17 September 2019
Like many disgraced Communist Party cadres, former Guangzhou party chief Wan Qingliang had a colorful personal life, including a mistress and affairs with female subordinates. Photo: Xinhua
Like many disgraced Communist Party cadres, former Guangzhou party chief Wan Qingliang had a colorful personal life, including a mistress and affairs with female subordinates. Photo: Xinhua

The colorful life of Guangzhou ex-party boss

In late June, state media announced the sacking of Wan Qingliang, the Communist Party chief of Guangzhou, for “serious violations of party discipline”, the usual Chinese euphemism for corruption. A month on, the public’s curiosity about the affairs of the disgraced former official is yet to abate, with new information and gossip doing the rounds almost every day.

Shortly after his sudden detention by the party’s central discipline and inspection committee last month, people in Guangzhou began to swap tidbits of gossip about Wan, who was also a standing committee member of the Guangdong provincial communist party committee with a ministerial rank and an alternate member of the party’s central committee.

One of the striking aspects in his “debauched” personal life is that Wan shared a mistress with his former subordinate for many years. That woman is said to have given birth to two illegitimate sons, one with Wan and the other with that lower-ranked official.

It’s no secret that many senior Chinese officials love extravaganza; Wan was no exception. It is said that Wan only took charter flights for official trips. According to mainland media reports, he flew mostly with the Guangzhou-based carrier China Southern Airlines (01055.HK, ZNH.US, 600029.CN). Before each trip, he would check photos of young stewardesses on an iPad and pick his favorites to accompany him during the flight.

Just like Beijing and Shanghai, Guangzhou’s property market has been red-hot in recent years. Wan once responded to youngsters’ outcry over unaffordable home prices, saying that he himself never owned a home but lived in a government dormitory that came at a rent of 600 yuan (US$97) a month. Yet, the truth was that much of the rent was exempted and that “dormitory” was actually a 130-square-meter riverside luxury condo near Canton Tower with a fair market rent of no less than 6,000 yuan per month.

Born in 1964, Wan got his start in official career in Jieyang, a less-developed prefecture-level city in eastern Guangdong.

Beijing Youth Daily reports that as the party chief there, Wan initiated a three billion yuan infrastructure enhancement scheme with 106 projects that gave the city a great facelift. He also helped bring in investment by major state-owned enterprises, including Chaoshan airport, a PetroChina (00857.HK, PTR.US, 601857.CN) oil refinery base, a liquefied natural gas station and a nuclear power plant. During his five-year tenure there, Jieyang’s gross domestic product – still the most important indicator in the communist party’s appraisal of a local cadre – surged more than 20 percent per year on average.

With that remarkable feat, Wan was soon promoted to the province’s vice-governorship in 2008, mayor of Guangzhou in 2010 and ultimately the city’s party boss in 2011. He has the distinction of being the southern metropolis’ youngest-ever mayor and party chief.

In Guangzhou, Wan continued his well-trodden work formula to boost GDP through hefty investment and new town developments. Under his leadership, the city tore down nine shanty towns and launched 20 urban renewal projects in 2012, followed by a bold plan to build nine new towns and six artificial lakes with a total area of 900 square kilometers – larger than the territory of Singapore – within the next 10 years, according to the Economic Observer.

Wan noted during an interview earlier this year that within just three years he had brought 640 major projects worth a total of 120 billion yuan to the city.

Despite its GDP constantly ranking among the top three among all cities in China, Guangzhou has found itself stretched with the huge outlays for new town developments. Wan once complained that nearly three-fourth of every yuan the city earns as fiscal revenue goes to central and provincial authorities. To the municipal government, like cadres anywhere else, land sales are the only way to fund the breakneck city expansion. Guangzhou’s income from land sales has ballooned to 76.2 billion yuan last year from 41.2 billion yuan in 2012. 

Wan was also good at publicity stunts.

He made a splash when he took part in a 2012 race to swim across the Pearl River, and won the second place in the contest. He also claimed to be a big fan of the dragon boat race and was once on a three-game winning streak — it’s another matter that some observers attributed the victory to the reluctance of others to challenge the city’s top official.

Another interesting sidelight on Wan was that he was able to deliver long speeches without referring to notes prepared by his assistants. Also, he always maintained an approachable demeanor when in public.

A source familiar with the Wan case told The Mirror that his dismissal may be related to his early days in Jieyang. The three billion yuan spent on city expansion programs there were said to have been provided by a Shenzhen-based realty developer founded by a Jieyang native. Later, many Jieyang developers took hold of prime plots in downtown Guangzhou – some were said to have been granted the land without open bidding – after Wan moved up the political ladder to the provincial capital.

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In public, Wan was adept at maintaining a good image. When migrant workers’ travel plans were affected by adverse weather before 2012 Lunar New Year, Wan paid a visit to Guangzhou railway station. Photo: Xinhua

Guangzhou witnessed dramatic urban expansion during Wan’s tenure in the city. Photo: Huashuimu

EJ Insight writer