21 August 2019
In China, there is often bad blood between local party chiefs and city mayors as a result of intense power struggles. Photo: AFP
In China, there is often bad blood between local party chiefs and city mayors as a result of intense power struggles. Photo: AFP

A glimpse into the dog-eat-dog world of mainland politics

In mainland politics, it is almost routine for party chiefs and mayors in big and small cities alike to be on bad terms or have bad blood with each other as a result of intense power struggles.

Yet under most circumstances, they manage to co-exist and keep their jobs despite their rivalry.

However, in the city of Dingzhou in Hebei province, mayor Chen Yepeng was ousted because of his continuously poor relations with his superior, the local party secretary Wang Dongqun. Their rivalry has drawn quite a lot of public and media attention recently.

Although everyone knows that mainland politics is pretty much a dog-eat-dog world, it is rare for a mayor to lose his job just because he doesn’t get along with the local party chief.

According to media reports, the ousted mayor hasn’t been assigned any new position yet, while the party secretary, who is allowed to remain in office, has been ordered to “deeply reflect on himself” by the Hebei Communist Party committee.

The media reports were not very clear about what exactly caused the intense rivalry between Wang and Chen.

Nor did the reports go into details as to who should take the blame, or why the Hebei party committee didn’t intervene and try to settle their differences.

It could be assumed, however, that Wang was able to hang on to his job while Chen lost his post because the former is the superior, and might is always right in Chinese politics, both in ancient and modern times.

But even though Wang has prevailed this time, who can guarantee that he can get along with the new mayor in the coming days?

When it comes to power struggles between municipal party secretaries and mayors, Yang Weize, a former member of the Jiangsu Communist Party standing committee and former party secretary of Nanjing city who is now in jail over graft charges, is an undisputed legend.

Throughout Yang’s bright career as a party chief in cities like Suzhou, Wuxi and Nanjing up until his downfall, all of his deputies were either fired, jailed or even sentenced to death.

Rumor has it that Yang had powerful connections, which explains why all the deputy party secretaries and mayors he didn’t like were not just removed from office, but were crushed and doomed into ignominy or death.

Given that, when Yang was still in power, the last thing any local mainland official wanted was probably to serve as his deputy.

But as the saying goes, the fish that nibbles at every bait will soon be caught. After years of throwing his weight around, Yang finally met his match in Ji Jianye, who was promoted mayor of Nanjing city in 2010.

Like Yang, Ji was also notorious for his big ego and arrogance.

Back in April 2008, when Ji was serving as party chief of Yangzhou city and was on a trip to Beijing, a state media outlet interviewed his deputy Wang Yanwen on the ongoing tourism festival in Yangzhou.

The interview article was published under the title “The female-in-charge of Yangzhou on the dazzling March fireworks display in the city”. After reading it, Ji was infuriated. He lashed out at subordinates responsible for promoting the tourism festival for “having forgotten who the real boss is”.

Now back to the main story. During his three years as Nanjing mayor, Ji was constantly at odds with his direct superior Yang Weize, and it was an open secret that the two hated and despised each other.

In October 2013, Ji, like all those who had ever worked under Yang the bully before, was removed from office on a charge of serious misconduct. In 2015, he was convicted of corruption charges and sentenced to 15 years in jail.

Yang probably rejoiced at Ji’s downfall, but this time around he didn’t emerge as the final victor like he always did in the past.

In 2016, just a year after Ji’s conviction, Yang himself was also arrested and later found guilty of accepting bribes during his term in office as Nanjing party chief, and was sentenced to 12 and a half years in prison.

It is said that the authorities had acted on Yang’s tip-off in arresting Ji in 2015. But Yang was later caught thanks to Ji’s counter tip-off.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on July 28

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Hong Kong Economic Journal contributor

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