WUKONG Petty officials with grand
delusions By Wu Zhong, China
HONG KONG - Shortly after the New
Year holiday, a police force from Xifeng county in
the northeastern province of Liaoning arrived in
Beijing to arrest a reporter with a national
publication based in the Chinese capital on
charges of libeling Xifeng officials.
Their arrest attempt failed, but the move
shocked Chinese journalists and law experts. It
was a flagrant abuse of power that ignored the
rule of law and challenged Beijing's policy of
strengthening media supervision of local
officials. Public attention
also been drawn to the protection of journalists.
On January 1, Faren Magazine (Legal Person
Magazine) published a story by staff reporter Zhu
Wenna about a businesswoman in Xifeng who was
unhappy after her gas station was demolished to
make way for a market for a very small
compensation. She sent out mobile-phone short
messages (SMS) satirizing the county Communist
Party chief and later was arrested.
According to Chinese state media, more
than 14,000 Chinese netizens left comments on the
Internet denouncing the Xifeng police and party
Legal Person is a publication of
Legal Daily, which is the official newspaper of
the Communist Party's Central Committee of
Politics and Law, which oversees law enforcement
and the Ministry of Justice.
later, on January 4, a team of policemen from
Xifeng arrived in Beijing and rushed into the
office building of the Legal Daily, showing a
warrant for the arrest of Zhu. Zhu was not there.
The team was led by the chief of Xifeng's
propaganda department and committee of politics
and law. Xifeng police made the move either out of
ignorance or arrogance. It was a direct challenge
to China's political hierarchy, and even if Zhu
were in the office it was likely to fail.
The arrest attempt was illegal. According
to Chinese law, any suspected libel of a person or
an institution must be dealt with by civil lawsuit
brought to a court by the party which claims to be
the victim. In other words, there is no role for
Therefore, if Xifeng county
party chief Zhang Zhiguo thought he was libeled by
Zhu in her news report, he could file a civil
lawsuit against the reporter and the magazine. To
use the police in an attempt to arrest Zhu was an
abuse of power in an attempt to avenge a personal
wrong in the name of public interest.
was also an open challenge the authority of the
Central Committee of Politics and Law. No wonder
the outspoken Guangdong province-based Southern
Metropolis News called Zhang "the most arrogant
county party chief" in the country.
the failed arrest was publicized, Zhang Zhiguo
said he knew nothing about it beforehand. If he
was not lying, then he was completely negligent in
his duties. In such a tiny place as Xifeng, it
would be impossible for the party chief to be kept
in the dark when the local propaganda and law
enforcement chief was assigned to lead a police
taskforce to travel a long distance to arrest a
journalist in Beijing.
Zhu was lucky
because of her publication's affiliation with
Legal Daily in Beijing, otherwise she could easily
be in a Xifeng jail now. In fact, there have
been a number of cases in which local officials
successfully jailed individuals accused of
In September 2006, a minor
civil servant in Pengshui county under Chongqing
municipality was arrested after he wrote a poem
criticizing county leaders and sent it via SMS.
Only after the case was widely reported and
aroused public concern was he released after being
detained for six weeks.
In May 2007, three
minor officials in Jishan county in Shanxi
province were arrested and prosecuted for writing
an anonymous open letter criticizing the county
In mid-2006, six farmers in
Mengzhou, a county-level city in Henan province,
printed pamphlets to expose alleged official
corruption in a local liquor distillery. In
tactics reminiscent of the vicious Cultural
Revolution of the 1960s, they were detained and
publicly paraded in the back of a truck with signs
reading "Criminal Suspect" around their necks.
These are just cases that have been
exposed, there are undoubtedly many more
It is no coincidence that
most of these cases involve county and
county-level cities. Historically, counties were
the lowest-ranking administrative unit and the
county magistrate was called the "parent-officer"
within his jurisdiction because he was supposed to
take care of everything for his subjects, like
their parent (in Confucian tradition, a parent,
particularly the father, was absolute ruler of the
The communist revolution may have
turned many things upside down, but the
traditional administrative hierarchy has largely
been preserved, with many county officials still
regarding themselves as "parents" or "kings" who
will not tolerate any criticism from their
"children". And as low-ranking officials, they are
eager for promotion and want no scandals exposed.
But the fact that they could frequently
abuse their power by attempting to prosecute
people for "libel" is also proof of ineffective
supervision by their superiors and the public.
Absence or lack of effective supervision further
whets their boldness and arrogance to abuse their
Beijing needs to find more
effective ways to put local officials under closer
supervision. And from a legal point of view, libel
cases must be dealt with according to civil law,
and officials who dare to abuse their power to
illegally prosecute people must also be dealt with
according to the law. Only in this way can the
authority of the rule of law be truly established.