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Guanxi helps many young people get jobs
IF a financially embarrassed person, in a moment of weakness, steals 60,000 yuan (US$9,790) from a governmental organization, we would not hesitate to call him a thief and make him pay dearly for his crime.
Technically, he should be accused of theft involving an extremely huge sum, handed over to the justice system and dealt with to the letter of the law.
But think of Zhao Shuqi, a grassroots official in Yexian, Henan Province.
Until recently Zhao's son had been receiving more than 1,000 yuan in monthly wages as an employee of the unit under Zhao's supervision for six consecutive years, since the youth was 15 years old.
The son was not alone.
Of the 69 people on the payroll of that government unit, 10 were employed when they were less than 18 years old, and most of them were the chief's relatives.
Although this systemic theft of public money is more damaging to the country and people, we are less certain how to characterize them. Are they criminals practicing nepotism?
Recent experience suggests many of them would be guilty of procedural lapses or irregularities, with the consequence of the errant officials disciplined within the Party or government.
Consider the example of Wang Qian, who was born in 1991, started working in 2010, and before long was appointed to her current post as deputy chief of the Development and Reform Bureau of Yuetang District, Xiangtan City.
Her father was an official at the provincial level of the Development and Reform Commission.
Following a media uproar, and in the wake of an investigation started last year, all those people who played roles in the case have been dealt with "seriously," according to media reports.
That's is, all of them have been disciplined within the Party or government, except for one official who had been handed over to the justice system. The father only lost his official title.
In a subsequent interview with Xinhuanet, the whistleblower said, "If these people are not handed over to the justice system, they are unlikely to serve as a warning to future offenders. I am not satisfied with this kind of punishment."
The same whistleblower then targeted Xu Tao, a 27-year-old deputy head of Xiangtan County, Hunan Province, who had been given seven positions in five years, while studying full time for a master's degree at Xiangtan University since 2010.
Xu's father was the former director of the People's Congress of Yuhu District in Xiangtan County, and his mother was deputy director of the Yuhu District prosecutor's office.
An investigation conducted by the Hunan provincial government in March showed "there were no severe violations such as cheating during the promotion of Xu, but the process of promotion didn't strictly follow regulations."
As a consequence, six officials involved in Xu's promotion were "punished," which include being reprimanded, warned, or talked to, while Xu and Xu's parents were largely not or affected.
In explaining this punishment, a discipline inspection official said that Xu Tao was not punished because "on the face of it, there seemed to be no evidence that he played any role in effecting his fast promotions."
By comparison, people found in the possession of lost money or property are generally not given such benefit of the doubt.
This is certainly not encouraging for millions of fresh graduates groping in the darkness of this year's job market, and fearing they have little chances of landing a good job without proper family connections.
Traditional Chinese society also stressed family connections greatly, but in the past official positions were also high-stakes position, in that if an official were to be convicted of a serious crime, his family members could be made to suffer collectively in a system known as zhulian (necessary implication of family members.)
Today some chiefs of rich entities of a public nature wield virtually absolute authority whether in hiring or firing, or in dispensing of benefits.
For instance, some senior executives from a tobacco company in Jilin Province have each received more than 10,000 yuan a month in housing allowances.
Following online exposure, they corrected their mistake by returning the excess money, but there are no signs they are being treated as criminals guilty of tax evasion or theft of public property.
It's no surprise that we hear more of such incidents. The latest online expose is about Liu Qiong, who became a vice township chief in Changde, Hunan Province, at the age 23 ("Nepotism claims probe," June 2, Shanghai Daily.)
Chinese society has always been marked by upward mobility, for in the past 2,000 years we did not have anything like aristocracy.
Thus ambitious scholars were inspired by the vision that "In the morning he is still in the thatched cottage, but in the evening already being received by the emperor."
Today, with rare exceptions, the national college entrance exam system provides one channel for the rural youth to be truly urbanized.
However, the People's Daily commented on May 26 that since it is becoming increasingly difficult to be admitted to prestigious universities, many villager candidates are simply giving up on taking the test.
The article suggested that this points to the danger of perpetuating class divisions. One cause is that as education resources increasingly favor the privileged, rural youth are losing hope of distinguishing themselves academically.
For more than 10 years, our college enrollment has been increasing steadily, but the proportion of rural youth in key universities is dropping.
According to statistics, from 1978 to 1998, the percentage of rural students in Peking University was about 30 percent, but this has dropped to 10 percent since 2000.
When the lucky few who had made it to universities are looking for jobs, if they are not well-connected, they may have little hope of landing good jobs.
Many realize that for all their ambition and struggles, their socio-economic disadvantages would be transmitted from one generation to the next, with no relief in sight.