In China, officials are always correct; two true stories of despotism

Fang Daguo

In Mao era, lots of innocent people were imprisoned as officials were always correct

In the Mao era, an era not only millions of Chinese Maoists but lots of people outside China regard as an era of idealist fairness and justice, quite a few people just disappeared for weeks and even months before their families received notices from the police that they were detained. Their family members were not allowed to visit them.

Having got no news about the detained for months afterwards, a worried family member went to the police to make enquiry and even insisted that the detained must be released since nothing guilty had been found after months of investigation.

The standard reply he got from the police was: “He is certainly guilty. Can we ever be wrong?”

Officials are always correct!

If the family member persisted in demanding for release and after the prolonged investigation nothing guilty could be found, the police framed up some crime and put the detained in jail to prove that they were always correct. As a result, lots of innocent people were imprisoned and had to be rehabilitated after the fall of the Gang of Four.

Story of Deng, the despotic official in the Song Dynasty

“Only the official is allowed to set fire, but the common people are not allowed to light lanterns.” This Chinese saying gives a vivid description of the traditional despotism of Chinese officials. No wonder, it has been so popular in China.

The saying originated from a true story in Chinese history:

In the Song Dynasty, it was a crime to use the characters in an emperor’s name in writing while those similar in sound were not allowed to be used when speaking.

Like lots of officials in feudal China, a prefectural governor named Deng regarded himself as a local emperor with similar authority to the emperor’s in his jurisdiction. As soon as he took office, he posted an announcement banning the use of “deng”.

The officials under him were in trouble at Lantern Festival when fire-prevention ban on lighting lanterns all night long should be lifted for three days. They had to post an announcement to allow people to light lanterns for three days, but they could not use the word lantern that contained the sound “deng” in Chinese.

Finally a clever official found a way out. He used “set fire” to replace “light lantern”. The announcement then reads, “It is Lantern Festival (yuanxiao in Chinese that does not contain the sound of deng) now. People are allowed to set fire for three days.”

A travelling scholar passing by found the announcement absurd and asked and learnt the reason why people were allowed to “set fire” instead of lighting lanterns. With indignation, he wrote on the lower part of the announcement: “Only the official is allowed to set fire, but the common people are not allowed to light lanterns.”

What he wrote soon became a very popular saying in describing an official’s irrational words or deeds.

PLA officer assaulting an airhostess

Recently, we have the following quite interesting similar story:

Boarding deadline had passed for Flight CZ3874 from Hefei to Guangzhou. No one was allowed to board now. But there is always exception in this great country with a long history of official despotism.

Mr Fang Daguo and his wife, obviously having enjoyed some drinks as indicated by the strong smell of alcohol around them, swaggered to the boarding entry.

“Sir, you are too late to board the plane. It will soon take off.”

“What? Has it taken off? Can it take off without me on board?” yelled Mr. Fang. Obviously, he was somebody.

“He is the political commissar of the military department and member of Yuexiu District Party Standing Committee,” said Mrs. Fang.

“Okay, I will let you in, but hurry up. They may close the door soon,” said the airport attendant afraid of offending an official.

The couple swaggered into the cabin and found their seats. Seeing the late comer, a flight attendant  Zhou Yumeng said to them, “Let me help you” while going towards them in haste in order to help them put away their luggage in time before the plane took off.

Unfortunately, the luggage rack above their seats was full. Ms Zhou was searching for space for the couple’s two suitcases on the rack above the seats several rows before the couple’s seats. However, Mr Fang insisted that their suitcases should be put above their seats. He took down from the rack something like a suitcase and put his suitcase into the space.

“No, that is the surveillance equipment for aircraft security,” said Ms Zhou. “It should not be moved.” She explained to the couple once and again that the equipment might not be moved, but the couple would not listen. Instead they were so upset that Mr. Fang took down his suitcase from the rack and hit hard at Ms Zhou’s shoulder with it.

Ms Zhou screamed. The couple began to yell at her calling her names and asked her, “Are you a porcelain doll, untouchable?”

Ms Zhou tried to take pictures of the luggage rack, but was pulled and hit by Mr Fang again. There were lots of bruises on her hand, neck and body. Her uniform was torn due to the violence. The chief flight attendant came rushing to pull Mr Fang away while Mrs Fang yelled by their side, “She is but an airhostess. I know your CEO!”

After landing, Ms Zhou and others wanted to bring the couple who assaulted her to a police substation for investigation, but Mr Fang intimidated Ms Zhou by saying that he would call a military vehicle because, as a PLA officer, he is beyond police jurisdiction.

However, they were finally in a police substation where Mr Fang said, he wanted a peaceful settlement. If not, even the police could not handle the issue or detain him because he belonged to the military.

Moreover, he was an NPC deputy beyond police jurisdiction. That was why he dared to assault others. Finally, the police were helpless and allowed the couple to swagger out of the police substation, leaving Ms Zhou weeping in the substation.

However, it is not the Song Dynasty now. People can show their indignation through the internet.

Ms Zhou posted an account of the assault and pictures of the bruises on her arm and neck on Sina’s popular microblog that night. Web users indignant at the PLA officer’s abuse reblogged Zhou’s post widely.

Guangdong Province’s party mouthpiece published a short report on the incident in its website and said that the authority was investigating the incident.

Two days later Yuexiu District publicity office published an announcement that distorted the fact, saying Mr Fang had not assaulted Ms Zhou but his family members “pushed and shoved” her. The statement also denied that Fang tried to bully or intimidate Zhou. In order to quell public anger, it said that Mr Fang had formally apologised to Ms Zhou.

However, this attempt to cover up an official’s misconduct and defend the allegation “officials are always right” does not work.

Shielded by his colleagues, Mr Fang perhaps may gag local newspapers, but was helpless before national media. Both Xinhua and the party’s mouthpiece came out to interfere.

SCMP says on September 4, “Xinhua ran a lengthy interview with a student from the Central African Republic who was on the flight. He said the Fang couple “boarded rather late and smelled of alcohol.”

“The student also confirmed that Fang tore the attendant’s suit in the incident, and that Fang’s wife tried to scratch herself so as to frame the attendant.”

Xinhua “went further, with a commentary questioning Yuexiu District’s handling of the case. ‘The attack has become a public event, and should not be solved privately. Only an open and transparent investigation can prevent the abuse of power,’” Xinhua said.

Categories: Human Rights & Social Issues

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