Almost every school child in China knows the story of Han Xin, the gifted general who helped found the 400-year Han Dynasty in 206 BC.
When Han was a teenager he was confronted by a gang of drunk ruffians. Seeing that the scrawny boy was carrying a sword, they challenged him to use it.
“Kill me or crawl through my legs,” he was famously taunted.
Han, as the story goes, knew full well how to wield his sword but realised that a murder charge would prevent him fulfilling his ambitions in life. So he decided to get on all fours and crawl through his tormentor’s legs instead.
The lesson is that it can sometimes be necessary to endure humiliation to achieve great things.
Fan Zhongxin, a law professor from Hangzhou Normal University, may have had Han Xin in mind as he undertook a kilometre-long crawl around the city’s famous lake in freezing conditions this month.
A year earlier, Fan had made a bet on his microblog that 2013 would be the year that China introduced a “sunshine law” – legislation that compels government officials to declare their assets to the public.
“I firmly believe, in 2013, that, with the exception of the autonomous regions, government officials’ assets will be made known to the public. If you don’t believe me we can make a bet. If I lose then I am dumber than a pig and I will crawl for 1 kilometre,” Fan wrote on his weibo account on New Year’s Day in 2013.
At the time, there was much talk about the need for an asset register for officials. Xi Jinping, who had just become General Secretary of the Communist Party, had cited corruption as one of the “greatest threats to the Party and the state” in an inaugural speech.
But despite the high-profile anti-corruption campaign this year, progress on a disclosure law has been slow. Several small towns on the eastern seaboard have rolled out pilot programmes but the number of officials covered by the schemes is tiny.
In November, the Party’s Central Commission for Discipline Inspection also announced its intention to launch a pilot scheme in which newly promoted officials would disclose their family assets, employment status and international travel records. But it didn’t say when the scheme would begin.
As a result Professor Fan feels he lost his bet and on the first day of January this year he dutifully set out to crawl around a section of Hangzhou’s famous West Lake.
Despite donning gloves and thick trousers, his hands and knees were bleeding by the end of his two-hour struggle – a condition confirmed by videos taken by his wife, who accompanied him around the lake.
Her reaction to the whole thing is that Fan was merely keeping his word – something that he is duty-bound to do as a role-model for young people.
Others noted that by keeping his promise Fan was embarrassing those who have been talking about an asset register for civil servants for years but done nothing concrete to achieve it. His two hours of discomfort have also resurrected the issue as a matter of public debate.
Mind you, Fan hasn’t renewed his bet for this calendar year.
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