Since April 2011, the “independent candidates” movement has been gathering steam in Chinese cyberspace and in real society. Over 100 people have announced they will run for local elections this year. Among them, Cao Tian（曹天）, a real estate businessman, author and former 1989 political prisoner, announced on his blog last month that he will run for Zhengzhou Mayor. The following account is from Cao Tian’s blog, translated by CDT.
Dialogue Between a Local Official and Cao Tian, Independent Mayoral Candidate for Zhengzhou
Introduction: After it was revealed on the internet that I had made a one-hundred million dollar “clean government” guarantee in the mayoral election for Zhengzhou, I have heard from supporters and detractors alike. Worried friends have urged me against [my clean government pledge]. Friends with whom I have butted heads in the past have mocked and ridiculed me behind my back. Yesterday evening, my cell phone started going off. (I had only recently gotten a new number.) Half awake, half dreaming, I finally made out that the voice I heard was my bunkmate from twenty years ago. He is now a big official in the provincial Commission on Legislative Affairs. Below is the content of our conversation for all to see. I hope it elicits further thought. At the same time, I ask my old friend, who is now an official, to forgive my use of his words without permission. [I share our conversation] because [free] dialogue is like free thought—it is better shared in the open than kept to oneself.
(As used below, “Cao” refers to Cao Tian, “Official” refers to my old friend who is now an official.)
Official: Are you crazy!? Do you think someone like you—a businessman, and a man who turns phrases for a living—can compete in the Zhengzhou mayoral race? When I first heard the news [that you were running] I thought someone had set you up, but then when I saw your blog, I realized that you really do have water on the brain. Who the hell are you kidding?
Cao: I’m not fooling around here. I’m just tired of making all the money I’ve made. I just want to drop a hundred million [RMB] for the chance to serve the people. You’ve been a public servant for all these many years, how come you can’t just give someone like me a turn for once?
Official: Stop BS-ing me. Do you think your two grubby fists full of money can buy you public office? Do you even have any idea how much being the mayor of Zhengzhou, Henan is worth?
Cao: It’s not a question of what it’s worth. My 100 million [RMB] will be used as a guarantee to ensure clean government. I will openly pledge to society that if I, at any time while running for mayor, or at any time after being elected for mayor, engage in embezzlement, bribery or morally corrupt behavior, then this 100 million will automatically be handed over to the nation’s treasury, or be donated to social welfare programs. Moreover, I will pledge that as mayor I will not take even a penny as salary. Look, in recent years haven’t you read all of the many media reports about people buying public office? Hasn’t [public office] always been bought and sold? Let me understand; how is that any different from prostitution? Which one of you public officials have actually been elected by the people of the republic anyway?
Official: (Silent about 15 seconds): Ok, that may be true, but haven’t they all been put in prison?
Cao: They’re not all in prison. Some haven’t been careful; those without behind-the-scenes support are the ones sitting in prison. There are certainly many officials with problems who are standing carefree before the podium delivering reports.
Official: But we can’t be worried about all this. Hasn’t China been this way through ages and dynasties?
Cao: So that’s why the great, glorious and correct Chinese Communist Party is needed to root out these social cancers, vigorously push forward reforms, and enable the Chinese people to live lives of dignity and enjoy a sense of happiness.
Official: Why don’t you just use your money to write a few poems, drink a few beers, chase a few women! Why the hell do you have to plunge into these muddy waters!?
Cao: The understanding of Chinese men of letters is that “to govern the country (and bring peace to all), one should first govern one’s family; to govern one’s family successfully, one should first learn to govern oneself.”
Official: You’re going to run into serious problems if you try to pull this one off. Can you guarantee that your company, or your family have not made any mistakes?! Pretty soon you’re going to find out just how many eyes Ma Wang Ye has!
Cao: I learned twenty years ago just how many eyes Ma Wang Ye has. I know even more about Yan Wang’s search for minions. But there is one thing that I still want. It’s what the Mafei county chief said in the movie “Let the Bullets Fly.” He said that his government was there in Echeng to ensure three things: fairness, fairness and f**king fairness.
Official: You want fairness do you? That’s the same as saying you want to be in handcuffs! Didn’t you watch the news yesterday? The Commission on Legislative Affairs of the National People’s Congress has already said that you so-called independent candidates lack a legal ground [for running for office]. The subtext is that you guys are causing trouble for the government so the laws aren’t going to be used to protect you.
