Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Ryan Pyle Blog: Job Opening in Linfen


I recently read something in the media back in April that made me stop and think. The article made a specific reference to the two jobs of Mayor and Party Secretary for the city of Linfen, which have both been vacant for six months, in coal rich Shanxi province in Central China.

First a bit of background. Linfen is a particularly nasty place (which I have no pictures of!). It ranked #1 on CNN's most polluted cities in the world list in 2008. It's a coal, cement and pulp and paper kind of place. In one interview a television correspondent asked a woman, who was holding a young child, if she knew the sky's color is actually blue; she had no idea, she believe the sky's natural color was gray. She'd never been outside of Linfen.

While Linfen is particularly dirty it is also known for lapses in safety and environmental planning. The township has been the site of several massive accidents in the past few years from coal mine collapses, which kill miners, to massive reservoirs of toxic sludge breaking their dam and engulfing entire villages. For the last few years the job of mayor or party secretary in Linfen has been a game of musical chairs, no one seems to last more than a year before a major environmental "incident" causes several of the main leadership to resign or be fired.

Now the inner workings of the Communist Party is a black box to outsiders like myself. We have virtually no idea what is going on and the power politics involved. For years it was my assumption, and perhaps the assumption of much of the media that I was reading, that Party Secretaries of townships and counties were local, and heavily involved in business. To contrast that the provincial Party Secretaries are from different provinces and tend to rotate every 3-5 years.

So if local Party Secretaries can operate in area's they have grown up in, and have at their disposal vast powers and business connections why is it that the job of Party Secretary and Mayor for Linfen is still vacant, six month after the last environmental incident claimed the last duo? Perhaps the power of local Party Secretaries and Mayors are no match for the power politics being played by coal and cement producers throughout the province. My best guess is that coal mine owners and cement factory owners bypass local governments and townships and report straight to provincial Party Secretaries, who in turn for their loyalty are allowed to work freely throughout the province.

That would mean that a lot of local town and county officials are caught between a rock and a hard place, unable to introduce change and or safety standards, if that was the case, and completely responsible for anything that happens on their turf; for which they would have absolutely no control over. But surely the vacant posts in question would yield back handers and opportunities to exercise influence for financial gain; but with all that being frowned upon at the moment from Beijing, it's clear that some government posts are just completely unattractive. I never would have thought that.

Is anyone reading in to this situation differently? Anyone heard anything else on the topic?

Sorry this post has little to do with photography, but I tend to find these sorts of political plays in China incredibly interesting.

Ryan Pyle

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Ryan Pyle