Perfect Man for the Job
I think it’s fair to say that few Tibetans will be sad to see the back of Zhang Qingli, the TAR Party Secretary who was replaced a few days ago. After all, he was responsible for implementing hard-line Communist Party policy with a personal zeal that was not only terrifying, but marked him out even amongst his predecessors. Zhang ordered the horrific crackdowns following the uprising in Tibet in 2008, not to mention the continued campaign of “patriotic education” in Tibet’s monasteries, and is complicit in the detention and torture of hundreds of political prisoners. It is clear he had utter contempt for the Tibetan people, but he always saved his worst vitriol for the Dalai Lama, variously calling him “a wolf in monk’s robes” and “the scum of Buddhism”. Zhang even used his final speech as Party Secretary of the TAR to take a parting shot at His Holiness saying that he would never forget the “resolute struggle with the Dalai clique”. Charming.
But what about the new guy? Zhang’s replacement, Chen Quanguo, is unsurprisingly Han Chinese. He was born and spent most of his working life in Henan Province where he slowly worked his way up through the party before becoming Vice-Governor of Henan under Governor Li Keqiang, who is, incidentally, tipped to be the next Premier of China. Chen continued climbing the greasy pole, becoming Deputy Party Secretary of Henan, then being transferred to neighbouring Hebei Province, before eventually becoming Governor there in early 2010. So to get so high up in the Party he must have kept his nose pretty clean, right? Not at all. There’s a string of scandals and dodgy goings on linked to Chen Quanguo.
Take, for example, the “Li Gang Incident”. In October 2010, whilst Chen was Governor of Hebei Province, a 22-year-old drunk driver named Li Qiming ran over two students at Hebei University, killing one and seriously injuring the other. When he was apprehended by university security he was heard shouting a line that is now famous in China: “Sue me if you dare, my father is Li Gang!” Li Gang, it turned out, was Deputy Director of the local Public Security Bureau. A national scandal was born. Communist Party officials and the Central Propaganda Department made attempts to suppress reports of the incident and university officials pressured students to keep quiet, but news of what happened spread through the internet like wildfire. The incident even spawned its own web meme. An investigation by Chinese netizens was started and it soon became apparent that not only did Li Gang have a criminal son, but was himself involved in corruption, as evidenced by the 5 properties he owned; far beyond the means of his police wages. Now, it’s hard to say whether Chen Quanguo was directly involved in the attempts to keep the “Li Gang Incident” out of the press, but as the second highest authority in the province he had a major hand in how the incident was dealt with.
Just a month after Li Gang Gate there was more trouble. The government sanctioned National Congress of Catholic Representatives was coming up and those pesky catholic clergy didn’t want to attend. Not all that surprising given that this sham event is opposed by the Vatican due to Chinese government meddling in the ordination of priests and bishops. As Hebei, Chen’s previous province, is home to a quarter of China’s catholics it became a focus for attempts to bully and harass priests into attending. Some where “escorted” to the congress, others were threatened, and Bishop Joseph Li Liangui, who disappeared 2 weeks before, was warned he would be listed as a “wanted person” if he didn’t attend. Again there’s no direct evidence that Chen was involved in this oppression, but he was the provincial Governor, how could he not have been involved? And besides, intimidating religious figures is a skill that will come in very handy in Tibet.
Whilst it’s difficult to pin the last two incidents directly on Chen Quanguo, this last one has his fingerprints all over it. In 2007, it was announced that 80-year-old HIV/AIDS activist Dr Gao Yaojie was to be awarded the “Global Leadership Award, Women Changing Our World” by the Vital Voices Global Partnership. She was immediately placed under house arrest in her home in Zhengzhou, Henan province, to prevent her from traveling to America to accept the award. There was public outcry around the world against Dr Gao’s detention and the Chinese government came under increasing pressure to release her. After a week, Dr Gao was visited by then Vice Party Secretary of Henan, Chen Quanguo, who praised her for her “long-standing contributions” to the province’s “education, health and AIDS prevention work.” Undeterred by this obvious attempt at whitewash, Dr Gao confronted Chen about the police officers outside her front door.
“I asked: ‘Didn’t the police downstairs stop you?’ He replied: ‘No, what police, there aren’t any police.’ He wouldn’t admit it.”
Dr Gao was eventually released and attended the award ceremony.
So whilst Chen has so far avoided much of the hard-line rhetoric of his predecessor, it seems he still has many of the necessary skills for the job: suppressing negative publicity, oppressing religious leaders and denying knowledge of human rights abuses. Seems like he was the perfect candidate for Party Secretary for the TAR.