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Official misconduct widens social wealth gap

LIU Qiong, an official in central China's Hunan Province, was relieved from her duties on Sunday amid charges that her powerful father had orchestrated her fast promotion.

Liu was appointed deputy Party secretary of Shimen County, Changde City, at age 30, an unlikely age for that job, hence the speculation online that she owed her moving-up to the influence of her father. Before his retirement, he was head of the Standing Committee of the Changde National People's Congress.

Following the public outcry, some people responsible for the promotion have been disciplined, while the father is being investigated for his role in the promotion of his daughter.

Lately we have heard a spate of similar cases, with various outcomes. Following media exposure, some people who were swiftly promoted have been demoted to positions more suitable to their age and experience. Some are let off with a slap on the wrist, and some are unaffected.

These examples attest to the growing stratification in our society. When the official and the monied elites can use their political and financial influence to push their offspring to higher levels of official rank, ordinary and disadvantaged people will be trapped in frustration, ineptitude, or breakdown.

That is unsettling for many people still inspired by the illusion that, given diligence, honest work, and intelligence, they can always make their dreams come true.

When the sense of despair sinks in, sometimes it can be disruptive. In Xiamen, Fujian Province, a disgruntled Chen Shuizong set fire to a crowded bus on June 7, killing 47 and injuring 34.

Chen's motive was to vent personal grievances over his inability to have his age corrected by the public security bureau, so he would have access to social welfare, which he badly needed.

Since the tragedy, the Xiamen Daily carried a series of articles lashing out at the "madness" of Chen, while singing the praises of officials at all levels who coordinated a brilliantly "successful" rescuing effort.

The disaster has created good business for technical suppliers, such as the system that enables the driver to break all the windows by pushing a button. To deter future arsonists, all purchasers of gasoline must be identified in the city.

While we condemn Chen for having caused so many civilian casualties, we remain in the dark as to why the 59-year old man had to visit local police 22 times trying to have his age corrected, in vain, while many officials and businessmen can have many different ID cards and passports.

For instance, when Liu Tienan, former deputy director of China's National Development and Reform Commission and chief of the National Energy Administration, was held on charges of graft and impropriety, he reportedly had 12 foreign passports.

Plight of the poor

In a recent blog article, professor Zhang Ming from Renmin University of China, after comparing the fate of the second generations of the rich and powerful and the poor, seemed to be particularly concerned about the plight of the offspring of the poor.

During the initial stage of China's reform, we had heard of small vendors making a pile by doing small business. They are unlikely heroes in rags-to-riches stories today, for now riches and success are more apt to be begotten of power and guanxi.

Education used to be a great factor in contributing to upward mobility. During the earlier years of reforms, to be admitted to colleges and universities would make a great difference in a person's future. Today education is more about money and power.

For instance, the children of some officials and rich people who have no chance of entering good universities at home can enjoy expensive education abroad. Adorned with a glittering foreign diploma, and with official patronage, the overseas returnees can easily distinguish themselves in the official hierarchy.

Some get-rich-first tycoons also buy their offsprings official titles. As a consequence, the wealth gap widens. The children of migrants workers would have little chance of rising above their parents.

Ironically, unlike their parents, the second generation migrants tend to be less hardy, and less tolerant. Many of them are brought up pampered as only children.

In other words, they are assigned a niche no better than their parents, but most of them have not been equipped with qualities of diligence that make their parents so sought after as assembly line workers, construction workers, and cleaners.

Their parents, while seeking their fortune in cities, can always return to the farmland as a last resort. These second generation migrants, softened by urban amenities, are not prepared to return to the soil.


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