Newspaper exposes -- China's latest leap forward

Expose journalism has become a daily feature of the Chinese press. Recent newspaper accounts accuse a vice-minister of the chemical industry of being a fraud and a former vice-premier, who is still on the Politburo, of mismanaging the educational system. Papers have also charged officials connected with the Bohai No. 2 oil rig, which capsized last year, of disregard for safety.

The articles advised the oil rig managers to get rid of "left" thinking.

The crusading papers are still reluctant to name names if the positions occupied are too high. Only the vice-minister of the chemical industry, Li guocai, was identified in articles exposing the "Goucai boiler" he had designed as a fraud.

When one paper denounced what it called the unjust purging of veteran teachers from their jobs in Xiyang County, it mentioned only a general title of the official responsible -- the "former main responsible person of Xiyang County's party committee." That official was Chen Yonggui, one-time hero of the "Dazhai experiment" in agriculture.

Mr. Chen resigned as vice-premier at the recent National People's Congress (China's legislature), but he remains on the Politburo, at least until the next party congress or central Committee plenum.

Kang Shi-en, still very much a vice-premier, rose to prominence after leading Daqing, China's largest oil field. The field still accounts for half of China's oil, but the methods used there -- emphasizing revolutionary zeal at the expense of sober scientific realism -- are now castigated as "leftism."

The disregard for human safety engendered by this "leftism" was one of the main reasons for the capsizing of the Bohai No. 2 oil rig in the Bohai Gulf last November, resulting in a loss of 72 lives. Oil Minister Song Zhenming took responsibility for the disaster and resigned after having tried to cover up the affair for months.

Mr. Kang was given an unprecedented public "demerit first grade" at the time. Rumors said that Mr. Kang, feeling humiliated, submitted his resignation but was told to stay on.

But the criticism of Daqing's past, and more particularly of the mentality associated with it, continues. All the unscientific practices of the 10 years turmoil of the so-called Cultural Revolution are being brought to light and denounced. The objective seems to be to show that no one, no matter how high ranking, is exempt from criticism and to warn middle-level cadres that they must shape up or face the consequences.

The exposure of Vice-Minister Li is one of the most interesting cases to be featured recently in the Chinese press In the past, such exposes mentioning names would have been made after the person concerned had been removed from office.

Mr. Li, however, is being attacked while still at his post. If he is dismissed, it will be seen as a victory for the bolder journalism being practiced by the People's Daily and, more particularly, by the Worker's Daily. Mr. Li, still a relatively youthful 48, was a worker in the northeast China city of Jilin (Kirin) who came to local prominence as a "rebel" leader -- a Red Guard -- during the Cultural Revolution (1966-76). He was rapidly promoted within the local "revolutionary" hierarchy and eventually came to Peking as vice-minister of the chemical industry.

While in Jilin, Mr. Li belonged to a unit that designed a new industrial steam boiler, for which Mr. Li claimed all the credit. The boiler was named "guocai" in his honor, the unit to which he belonged was given the name of "li guocai" unit, and a museum showing his exploits was opened on its premises. For seven years, from 1972 to 1979, Mr. Li promoted the boiler throughout the country despite serious technical reservations about it held by many qualified engineers.

Eventually the boiler was proved to be wasteful and inefficient, and Jilin, having installed 66 of them, was forced to dismantle 29 and to use the others for boiling rice or hog swill. Mr. Li, who had even commissioned Peking operas to glorify his boiler, resisted with threats and bluffs till the end and was apparently protected by his ministry. There will certainly have to be an investigation on this point.

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