By Liu Changjie
Published: 2008-07-02

From Nation Page 13 Issue 373 June 23 2008
Translated by Liu Peng
Original article
: [Chinese]

Chinese writer Wang Xiaofang, 48, kicked off his latest book signing tour in June. It is the third of his Beijing Office Director series, which launched him to his role as an icon of the "officialdom literature".

Last year, he published three novels set in the realm of government officials – namely Beijing Office Director I, II, and The Mayor's Secretary, turning his once-doomed "official" career into inspiration for writing fiction.

In fact, the alter-ego of some main characters in Wang's books is himself, or rather, his former identity as the secretary to the disgraced Shenyang vice-mayor Ma Xiaodong.   

Dashed Hopes
Ma was one of the lead actors in the Mu-Ma corruption case that jolted China at the turn of the century. When he was investigated by the Chinese Communist Party disciplinary committee back in July 1999, his superior, Shenyang Mayor Mu Suixin, was still banking on his luck.

Mu was still hopeful. There was a grand gesture at the opening ceremony of the magnificent 21st Century Square at the end of 1999. That day, Mu placed a letter – addressed to his successor a hundred years down the road - underneath the Century clock tower at the Square. It read:

"Distinguished Mayor, 

When I wrote this letter, you have yet to be born into this world; and by the time you read it, I would have left the world for good. Despite not knowing who you are, and how you look like, at this moment, I could feel that we are traversing time and space to have this heart-to-heart communication... We are both the mayor of Shenyang, and we are both at the turn of the century..."

The letter carried Mu's wish of being remembered and revered by his city long after he was gone. Yet, his dream was dashed in the first year of the new century.

The Square – where Mu's "a date between mayors" letter was buried – along with the 250-million-yuan office tower next to it, were built under his authorization solely. The projects had violated assessment and approval procedures, and the land use was used without a green light from higher authorities.

By June 2001, investigations into the Mu-Ma corruption case had not only implicated both the mayor and vice-mayor, but also 17 heads of bureaus and commissions along with some 100 other high level officials; also involved were some 400 other mid and low level officials. 

Wang Xiaofang, as the secretary of the vice-mayor, was also dragged into the murky water and often summoned by investigators and prosecutors. While investigations were underway, his post was retained but temporary suspended, and he was forced to stay home to wait for the outcome.

"Friends avoided me, my wife left me, my daughter kept crying, and I could do nothing..." Wang recalled the worst moments of his life.

Twist of Fate
Shenyang, once the industrial base in northeastern China and a fortress of the planned economy, was rocked by closures of state-owned factories and job losses along the advance of the market economy.

Back in 2001, the city was badly in need of outside investment to support the economic transition and reforms in state-owned enterprises. The corruption case, however, blew its chances.

"Shenyang was perhaps facing an unprecedented crisis," recalled Chen Zhenggao, who took over from Mu as the Mayor then, adding after the Mu-Ma case became a public knowledge, the US government even openly warned its business community that Shenyang was a high-risk area for investment.

"Investors were skeptical and deterred. Anyway, who should they look for when visiting and exploring opportunities in Shenyang? Everyone who mattered then was in jail!" Chen recounted the old days.  

Looking for a breakthrough for the impasse, the city then placed its hope on football.

Shenyang competed fiercely to host the Asian preliminary heats for 2002 World Cup, hoping to improve its image and investment environment.

Indeed, upon winning the hosting right, the games brought in one billion yuan in income and lifted the spirits its people.

The road to recovery for Wang, however, went on.

New Beginning
The court convicted both Mu and Ma in August 2001, with the former being sentenced to death penalty with suspension of execution. The latter was executed.

Wang said he would not have resigned if not for the corruption case, as he had always dreamed of becoming a high official in the government. Having quit the public sector, he ventured into business, but a lack of experience led to failure. He said that at the time, he was struck by mental stress and other illness that almost destroyed him.

Wang recalled that on one day in December of 2001, he saw a picture of his jailed former boss on the internet

"He was seated, despair in his unfocused eyes, his hand still holding half a stick of cigarette. That could have been the last photograph taken of him," Wang said.

"I saw the picture in the late afternoon; the sun was setting and the twilight was filtering through my windows. I suddenly felt that the world was filled with immense sadness, and an impulse to channel my inward secrets just rushed to head," he recalled, adding he then printed a copy of that last photograph of his boss, placed it on the table, stared at it and started writing profusely.

That, Wang said, was the opening chapter for The Mayor's Secretary.        

That impulsive moment was a turning point for a dejected Wang. Though his first written work met difficulties in being published, he was not discouraged and moved on to create his second novel.

As Wang started a new routine of writing for entire days, Shenyang was also launching into a new era by combining the old industry zone named Tiexi area with the new technology development park in June 2002.

By the end of the year, Wang had sealed his first publishing contract, for his novel The Deadly Swirl. It was the first time he breathed a sigh of relief in three years, and soon he would be in pace with Shenyang's industrial renaissance and march forward steadily.

By September the following year, Wang discovered his book had gained enough popularity for bootleg copies to hit the streets.

The Man and the City
When Wang, clad in a branded suit, sat opposite and looked into the eyes of this reporter, he exuded an air of confidence and success.

His hands were well taken care of, with smooth skin. The exception was his right hand's middle finger, which had developed a callus from long hours of pen-holding and writing each day. He looked fit, but whenever he spoke too fast or raised his voice, he would place a hand over his chest, as if he needed to catch a breath before continuing.

To date, Wang has already written 12 novels with seven of them published. Last year was especially a boom year, with three novels released. He earned recognition as an authoritative writer on "Officialdom".  

A native of Shenyang born in 1963, Wang grew up in a city known as the powerhouse of the planned economy, but only entered the workforce when the industrial base was at its decline.

He caught the tide of economic reform and aspired to ride towards officialdom, only to be trapped in scandal.

By 2003, both the Man and the City were looking forward to good years ahead. That year, the Chinese government initiated the Northeast Area Revitalization Strategy to support the economic development in the region, with Shenyang as the focus.

Five years down the road, Shenyang has shed many of its historical burdens and its economic structure has become more diversified.

With the old industrial zone in Tiexi being reformed, Shenyang has injected logistics, finance, commerce, service industries, and other modern economic elements into its urban development blueprint.

State-owned enterprises in Shenyang completed restructuring last year, and a huge inflow of investment has encouraged the real estate sector. Sensing the new trend, Wang released a novel entitled The Real Estate MoguI earlier this year.

"In the coming years, I would like to explore problems relating to the reform of state-owned enterprises and the development of private businesses," Wang said, adding he wanted to present a panoramic landscape of China's reform and development through a string of his works.