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China: Official Nudity

A township government in Sichuan Province is being called “China’s first completely nude government” after township officials issued salary and expenditure information online.  The reference to nudity recently found in many Chinese publications denotes an unprecedented level of transparency in local government.

The government of Baimiao Township in northeastern Sichuan disclosed its proposed 2010 expenditure Mar. 12, along with the salaries of local officials and 2009 expenditure information, reports Southern Weekend

According to the Sichuan Daily Post, the online information includes items ranging from cars, entertainment and dining fees, to paper cups, stationery, and envelopes, and is posted on the townships website.

Officials at all levels of government in China have a reputation for running up high bills while wining and dining guests and other higher ranking cadres.  According to sources in the Chinese media, these transparency measures may help local citizens monitor the spending habits of their government.

This development comes at a time when counties across China begin to experiment with a similar system requiring officials to report their family income and investments.  Altai County in the western province of Xinjiang implemented an income-reporting system for officials in January 2009.

But Baimiao Township is the first governmental unit to post a comprehensive yearly expenditure, thus earning the name “completely nude government”.  According to online opinion, such developments may pressure other townships or higher levels of government to issue expenditure statements and increase transparency.  Some have labeled the move as hype.

A post at Qingming and Guyu calls the “naked government” move daring although still in need of more thorough reform.

尽管脱的不彻底,但是笔者还是要为白庙乡的勇气喝一声彩。无论如何,敢于把招待上级官员的烟酒费用都公布出来,如果这也叫作秀,那么我倒真希望这样作秀的官员多一些。

Although they haven’t stripped completely, the author would still like to cheer on Baimiao’s courage.  In any case, if daring to publicly disclose the fees for entertaining upper-level officials can be called a hype, then I really hope there are more of these hyped up officials.

Blogger Cao Rongxiang is pleased with this development in government transparency.  The author urges other local governments to do the same but says they lack the ingredients to make the reform.

除了为白庙乡政府的大胆之举叫好之外,也想疾呼全国所有的乡政府都公开自己的财务,以真正推进“三公”的治理。但细想之下,事情也不尽然。白庙乡政府之所以敢于详细公开自己的公务花费,是因为有“四气”,而这“四气”是否在全国各地、各级政府都具备,则不尽然。

Other than applauding the Baimiao government’s courageous feat, I’d also like to swiftly appeal to township governments across the nation to make their finances public as a real way of promoting control over corrupt government spending.  But after careful consideration, the reason the Baimiao Government dares to publicly declare their spending in detail is because they possess [four sentiments].  And it may not be the case that the country as a whole, at every level of government, possesses [these sentiments].

The author lists the sentiments as anger, oppression, vigor, and courage and says the recent public disclosure is a result of the local government sensing these frustrations and strengths in the people.

A post at Gaoyuan zhixin says the reform in Baimiao Township will increase understanding between the government and the people.

…政府没有勇气公示这些内容,加强群众监督也就成了一句空话…政府公开自己的事务,主动接受群众的监督,不但有利于拉近与群众的距离,而且在遇到一些问题时,也能够得到群众的理解和支持…

The government hasn’t had the courage to publicly declare this information.  Strengthening monitoring by the masses has become an empty phrase…The government openly declaring its affairs and actively accepting monitoring by the people not only helps in closing the distance between [the government] and the masses, but can also earn the peoples understanding and support when a problem is met with.

Not all online opinion is so optimistic.  Blogger Liu Changfeng is suspicious of the Baimiao government's call for transparency.

你说它是作秀没问题,当然了,除了质疑其是作秀外,你还完全可以怀疑这份明细表的真实性。也即是说,这份明细表可能不过是经过处理晒出来给大家看的,真实的数据也许并非完全如此。

Of course there’s no problem with calling this a hype.  Other than suspecting this of being a hype, you can completely doubt the genuineness of this detailed disclosure.  You could also say that this might be nothing more than something processed and trimmed up to show everyone, the real data perhaps not like this at all.

On a similar note, a recent Southern Weekend article said the entertainment and dining expenditure claimed in the Baimiao Government’s online disclosure was only one percent of proposed spending.  The number has raised eyebrows among those familiar with official dining habits.

Reform in China has often been a bottom-up process.  The Household Responsibility System, which ended communal farming and ushered in an era of bumper harvests, was initiated by farmers in 1978 only to be written into law by the central government in 1981.  Counties in the provinces of Xinjiang, Zhejiang, and Hunan are currently experimenting with income-reporting systems for officials while the country as a whole has been reluctant to enforce such regulations.

With attention from major Chinese media and growing support among the people, Baimiao’s “naked government” may be the forerunner in a grassroots trend throughout low-level government.

4 comments

  • […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Global Voices, jaqi, RuFreeman, D Bevins-Sundvall, topsy_top20k and others. topsy_top20k said: China: Official Nudity: A township government in Sichuan Province is being called “China’s first compl… http://bit.ly/bAIQsp #world #news […]

  • I am very suspicious of the last statement. That is simply not how Chinese society works. Grassroots, bottom-up “abnormality” will soon die if it is not quickly supported by top-down order, as the majority of the grassroots-level, municipal-level, provincial-level bureaucrats lack incentive or any kind of peer pressure. Media pressure is too minimal to consider. I hope the reformists within the system can lobby for transparency much harder and faster

  • I also want to be fair for this county itself. If you actually read the receipt http://www.bzbmx.com/index/gsl1.html, it is very, very detailed, with time, a mount of money, detailed purpose, the person who is chiefly responsible. And I also notice that in the Southern Weekly’s report, the party boss of Baimiao also mentioned that he hoped that by being more transparent he can bring in more business and investment. A great point and something we could dig into!

  • Jenny Siler

    I hope that this effort spreads like wildfire and the transparency encourages a level of honesty that will eventually inspire a feeling of trust and respect for the government.

    I wish the Unitied States would take a lesson or two from Sichuan.

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