China’s own sunshine legislation was first proposed back in 1987 to combat rising corruption. Laws that mandate government officials to disclose their personal assets were put into legislative process in 1994. Yet almost 20 years later, they remain a bill and only a few local provincial governments have piloted official assets declaration. But Zhang Tiancheng, the deputy secretary of Hanshou county Politics and Law Committee from Hunan province, may make some waves by his recent disclosure of personal assets.
On October 29, Zhang, under the name of 洞庭渔夫—-张 on Sina Weibo, China’s most popular microblogging service, posted 10 messages of detailed accounts of his family’s income and assets. All 10 messages started with “To answer netizens’ requests, I’m now disclosing my income and assets…”
“To answer netizens’ request, I’m now disclosing my income and assets. 1) Some basic information of me. I started my first job in 1983 as a cadre at village community. From 1984, I worked consecutively as the assistant for township chief, the deputy township chief, the secretary of township discipline commission, the deputy township party secretary. I worked as the township chief since 1988 and then town chief. I worked as the town party secretary since March, 2004. I worked as the deputy secretary of Hanshou county Politics and Law Committee since 2011. I have been rewarded as model worker for several times, but also received a serious warning once for using national funds for township projects.
2) My family and social relations. My father was a senior primary school teacher. He died in Oct, 1996 at 62 years old. My mom was also a senior primary school teacher. She died in Jan, 1993 at 54 years old. My grandma is a peasant. She lives with me and will be 100 years old in Jan, 2013. My daughter graduated from college in 2009, works at Sinosure and is already married. She has a younger brother and a younger sister, both of which are married, too.
3) Personal and family income. Per month, base salary 590 yuan, rank salary 923 yuan, allowance 53.8 yuan, residence allowance 165 yuan, performance allowance 1250 yuan. Total monthly salary is 2981.8 yuan. Minus housing fund 357.8 yuan, pension 52 yuan and medical insurance 38.1 yuan. Real monthly salary in hands is 2533.9 yuan. Annual benefits include 500 yuan at Duanwu Festival and Mid-Autumn Day each, 1000 yuan at Spring Festival, 500 at my birthday and a year-end bonus of 1731.9 yuan. In addition, there are also prizes from personal performance awards. For me, it’s usually 500 yuan per year. Annual income including salary, benefits and bonus totals 34,030 yuan.
My wife works as a middle school teach since 1985. Her annual income is about 30,000 yuan. My grandma has a monthly subsidy of 380 yuan, pension of 55 yuan, elder allowance of 100 yuan, national farmland subsidy of 300 yuan and bamboo sales income of 700 yuan. So her annual income is about 7390 yuan. To add all three income sources together, my family has an annual income of 71,420 yuan.
4) Family assets. We bought an apartment in May, 2007 when housing prices just started to rise. It cost 220k for all paper works to be done. Decoration started in Jul, 2008 and cost about 180k yuan including furniture, appliance, lighting, kitchen, housing cleaning products, etc. We also have 7 family houses at our hometown that are worth about 50k in total. But I’m not sure how much of that is mine yet.
5) Fortunes given out. Last year, I gave my daughter and her husband 70k to help them buy an apartment in Changsha. Their wedding was earlier this year and cost us 150k.
6) Debts. Lent 74k to a friend with financial problems and never got anything back. 100k of house mortgage with a monthly payment of 777.7 yuan. Since I never got that 74k back from the friend, I also borrowed 30k from a friend and got a 10k loan from the bank for my daughter’s wedding. I have a housing fund of 25k and my wife 17k. We have no savings nor cash.
7) Personal interests. TV, books, Weibo, poets, fishing, and of course, pretty women, but I would never do anything improper with them.
It takes a lot of courage for Zhang to do this just one week before the opening of China’s 18th National Party Congress. Anti-corruption and official asset disclosure are focal topics of discussion at every Party Congress and more so this year after Bo Xilai’s fall and Wen Jiabo’s grand exposé.
Zhang’s bravery was celebrated by netizens as the hope for a deeply-corrupted county, especially given the fact that Zhang can be said a clean and honest official with an “embarrassingly” poor family. More importantly, as the very first to openly disclose his assets online, Zhang may have started something he didn’t intend to. Like netizen chzh1366835 urged: “He dares to do what the others dare not. Those millions of officials, please follow his suit.” 孔智勇先生 agreed: “To disclose personal assets by law is an unstoppable trend.” 偏执狂不是我就是你, too, voiced his hope: “He is a true servant of the people. Wish he can be a role model for the rest.”
Nation-wide official asset disclosure, however, doesn’t seem like something that’s going to happen soon. Despite Zhang’s case, none of the other news is encouraging.
Back in September, Yang Dacai, a local official in Shaanxi province, was found by netizens to possess numerous luxury watches that a person at his position wouldn’t be able to afford. He was dubbed by netizens as Brother Watch and has been ousted from his post for violations of discipline. Liu Yan, a college student from Shaanxi, filed a formal request to Shaanxi government, asking the disclosure of Yang’s 2011 income and assets. To no one’s surprise, he was rejected. According to Shaanxi government, Yang’s personal income and assets didn’t fall into any categories of information that meet disclosure requirements.
Later, another Brother Watch was spotted by netizens in Fujian province. A college student from Chongqing did what Liu did in Yang’s case – filing a formal request to Fujian government for asset disclosure of Brother Watch No. 2. Once again, he was rejected. Fujian government gave the same reason – official’s personal income and assets aren’t something that can be disclosed to the public.
This week, yet another college student filed another request to Guangzhou government, asking to disclose the personal assets of Uncle House, a local official who was exposed to have 22 apartments. Any guesses of the result? The request was once again rejected with the same nondisclosure reason.
And just today, to finish the annual China Government Transparency Report, Peking University researchers sent out disclosure requests to 42 government organs for information on overhead per capital. Only 9 responded with numbers. 15 said the request was under review. 18 rejected. Among those who rejected, the People’s Bank of China argued: “Such information is national secret.”
Whether government overhead cost is national secret or not is something open for debate (probably only in China), but officials’ asset disclosure as a first step towards effective anti-corruption is no doubt a national urgency. With someone like Zhang, and with rumors that Wen Jiabao, China’s current Premier, asked to disclose his family assets to refute accusations by the New York Times, can we hope that at least the next disclosure request won’t be rejected?