Wang Ruling, the Party boss of Shanxi, once described his province as facing “systematic collapse-style corruption”. Some of the behaviour that Wang has revealed was appalling. A chairperson at a provincial bank had demanded a private jet from local enterprises in return for financing favours, for instance. A deputy mayor had taken Rmb644 million ($97.69 million) in bribes – more than the fiscal income of the province’s nine poorest counties. When Wang was appointed as Party secretary of the coal-rich province in September 2014, many of Shanxi’s senior officials were mired in corruption scandals (see WiC251).
Following two years of shock therapy, Wang now wants to showcase the changes he has instilled. For instance, a video interview with Wang appeared last week detailing his work fighting graft. On his watch five corrupt mayors have been purged while 5,646 officials have confessed to the Party’s discipline watchdog about their wrongdoings.
At one point last year so many people were implicated that more than 300 government or Party positions were left vacant. But now most of the jobs have been filled by younger personnel. The fresh crop of officials has to deal with a very different type of scrutiny too, thanks to a new reality TV show.
Impressive Scenery of Shanxi features mayors and Party secretaries from around the province. And in a first for a television series, the political bosses face off against each other to convince the audience that their own city is the provinces’s best destination for tourists.
ThePaper.cn described the unorthodox programme as “part The Voice, part America’s Got Talent and part town hall meeting”.
The series made its debut on Shanxi Satellite TV last month and will run every Friday until the end of July. Each city’s presentation starts with a 90-second video followed by a five-minute speech by its mayor. The performances are reviewed by four special guests (the Simon Cowell equivalents) who pick apart each of the presentations. TV viewers then vote online to decide the winner, with the winning city due to host a tourism conference later this year.
“The mayors have taken the contest very seriously and some of them have even memorised their speeches and practiced repeatedly before the show,” Beijing News reports.
Wang Zhenyu, the 43 year-old vice mayor from Linfen (see WiC10 for our first mention of this blighted city), went on the show tieless and invited the judges to wear a virtual reality device to better experience his city’s landscape.
“He looked like an internet firm executive at a product launch,” marvelled one netizen.
Ren Yangang, a 58 year-old vice mayor tried to conclude his own presentation in English: “Our Yangquan is a town of heroes”, he said, earning loud applause.
While generally enthusiastic about the format, Beijing News did note that viewership of the show outside Shanxi has been low (only 4.4 million people had voted for their favourites by the end of last week).
“It’s truly a political show,” another internet user complained on weibo. “It is rather boring to watch coalminers hard-selling their tourist spots,” another added.
At least Impressive Scenery of Shanxi has put the province’s officials in a more flattering light, the state media has noted. “The result is no longer important because the officials have already shown their sincerity to rebuild Shanxi’s image,” China Daily proclaims. “Of course, the TV show is not enough on its own. What Shanxi needs to do is root out corruption and find new ways to boost the economy.”
The People’s Daily has even suggested that the talent show could go nationwide, forging an image of more transparent government. “The most important task for Shanxi is to remodel its political habitat and wean its economic reliance off of coalmining,” the newspaper also proposed. “Combining an entertainment show with the government’s administrative works could be a very effective way to improve governance. The reality show for officials can be an example for others to follow.”
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