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Fielding questions from Chinese reporters at a news conference yesterday, the mayor of Chongqing Municipality said Lan Qinghua (蓝庆华), the county official responsible for illegally jailing the author of a critical mobile phone message back in September 2006, had recently been offered a new post because he had “work ability”. The news, reported in today’s The Beijing News, angered Chinese Web users. [Coverage of original SMS case from Danwei.org]. [Follow-up coverage from the Washington Post]. [PDF: UPDATE/March 1, 2007, editorial in Southern Metropolis Daily: “[Idea that] lateral reappointment is “punishment” reveals hidden game rules of officialdom”].

After a simple announcement from Chongqing Morning Post on February 17 that Lan Qinghua, the former party secretary of Chongqing’s Pengshui County, had been appointed vice director of Chongqing’s statistical bureau, The Beijing News and Southern Metropolis Daily reported the story with bold headlines: “‘Law-violating Party Secretary’ in ‘Pengshui Poetry Case’, Lan Qinghua, Takes Up New Appointment”. That story, like today’s, drew anger from Web users after it was splashed across major Web portals in China [See story at Chinanews.com.cn]. [See Global Voices Online and RFA Unplugged for summaries of last week’s news on the Lan Qinghua appointment].

Lan Qinghua had was removed from his post as Pengshui County’s party secretary in December 2006 following a national investigation into the illegal jailing of Qin Zhongfei (秦中飞), the local government worker who had authored the SMS poem that angered Lan Qinghua and other leaders.

Speaking with reporters yesterday and responding to recent criticism of Lan’s reassignment in the national media, Chongqing Mayor Wang Hongju (王鸿举) reportedly said that considering Lan Qinghua’s work abilities they could not let him go without work (考虑到蓝庆华的工作能力,不能让他没有工作). Wang Hongju also said that because Lan Qinghua’s move did not involve either a promotion or demotion — he remains at the deputy departmental, or futingji (副厅级) level — public notification of the decision had not been necessary.

As of 12pm, 1,893 Web postings had been made in response to the news at Sina.com, a popular Chinese Web portal. By 12:30pm that number had grown to over 2,100 (NOTE: postings are routinely removed by Website operators at the request of censors). Postings, like the following examples, uniformly denounced the mayor’s defense of Lan Qinghua:

From IP:219.129.103: “Considering Lan Qinghua’s work ability, we can’t let him be without work”. This is classic official protecting official … What are we using to determine he has “work ability”? Whatever you [Wang Hongju] say goes? If he has work ability let him go work as an ordinary civil servant. Can a corrupt official not be knocked down just because of the phrase “he has work ability”? Doesn’t former National Bureau of Statistics chief Qiu Xiaohua (邱晓华) [an official implicated in the Shanghai pensions scandal] have work ability? Doesn’t Liu Qingshan (刘青山) [an official executed for corruption] have work ability? It looks like China needs a hurricane in the leadership ranks to sweep up all of these officials who protect one another.

From IP:61.178.204: Chongqing mayor Wang Hongju is definitely a corrupt person who flouts the law. That someone like this can serve as mayor! Just everyone watch if you don’t believe it — in two years Wang Hongju will be detained by discipline inspection authorities.

From IP:61.173.110: Without open and impartial elections there’s no way China can democratize. I think if there was a fund set up devoted to researching how China can move from where it is now to democratic elections, I think a lot of people would donate. Without democratic elections there’s no way to have mayors who serve the people.

UPDATE: The following were among Web postings appearing after 2pm:

IP:218.15.209: Lan really does have ability. Just look: He made the Pengshui police pursue a fake case. He was able to make the mayor of Chongqing tell lies. He was able to organize the government to falsely punish him …. Lan, you really are too capable!!!!!!!! I think it’s the Chongqing mayor who doesn’t have ability. Let’s remove him for the people!! What does everyone think about that? If everyone agrees, we should just fire him from his post, because all rights in China belong to the people … All those in support “Ding” (顶)).

IP:61.53.194: Ding.

IP:219.148.142: “”Considering Lan Qinghua’s work ability, we can’t let him be without work”. Those are the true words of a treacherous court official!! Based on that logic I suggest the central party immediately return [former Shanghai party secretary] Chen Liangyu to his post — we can’t let him go without work. I suggest we release all of our criminals — we can’t let them go without work or liberty. This mayor should be sent off right away to be re-educated in the fields!

IP:222.183.121: There are so many laid-off workers out there! Now an official can commit errors and not lose his job, break the law and still draw a salary!

UPDATE 3:42pm, February 28
All Web postings for this news article at Sina.com were erased as of 3:42pm. Below is a screenshot of the postings page showing 0 results:

More Sources:
“Questioning the Granting of New Posts to Officials Removed in the “Pengshui Poetry Case”, Southern Metropolis Daily, February 25, 2007 (Chinese). [The editorial asks: “Did the principles in this case suppose that in taking their naivete to this level they would not draw fierce questioning from the public?”]

[Posted by David Bandurski, February 28, 2007, 12:47pm]