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Do you speak for the Party or the people?

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替党说话,还是准备替老百姓说话? (Tì Dǎng shuōhuà, háishì zhǔnbèi tì lǎobǎixìng shuōhuà?) Will you speak for the Party, or are you preparing to speak for the people?

This popular 2009 internet meme comes from a question a government official asked a reporter.

In Henan, the government displaced local residents and gave a real estate developer permission to build low-income housing. However, instead of building the low-income housing, the developer built twelve villas and two medium-sized apartment buildings. The developer made 100 million RMB, twice as much as he would have made had he built the promised low-income housing.

When a reporter visited the Department of Urban Planning to inquire about the matter, he was directed to the Office of Letters and Visits. There, an official named Lu Jun looked at petition materials prepared by a local resident and asked the reporter, “Will you speak for the Party, or are you preparing to speak for the people? The reporter was baffled because the interests of the Party are theoretically in line with the interests of the people. Apparently deciding that the reporter was preparing to speak for the people (and not the Party), the official claimed he knew nothing of the case and said that the relevant department would handle the case (an indirect way of saying “get lost”). For a more extensive account, see here (English | Chinese).

The statement irritated many people and confirmed their long-held beliefs that the interests of the Party and the interests of the people are in conflict, despite the Party’s glowing propaganda to the contrary. The issue also hit a nerve with netizens because it involved the government taking of land for non-public use. Deals like this (where both the developer and the corrupt official profit handsomely but the displaced residents lose their land for little or no compensation) have become common in China and are a major source of social unrest (see “demolish it”).

"Illegal Villa Complex" located on the site of "economical housing." The official asks the reporter, "Do you speak for the Party or for the people?"

As an interesting aside, as Lu Jun increasingly came under scrutiny, netizens discovered that his picture posted on the city's website was not an actual photograph but a photoshopped combination of Hu Jintao's head with his own face.