With his corpulent physique, bouffant hairdo and penchant for long speeches and short-sleeved white shirts, Zhao Xiyong looked every inch the Communist Party official. But the man who claimed to be the director of the powerful State Council Research Office was actually an imposter. With considerable verve, Zhao has spent much of the last three years exploiting his fantasy role, capitalising on the desire of lesser officials to curry favour with the central government.
Zhao was wined, dined and offered well-paid consultancy work on the basis of his assumed status. But his downfall came last month when news filtered back to Beijing that he had been touring the southern province of Yunnan with the new Party secretary of Yuxi city and making promises to stimulate local agriculture.
Stung by the news, the State Council then issued a statement saying, “We have recently received reports that Zhao Xiyong is pretending to be the head of the State Council Research Office and an official of vice-minister level. Our unit employs no such person and no research team has ever been sent to Yunnan province.”
Realising his predicament, Zhao instantly disappeared. Two weeks later he was found holed up in his home province of Liaoning, where he began his working life as a manager at a mattress factory.
He has now been shipped back to Yunnan to face trial on charges of fraud.
One might assume that this would be the end of the story but Zhao has become something of a folk hero, not least for executing such a successful prank on the ruling elite.
Moreover, the Nanfang Daily has reported that many of the people who had interactions with Zhao in his ‘official capacity’ were impressed by him and by the advice that he dispensed.
His work in Kunming was held in such high regard that a senior official in the city later sought his counsel when he was transferred to Yuxi as Party secretary.
But what seems to have appealed to Zhao’s business partners most of all was that he didn’t seem to be on the take, or at least not as much as they expected.
“We thought he would try to get more money out of it, but he didn’t,” the Nanfang Daily quoted one official from a Hunan car factory as saying.
So despite a series of newspaper editorials reminding people of the seriousness of Zhao’s subterfuge, many netizens have refused to condemn him, persisting instead in calling him the “new Lei Feng” (see WiC186) and a “valiant knight”.
“A real director that does nothing but wants money or a fake director that does things but wants nothing? I know which I would rather have,” a weibo user wrote.
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