And Finally

Time to take the bus

Officials struggle with the driving test, after ban on chauffeurs

An Audi car drives past Tiananmen Square as a police officer stands guard on a street in central Beijing

Much missed by many officials

Large numbers of Chinese officials have suffered the ignominy of being stripped of their government cars. And now they are suffering the shame of being exposed as woeful drivers too.

The double whammy is the unintended result of Xi Jinping’s anti-extravagance campaign, which has tried to ban all officials below vice-ministerial level from using state-funded cars and chauffeurs.

Many of those abiding by the new rules are having to go to driving school for the first time in their lives – and the results, it seems, aren’t pretty.

Take Ms Zhang, a 52 year-old bureaucrat from Changchun in Jilin province, who was long accustomed to being ferried around in a government vehicle. From this spring she has found herself with only a small stipend to pay for work travel. Her response was to buy a car and drive it around herself. The problem with the plan? She can’t pass her driving test.

A story from Xinhua reveals that Zhang has been through three driving instructors and sat the exam 10 times – all to no avail.

“Every time I fail I get more irritated,” she was quoted as saying.

Then there is the case of the 56 year-old bureaucrat, also from Changchun. His seniority at work appears to have rendered him incapable of taking any form of instruction. “In the office everyone listens to him so he has a lot of ideas of his own when learning to drive. He only wants to drive his way,” his instructor, Song Bo, complained to Xinhua.

Newspaper commentaries say that there are now so many middle-aged officials figuring out how to drive for the first time that they are clogging up the training system.

Few of them are good students, it seems. Bureaucrats need to learn to “behave like ordinary people again” before they will get their driving licences, one report suggested, with more than a hint of satisfaction.

At least the afore-mentioned officials are trying to embrace the new rules. In other parts of the country, bureaucrats seem ready to resort to underhand tactics to hold on to their drivers and their cars.

Ou Shaokun, an anti-graft campaigner, has been posting images of officials flouting the car ban or using state vehicles for their personal activities. But in his case this has proved a dangerous activity. He claims to have been framed by angered officials, who detained him last month for hiring a prostitute. Ou says he will sue the police for defaming him, after officers released his name to the media when they found him with a young woman in a hotel room in Hunan’s capital Changsha. Ou claims that he travelled to the city to meet a man surnamed Chen who had expressed support for his work. The two had dinner and drinks in a karaoke bar and then Ou went back to his hotel. Later, one of the girls from the bar, came to his room and initiated sex. Minutes later the police burst in, taking photos.

Ou claims the whole operation was a sting as the police had video footage of what happened inside the room – which they threatened to release – and because they later gave the tape of his police interview to a local TV station. The 62 year-old denies having sex with the woman, partly because there was no time and also because no money changed hands – two rather important requisites for charging someone with solicitation.

“It was a deliberate action to blacken my name,” the indignant campaigner told The Paper.cn.

If that really was the aim, the move seems to have backfired. Most netizens seem to think Ou is innocent. And even if he isn’t, few are too bothered by his transgression.

“I don’t care if he hired a prostitute, I care that he is the victim of an abuse of power,” one wrote.

“Even if he hired a prostitute, it’s not a big deal. Shame on you [officials]! Don’t you know it is the usage of public cars for private business that we hate,” raged another.


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