Fake Minister Duped Chinese Officialdom

Both Yunnan authorities and the central government recently realized that for the last three years, they had been duped by a fake “minister”, talented impostor Zhao Xiyong. From Malcolm Moore at the Telegraph:

For years, Mr Zhao pulled off a pitch-perfect impersonation of a leader from Beijing that local officials in the south western province of Yunnan, being subordinate in rank, did not dare to question.

[…] He would also frequently tour the province, delivering vague and empty speeches and greeting local Communist party chiefs.

A local radio station dutifully reported one of his visits, to a vegetable farm to the city of Yuxi, where he met the county’s agriculture officials and led a delegation of 89 people on a tour of drought-affected areas.

“The government should make full use of its economic advantage, actively learning from other’s experiences, and explore a new path that incorporates scientific research, production and marketing,” he said, without any obvious meaning, to polite applause.

The show reached its anticlimax when people attempted to verify Zhao’s “promise” to open a “free-trade zone” in Kunming with the State Council.

At The Washington Post, Max Fisher described the episode as an indication of an “unhealthy power dynamic between Beijing and provincial leadership”:

Zhou’s whereabouts are currently unknown, the Telegraph reports, but he could face years in prison if he’s found.

A Chinese social media user joked, according to Shanghaiist’s translation, that Zhou wasn’t so unlike a real Chinese official: He made empty promises, accomplished little and collected tributes. Another way he’s similar to some senior Chinese officials is that his tenure ended in national disgrace and threat of jailtime.

[…] The incident also is a window into the complex, and imperfect, relationship between senior officials in Beijing and the regional officials who enact their policies. Since long before the Communist Party existed, China’s central government has struggled to enforce its will over a vast country with lots of entrenched interests and local governments. One way that Beijing does this is by making sure that its officials are treated as quasi-royalty by subservient local officials. That can be helpful in keeping the vast Chinese bureaucracy under control, but it also makes it easy for senior Beijing officials to exploit their own power over local officials, pushing them around for their own gain. Zhou just got some flattery and free dinners, but then again he had no actual power to lord over Yunnan’s officials. The fact that no one in Yunnan appears to have questioned Beijing about Zhou, or if they did were rebuffed, is a sign of the sometimes-unhealthy power dynamic between Beijing and provincial leadership.


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