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Cadres in Hubei: The Right Stuff

A door once closed to rural officials has finally opened in five pilot areas.

Participating Hubei province recently decided to recruit 172 new functionaries from village directors within rural branches of the party. Policymakers hope that through this move they can broaden town and village participation, improve the structure of rural government, and explore and establish cadre-encouraged social protections there.

"This is a kind of positive, heartening policy direction, and adds force to the work being done by the wide network of grass-roots cadres," says professor Guan Yaofu of Wuhan Party School of CCP Municipal Committee.

Now, it is no longer an impossible dream for the 10,000 rural cadres of Wuhan to become nationally recognized.

The Hubei provincial party committee had decided to issue an examination during the first half of this year to test rural leaders from the province's most outstanding party branches. The decision immediately produced an intense response.

"The moment I heard this I rushed to the government office to find out more," said Xiang Zhijin, branch secretary of Ma City's Zhangjiafan town.

But according to new regulation 200723, Xiang Zhijin may be too old to apply.

The law states that officials applying for examination must belong to the Party's rural branches, be village leaders, have held their position for at least three years, have an education at a nationally certified vocational or high school, and be younger than forty years old, "unless you have been honored by the provincial party committee or provincial government, in which case the age limit can be relaxed to 45."

Xiang Zhixing took over the party branch in 2002. Previously, he was a manager at an industrial plant with assets in the millions. After working there for several years, his accomplishments for the town's utilities and infrastructure were well recognized.

"In the 80's or 90's, this kind of person would certainly receive the blessings of party leaders. But these kinds of people who were originally on track for promotion are now blocked from it by these new regulations. In order to become a national cadre, now one must take a test," says Guan.

"Being a village cadre is not easy. They are paid little, and after working for one year they still do not make as much as they would have elsewhere," says Xiang.

They often receive a mere 3,000 yuan stipend per year. The chief and deputy-chief receive two or three hundred yuan for communication costs. But in actual practice, the subsidies are often uncollectible. Meanwhile, the monthly salary for a cadre of a larger town is 1,200-1,300 yuan.

"No matter how hard they work, they are still considered a peasant, [which makes] them lose their morale and leave to work elsewhere."

Villages are the most basic units, and their direction is affected to a large degree by the quality and zeal of their managing officials.

Although he's lost the opportunity to become an official functionary of the government, Xiang Zhijing is steadfast in believing that village cadres do meaningful work. "As long as one is held in esteem by others, if you work hard, you can still become a government employee and become a national cadre."

Looking Ahead-- and Up

Hubei's provincial party committee and human affairs department has already begun to distribute recruitment frameworks to subordinate local agencies.

One source tells us that applicants must pass a written test, an interview, and a career assessment. These parts of the application process occurred from late April into the middle of this month. According to their written and oral scores, the top third of scorers will be assessed on their work experience, ethics, work style, and knowledge of their constituents. They will then be ranked with the written, oral, and cumulative assessment being weighted 30 percent, 30 percent, and 40 percent respectively.

Officials selected from towns and villages will be put on probation for one year, after which they will enjoy treatment as functionaries, or junior government officials. If they do not satisfy the terms of their probation, their employment is cancelled.

In order to make accepted officials quickly fill their roles and develop self-confidence, they will enter a ten-day training program. They can also opt to remain at their previous posts for a certain period of time.

Outside of the recruitment drive, Hubei has already chosen 4,000 outstanding college graduates to be sent to do grass-roots work. Among them, over 30 have been promoted to senior positions. This year, Hubei plans to recruit 1,115 graduates-- 821 with bachelors, and 294 with masters degrees doctorates.

Hubei will apparently have 28,671 administrative districts. With four cadres going to the larger villages and three going to smaller ones, the whole province will require 100,000 new cadres-- among whom 50,000 were previous party branch heads and village leaders.

"The ratio of experienced cadres to students is a little low," says Guan, who believes that the students have excellent theoretical backgrounds, but when placed in new environments among constituents they will have a challenging road ahead of them.

Ma City's Songbu town secretary Li Jinghao agrees, saying that experienced cadres have learned much through their time in rural areas, and thus have a more thorough understanding of their constituents and will be more able to solve them. Li also believes that some of these students will try to exploit their positions as springboards, which will have a negative effect on the morale of the cadres as a whole.

"We hope that this [new system] consolidates grass-roots political power... and that, in the long term, the process will become institutionalized," says Li.

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