prosperity of the region during a visit to the Crimea in 1787. A Potemkin village may stand for a village consisting of little or nothing behind an impressive facade.

Click here for original article in German.