Old soul

Grass­roots poverty alle­vi­a­tion of­fi­cial at­tracts na­tional at­ten­tion for ag­ing so quickly on the job

Global Times - Weekend - - FRONT PAGE - Page Ed­i­tor: [email protected]­al­times.com.cn

AChi­nese county of­fi­cial in a re­mote area in South­west China’s Yun­nan Prov­ince re­cently be­came fa­mous on so­cial me­dia for look­ing sig­nif­i­cantly older than his age.

On Novem­ber 16, the ID photo and a short bi­og­ra­phy of Li Zhongkai, Party sec­re­tary of Wanbi town­ship, Dayao county, Chux­iong Yi Au­tonomous Pre­fec­ture, which was pub­lished on gov­ern­ment web­site, sparked heated dis­cus­sion on the in­ter­net. Ac­cord­ing to the bi­og­ra­phy, Li was born in 1980 and is 38 years old. How­ever, his half-white hair seem to sug­gest that he is much older. Some ne­ti­zens said he looks as if he’s in mid-50s.

On­line con­tro­versy prompted the lo­cal gov­ern­ment to in­ves­ti­gate if Li had mis­re­ported or tam­pered with his age. It turned out that not only was his age true, but he was one of 20 out­stand­ing grass­roots of­fi­cials lauded by Chux­iong this Sep­tem­ber.

Soon, Li was flooded by in­ter­view re­quests from jour­nal­ists from across the coun­try, who dubbed him as the “white-haired Party sec­re­tary” and lauded him as a role model among low­er­level of­fi­cials who is so hard­work­ing that his hair had turned white.

Li told the me­dia he is just a com­mon grass­roots of­fi­cial and does not de­serve so much at­ten­tion. He said he hopes peo­ple can fo­cus their at­ten­tion on grass­roots of­fi­cials in gen­eral and poverty alle­vi­a­tion. “We can’t stop our hair turn­ing white, but we can stop poverty,” he told Xin­hua News Agency.

Serv­ing the peo­ple

Ear­lier this month, Li was nom­i­nated as the vice chair­man of Dayao county’s po­lit­i­cal con­sul­ta­tive com­mit­tee. As part of the nom­i­na­tion process, he was asked to pro­vide an ID photo, among other ma­te­ri­als.

In the morn­ing of Novem­ber 13, Li took the photo in a photo stu­dio and sent it to the town­ship.

The photo and Li’s bi­og­ra­phy was then made pub­lic on gov­ern­ment web­site.

The next day, Li started to de­vote him­self to his job as Bi­wan’s Party sec­re­tary, and his sched­ule was busy due to a flood that was ex­pected to ar­rive in the town­ship.

Bi­wan town­ship stretches 56 kilo­me­ters along the Jin­sha River. A few days be­fore, a dam broke along the river, and as a re­sult, 26 house­holds, with 97 vil­lagers in to­tal, were in dan­ger. “The wa­ter could rise by 15 me­ters,” Li told Red Star News.

On the morn­ing of Novem­ber 15, Li started to visit the vil­lages that were most sus­cep­ti­ble to the flood. “For these 97 vil­lagers, we asked vil­lage com­mit­tees and team lead­ers to lo­cate where each per­son is,” Li said.

Apart from peo­ple, ships were re­called, live­stocks, con­struc­tion projects and vil­lagers were re­lo­cated, and safety signs were in­stalled on roads lead­ing to river­side. Af­ter mid­night, Li, fear­ing the flood might come soon, headed a team to the town­ship’s power plant to mon­i­tor wa­ter level. It not un­til 5 o’clock the next morn­ing that he re­turned home.

The next day, the flood passed with no ca­su­al­ties. Li then had a meet­ing with vil­lage of­fi­cials on lo­cal en­vi­ron­ment im­prove­ment, and planned to visit sev­eral vil­lages over the next few days.

But the plan was in­ter­rupted by a phone call at 4 pm.

“It was com­pletely un­ex­pected. On 4 pm, the or­ga­ni­za­tion depart­ment of the county’s Party com­mit­tee called me and asked me to ver­ify my work ex­pe­ri­ence and pro­vide my doc­u­ments, in­clud­ing my house­hold reg­is­tra­tion and mar­riage cer­tifi­cate,” he re­called to Xin­hua.

Only then did he learn that his photo had gone vi­ral on so­cial me­dia.

Li said many of­fi­cers in Dayao county gov­ern­ment know that he looks older than his age, but he had never thought that this would spark na­tional at­ten­tion. “I’m still young. I can stand up to these ques­tions,” Li said.

Lo­cal of­fi­cials say Li passed the pub­lic ser­vice exam in 2007. Back then, he still looked young.

But his pub­lic ser­vant job in the town­ship, which in­volved poverty alle­vi­a­tion and re­lo­ca­tion of peo­ple in poverty-stricken ar­eas, changed his ap­pear­ance. “Af­ter a few years on the job, he looked en­tirely dif­fer­ent from be­fore,” the of­fi­cial told the me­dia.

Li said be­fore 2014, grass­roots of­fi­cials in Bi­wan town­ship were mainly fo­cused on re­lo­cat­ing peo­ple liv­ing in ar­eas prone to be­ing flooded. Over 4,155 peo­ple were re­lo­cated, he said.

The re­lo­ca­tion project al­lowed vil­lagers to move from earthen houses to brick houses. “Their liv­ing en­vi­ron­ment were greatly im­proved,” he said.

In re­cent years, poverty alle­vi­a­tion be­came Li’s big­gest goal.

There are 4,690 house­holds in Bi­wan county, and 1,647 of them are con­sid­ered des­ti­tute house­holds. The county’s plan is to lift 611 house­holds out of poverty this year. It was in this back­ground that Li’s hair turned white.

Li said he hopes a bridge can be built on the Jin­sha River in Bi­wan town­ship, as it will make the lives of vil­lagers more con­ve­nient. He said a few vil­lages had just got ac­cess to elec­tric­ity, and roads are be­ing built in three vil­lages.

Af­ter he got fa­mous, a chain restau­rant brand across China con­tacted Li, say­ing they wanted to help the vil­lagers sell the agri­cul­tural prod­ucts. Li felt for the first time that at­ten­tion can help boost the lo­cal econ­omy. “I hope they would co­op­er­ate with Dayao county in sell­ing its agri­cul­tural prod­ucts across the en­tire county,” he told Red Star News.

Pho­tos: IC

Li Zhongkai in­spects flood pro­tec­tion mea­sures in the vil­lage. Top: Li Zhongkai, Party sec­re­tary of Wanbi town­ship, Dayao county, Chux­iong Yi Au­tonomous Pre­fec­ture

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