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The Transition Period in a post-Wukan China

Zhou Hao presents "The Transition Period"

In the wake of the now-disbanded protests in Wukan, much attention has been paid to the somewhat unconventional methods employed by Wang Yang, the CCP secretary of Guangdong Province. The New York Times‘s Sharon LaFraniere reports:

Mr. Wang, the up-and-coming Communist Party secretary of the southern Chinese province of Guangdong, faced a political turning point when 13,000 irate residents of Wukan evicted their leaders and barricaded themselves in their coastal village for 13 days in a last-straw uprising against local corruption. Given a choice of storming the village with armed police officers or conceding that the villagers’ complaints had merit, Mr. Wang chose the latter. And in a single morning, he defused a standoff that had drawn unflattering worldwide news coverage. The decision won him praise in the Communist Party’s flagship newspaper, People’s Daily, which called it an act of “political courage” in a tense situation. Some analysts said it might have strengthened his already strong prospects to land a seat on China’s elite ruling body, the nine-member Standing Committee of the party’s Politburo, when a wave of mandatory retirements vacates seven of the seats this coming year.

The intense international focus on an individual government official is by no means insignificant–especially a government official whose ideology has historically gone against popular trend. Writes LaFraniere of Wang’s early days in the politbureau, “he talked of “thought emancipation” and the need to pioneer changes – and just as quickly hit head winds.”

Still, any scrutiny of government officials can reveal the frustration and complexity of Chinese civil service, as shown in Zhou Hao‘s 2011 documentary The Transition Period, which traces the hierarchical ascent of Guo Yongchang, an official in Henan Province. From exposing the outrageous money-grubbing and drinking culture that characterizes much of government work; to scenes of a government official placating citizen protestors in public and then threatening the same protesters behind closed doors; to examining Guo’s ethical struggles, The Transition Period shows the convoluted fabric of government service. In a post-Wukan era, when many are questioning the government’s actions and responsibility towards under-served villagers, The Transition Period provides a compelling window into how government officials operate and how progress is made–and stymied–by a government apparatus from top to bottom.

LaFraniere quotes Guangdong local official Zheng Yanxiong, whose area of jurisdiction includes Wukan and who laments the roles of government cadres:

“Your powers decline every day, and you have fewer and fewer methods at your disposal – but your responsibility grows bigger and bigger every day.” “Ordinary people want more and more every day,” he continued. “They grow smarter every day, and they are harder and harder to control. “Today’s government officials are having a hard time.”


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