China: Government study tours questioned

Somewhat related to this recent post, Sichuan province Writer's Association member and Strong China blogger Li Hongzhi looks at a recent decision from the organizational department of the provincial Communist Party which limits government leaders’ training trips abroad.

Chinese teachers go abroad to experience and learn, as do liberal intellectuals [zh] like Xiao Shu, even China's underground religious leaders.

So why then shouldn't the country's civil servants? One would think that would be a positive step for an authoritarian government. Is there the fear China's government leaders will start doing like its businessmen and bank directors? Not at all, blogs Li, speculating that given what he sees as an apparent lack of implementation of ideas he assumes civil servants would have absorbed while abroad, eagerness to participate in these study trips might have more to do with the trips, carried out with so little supervision, having become tourism opportunities for people who might otherwise not so easily get visas out of the country.


Government leaders taking part in overseas training, no more than once a year! This was the notice sent out not too long ago from the Sichuan province Party Committee organization department of new Party policy regarding management standards for government leaders going abroad for training, requiring Party Committee organization departments from every work unit at the city and provincial levels to increase regulation of overseas training of government leaders.


Upon seeing this news, the first impression it gives this blogger is that government leaders are going abroad for training far too frequently. Much more than once a year, it appears, or else why would a notice be sent down especially to limit overseas trainings to once a year?


This notice means well, it's good, but it strikes one as inconceivable, funny even. Why would I say that? Reason one: is once a year even enough? One training session needs at least a month and a half, and getting out of the country is easy enough, though if not enough time is spent, nobody will be happy. But don't forget, there's only twelve months in a year. And there's at least five to six leaders in any government department, eight or nine at most, and any city has close to a hundred departments. If you add it up, there's nothing lacking there.

Second, as training is necessary, or to say it's indispensable, what are you doing going and limiting to not more than one session per year? If this training requires several sessions throughout a year in order to be effective, wouldn't you be delaying their work? If training is taken whenever wanted, why then limit it to only once a year? You can see how urgently needed this training is.

Third is that this finally lets the public know that our government leaders are able to enjoy overseas training to begin with and that, despite not many being able to go, they are able to go once every year. The public is not concerned with overseas training, but just in these government leaders are being trained.


Just because the people have no voice doesn't mean they're stupid. They know just what you guys are up to. Going abroad for observation and study, going abroad for training, how much of that isn't just tourism in disguise? No wonder those foreigners make jokes like saying even their dairy cows can tell you're Chinese.*


There's actually a lot of negative news and discussion regarding oversea inspections, no need to nag more about that. Surely you're not here to criticize people about how they should be able to go abroad or receive training, be that in other countries’ development zones or red light districts, whether the content of their training reports upon return are among the “a comparison of the skin color of foreign prostitutes versus Chinese ‘ladies'” sort. What can you and this blogger do about it? If you're jealous enough, get going and give your leader a red packet; you never know, tomorrow you might just be off to some country for training in “several ways to play Mah Jong.”

*reference to a story retold by Li in a previous post of one state-owned enterprise which ended up several times sending just one employee to the then Yugoslavia to inspect dairy cows there, and frequently up to nine government bureaucrats unrelated to the deal. Eventually enough Chinese government officials were sent over to inspect the cows that their owners had a running joke that even the cows became able to recognize people from China.

In that previous post, Li expands on the problems he sees:


This blogger used to be employed as one enterprise's department director. As a foreign joint venture enterprise, of course observation needed to be carried out at the foreign company. But there was a limited quota, because a city head had to go, and the department head, as well as the city and department section office staff. In the end, only one person from the enterprise went, a deputy technical director. Of the ten plus people on the observation team, only one was going on legitimate business. The people where this blogger lives know all about this incident. Those who say that this blogger doesn't know what he's talking about in regards to oversea study tours have likely clenched their eyes and spouted nonsense. This happened in the department in which this blogger used to work. Nearly all the leaders made it out of the country as part of the enterprise; just one in charge of Party affairs didn't go because he ranked the lowest of the group. But then again, he was getting up there. Just another year and ‘his ship will reach the pier, his car, the station’. He's never left this country when so many have, and why, when he can't? Others have their reasons, like the city head, but what's a CPC Party Affairs cadre need to be going to observe and study another capitalist country for? Unable to find enough good excuses, he arranged for himself to do a Southeast Asia tour and saved himself some face. It all blew over and then he retired.