Cao: The low quality of the spokesperson for the Commission on Legislative Affairs of the National People’s Congress and his lack of legal knowledge have already sparked universal outrage. Having independent candidates is not only the pattern by which citizens elected candidates in the past, and [not only] does it accord with the strictures of election law—it exactly epitomizes the essence of the Constitution of the People’s Republic of China! [The spokesperson] could have argued that having independent candidates was not the legal norm, or [did not conform with existing] legal terms of art; however, he had no basis to say that independent candidates lack legal foundation. Since promulgation of China’s election law decades ago there has yet to be any real implementation. [The spokesperson’s] quasi-legal explanation sets a very bad precedent. He is misguiding local elections and misleading the local electorate. [His statements were] deliberate mischaracterizations of the law and continue to leave people in their ignorance. It is the subtext, not the actual words that are relevant. This is not called an explanation—it’s called [showing that] you are deeply afraid of having a real election.
Official: What you say might make sense, but the reality is quite different. The first bird that takes wing is the first bird to get shot. You, yourself are someone with status; there is no need for you to be the martyr. Do you think history will stop progressing without you taking the lead?
Cao: I don’t think I’m a person of status, I’m just someone who holds an identification [status] card. I am a citizen of the People’s Republic of China. I fervently love this land that has given me life, glory, dreams, hard times and good times. I will never immigrate [to another country]. Every RMB that I earn is clean. I firmly believe in the ability of the masses to create history. I believe even more firmly that heroes push history forward. The education our generation grew up with was an education of heroism and idealism. For the nation’s progress, [I] am willing to pay any price, including my life. The future of China’s reforms is uncertain and filled with challenges. If there are [figurative] land mines, then let those of us [born] after the 60s should go forward first and set an example for the post 80s and 90s [generations].
Official: You’re pretending to be some kind of hero! Let me make this clear; if you want to keep playing this game then only you are going to be responsible for the consequences! This is my last time reminding you!
Cao: Although I have never worn a red neck-scarf, joined the [Communist Youth] League, or joined the [Communist] Party, I know that since the Chinese Communist Party was founded over ninety years ago, it has always worked to represent the fundamental interests of the masses. Not a day passes without steps being made in the direction of reform. Allowing a citizen without party affiliation to compete in a city’s mayoral race doesn’t have a single thing to do with a multiparty state [ie., challenging a one-party state]! What you’re saying is total BS.
Official: I’m not going to argue with you about this. If you want to read the script while you’re riding your donkey [i.e., make things up as you go along] then just wait and see what happens!
Cao: If I can work within the constraints of the law and become a legally recognized candidate, then this will really write a new chapter in the history of China’s elections. If the people of Zhengzhou use the ballot box to appoint a truly people-elected mayor then this will bring the people of Zhengzhou, the people of Henan, and the people of China trust and hope. Of course, If I die before accomplishing my objective, then I will tell my young daughter: after I am dead, burn a ballot on my grave. In front of my grave plant a pagoda tree. Every year during the spring the tree will be filled with flowers—this will be my message from the netherworld that I am still watching the motherland.
Cao Tian graduated with a law degree from Henan University in 1989. A doctorate in law, Cao Tian has been a lawyer, a journalist and has worked with the legal department of the Henan Private Enterprise Association. He was the vice-president of Henan Huashu Group. He is a member of the Henan Writers Association, the Henan Legal Society, and the Henan Residential and Commercial Board. He has published a collection of poems entitled, Young Girl’s China, and a collection of economic essays entitled, Heroes. From 1999 until the present, he is the CEO of Henan Fengya Ltd. In 2005, he was listed as one of the ten outstanding young people of China’s economic reforms. At the same time, he was honored by the China Writers Association as one of the hundred most influential modern Chinese writers. In 2006 he was honored as one of “Henan’s top ten people in culture and journalism.” In the six years following 1999, he has created 400,000 square meters of affordable housing. His philosophy of “honest people; solid buildings” has become a standard motto of the Chinese construction industry. In Henan as the first businessman to promote no-fault withdrawals, he has raised the banner of honesty and rights defense. He has held a number of dialogues with other businesspeople. He has twice been on the front cover of the Henan News. He has been honored as “the entrepreneur who best embodies a sense of romanticism and egalitarianism.”
 Ma Wang Ye (马王爷) is a Taoist deity that has three eyes.
 Yan Wang (阎王) or Yama is the Buddhist/Taoist god of the dead.
Also related, see, “Li Chengpeng: We Are All Shareholders of Our Country,” an essay from another independent candidate. Follow Li Chengpeng’s microblog in real-time on CDT Chinese. Read more about the independent candidacies via CDT.