In China, people often refer to the Chinese National Congress as a rubber stamp. People regard the Congress as no more than an official title, a body with no real legislative power. But the lameness of the Congress does not carry over to its delegates, who are treated as privileged authority figures. Even powerful officials of the public security system sometimes have to defer to C.N.C. delegates.
The social status of a Congressional delegate is illustrated by this story that was published in a Chinese newspaper and is often cited on Chinese websites:
A delegate went to a detention center to demand the release of his company’s employee who was detained for carrying an expired resident’s card. A guard at the detention center asked the delegate to come in through the side door. Offended by such “disrespect,” the delegate pulled out his delegate’s ID and demanded that the guard get his director to receive him at the front gate, a formality befitting a delegate of the Chinese National Congress. The director of the detention center indeed had the guard open the front gate for the delegate.
This may sound ridiculous in the West, but it’s a reality in China. Delegates to the Chinese National Congress may not have the power to determine national policy, but they have enough clout to influence the promotion or dismissal of local officials. That limited power has brought them privileges. As a result, some have become arrogant or even tyrannical toward ordinary people.
On November 27, 2004, a flight from Guangzhou (Canton) to Linyi carried such a delegate. Linyi is a coastal city with the most concentrated population in the southeast region of Shandong Province. Since Linyi was the connection to the final destination, the flight attendant asked passengers who were getting off to show their airline tickets on their way out. When it came to Wang Tingjiang, a delegate from Linyi, he refused the attendant’s request. Instead, he cursed and punched the attendant. Zhang Qiang, the airport security officer, came over to stop Wang, who then cursed and struck at Mr. Zhang. Wang shouted, “I am a delegate to the Congress. Who dares to oppose my will?” The security officer didn’t back off, and Wang continued to fight with him. In order to stop Wang and to protect the rest of the passengers, Mr. Zhang handcuffed him.
That’s what got Mr. Zhang into trouble. Delegate Wang’s companion phoned for help. Soon Wang’s son and a dozen people arrived at the airport in three separate cars. They smashed the glass door, ran through the security zone in the airport, and got on the airplane. They grabbed Zhang Qiang by the head and arms, dragged him down the airplane and started punching and kicking him all over. The beating continued for about five minutes until they knocked Zhang unconscious.
As a local resident of Linyi, Wang is such a prominent figure that everyone working at the airport probably knows him. Wang is not only a powerful delegate, he also controls the economic muscle of Linyi. He serves as the Chairman for Huasheng Group, which manages 36 industrial enterprises valued at nearly six billion yuan (US$ 732 million) and ranked among one of the top 500 companies in China. Fearing Wang’s authority, no one, including the ground security guards, tried to stop the violence. The intruders pulled Mr. Zhang’s pants down to his knees to get the key to the handcuffs. After unlocking Wang’s handcuffs, they escorted him to a waiting car and drove away.
Mr. Zhang was left lying on the ground with blood running from his mouth and nose. The airline reported the incident to the relevant departments. Finally, a half dozen or so policemen arrived from the City Public Security Bureau. The police spoke to some of the passengers and took notes. The flight departed for Qingdao. Zhang Qiang, the injured airline security officer, was taken to a hospital in Qingdao for treatment.
The delegate’s violence angered airline workers and witnesses. The incident was covered by the media and was reported to higher authorities. A witness described that it happened in front of him like something from a live action movie or terrorist attack. On November 30, 2004, Beijing Youth Daily first reported the story. Then on December 2, several other media, including Xinhuanet and People’s Daily, also carried the news. Wang’s son and those who were involved in the beating were reportedly detained for further investigation.
Delegate Wang’s tyranny is startling but hardly a surprise. In China, those who are in power are accustomed to having obedient subordinates around them. Being ordered to follow a procedure required of ordinary citizens, even just showing a flight ticket, would be regarded as an insult, not to mention being handcuffed.
Such incidents are by no means rare events. The conduct of delegate Wang Tingjiang is quite representative of the widespread despotic mentality of those in power in the communist culture.
On October 16, 2003, a family member of a high ranking official in Harbin City, Heilongjiang Province, purposely struck down a rural woman with her BMW after the woman’s vegetable cart accidentally scratched the rearview mirror of the BMW. The driver of the BMW, Su Xiuwen, accused the rural woman, Liu Zhongxia, of scratching her car.
A heated argument ensued until Su said, “Believe it or not, I am not afraid to hit you.” Then, in front of a crowd of people, in broad daylight, Su got back in her car and drove into the crowd, killing Liu and injuring 12 bystanders. She then left the scene with the other women in her car. Pictures taken by witnesses were posted on the Internet. The incident, referred to as the case of the “crazy BMW driver,” spurred heated discussions on the Internet.
Such a crime would usually mean the death penalty under Chinese law. But Su’s punishment was merely symbolic. The case was judged an accident by the court. Su was ordered to pay 21,505 yuan (US $2,623) to the victim’s family and was sentenced to two years in prison, which was never carried out because she was put on probation and sent home for medical treatment for the insomnia she had experienced in jail.
The most recent mass rioting against the government last November in Wanzhou, Chongqing was ignited by a similar incident. A government official had beaten up an ordinary citizen.
Under the communist system, the Chinese government has always claimed that government officials are the servants of the people. In the culture of the Communist Party, “public servant’ has taken on a new meaning —serving oneself at the public’s expense.
Lukun Yu is a financial analyst based in New York.