Because I haven't said enough about oversea observation and study tours, I'll say a bit more about how they relate to reform. For the most part, when an official goes abroad to inspect, the main goal is that through looking around, through observation activities, people will pick up on others’ experiences and methods and choose to incorporate them into their own practice, for their own use. In fact, leaders go observe in Western countries every year, but we don't seen much of other countries’ good experiences being put into use in our China. Why is that?


In order to answer that, one needs to know what other countries’ progressive knowledge amounts to. Leaving the other arguments aside, let's look at what governments in other countries do. Taking a city's government as an example, America is classic small government, large society, and a small government serves the larger society. The mayor's authority couldn't be less, and that's why you don't see American mayors visiting entertainment venues in their spare time, or using taxpayers’ money to seduce women. Really. Mayors in America for one have no authority, and second, no money. Some of them honestly serve the people. This blogger has heard, from people having gone to America to observe and come back, that their systems are great, that city governments have no privilege, that some mayors drive themselves to public events, that official reception events are carried out under very strict regulations, that overspending is not allowed, that some guest banquets require them to pay out of their own pocket. Compared to our mayors, some of whom have power which almost surpasses that of other countries’ presidents.

关于这方面的之乎者也,好多好多, 恕不多言了。不过,从此也可以看得出来,我们的官员年年出国考察,却迟迟没有关于削弱官员权力方面的改革制度出台,明知我们现在的不少东西应该改,却不去改,目的只有一个—不想失去手中的权力!

There's lots out there regarding this kind of nonsense, it's almost not worth mentioning. However, from this it can also be seen that year after year our officials go abroad to observe and learn, but no reforms can be seen in lessening officials’ authority. We know full well that there are many things that we now ought to change, but nothing is. There's only one motive—they don't want to lose the power in their hands!

可是,也不是什么都没有改革,针对基层,针对普通百姓,针对弱势群体的改革,改得大刀阔斧,改得雷厉风行,改得惊天动地,改得惊心动魄,慢了都不行呢。李博客真的不明白了,为什么针对官员的改革是那么的少,那么的慢,比方说,喊了多年的公车改革,总不见动真格的。每年相当于国防军费开支的公务用车费用,是一座沉重的大山,压在中国人民的头上。中央政府曾有明文规定,省部级以下官员都不得配专车,可是,有几个地方在执行?别说一个地市级政府各机关了,你到李博客所在市的几个县看看,仅县委、政府两个大院,几套大班子,班子成员人人”屁股底下一座楼” ,下面的小小的科级局,也是养好几辆车。就是公车进行改革的地方,官员也不吃亏,因为可以按职务给予金钱补助,虽然没有专车了,但是补给的钱,每月打车根本就花不了!

Yet, it's not that they haven't reformed anything. Reforms aimed at the grassroots, and the general public, at vulnerable groups, have all have drastically, vigorously, shocking and definitely not slowly. So this blogger really doesn't understand why reforms aimed at officials are so few, so slow. For example, after so many years of crying for reform of civil servant transportation, we have yet to see any real change. Annual charges for cars used for official business, comparable to the army's budget, is one heavy mountain, and it's pressing down on the heads of the public. The central government once said that it's in writing that officials below the provincial level are not to be given their own cars, yet how many places have implemented this? Before you tell me about some department in some city government, you need to come down to the several counties where this blogger is. Just the county Party Committee and the government alone, between the two of them members ‘have entire [residential] buildings beneath their butts’, and the section bureaus beneath those have several cars of their own. And in places where it has been implemented, it's not setting officials back any, because they receive grants according to their posts. Though they don't get their own work cars, with the money they're given, they couldn't spend it on all on taxis each month even if they tried!

李博客以为,为什么我们的改革速度上不去,改革的内容无新意?没准是和官员出国考察太多有关系的。你想,你让官员改革自己的政治和生活待遇,改去他的权,革去他的利,他会积极吗?所以,改革就不能很快成功,改革也不能很快见效,当然也就不存在什么彻底了。可是,又不能不改,所以,就经常出现不顾国情实情的 “与国际惯例接轨”,让人啼笑皆非的事情出现了。

This blogger wonders, why is there no speed to our reforms and why are there no new concepts involved? It probably has a lot to do with officials going abroad to observe and study. Think about it, if you allow/make officials reform their own political and life benefits and authority, would they do a good job? This is why reforms will not succeed quickly, why results will not be seen soon. Of course, it will never be happen all they down to the last hair, but you can't not make changes. It's for this reason that when things occur in spite of the actual state of affairs are said to be “in line with international covention”, people don't know whether to laugh or cry.

With all that said, do you agree with his final point?


Really, we might as well cancel officials’ overseas study tours, then we'll see if the results of reforms might be a little better.

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