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Wang Yang

The 'Guangdong Model' of Reform


The 'Guangdong Model' of Reform


Bo Xilai and his "Chongqing Model" have fallen from grace. Bo's rival, Wang Yang, and his "Guangdong Model" are attracting increasing attention. What do the fall of Bo and the rise of Wang portend for the future of China?



The 'Guangdong Model' of Reform

By Shu-ren Koo
From CommonWealth Magazine (vol. 493 )

On March 15, the day after the Fifth Plenary Session of the 11th National People's Congress (NPC) adjourned, Chinese Communist Party (CCP) Politburo member Bo Xilai was sacked from his post as CCP party secretary for Chongqing.

The bombshell news sent shock waves through the CCP political establishment, throwing into disarray the presumptive makeup of the year-end transition to the fifth generation of party leadership. Aside from the sacking of Bo, during last week's NPC all eyes seemed to be on Wang Yang, party secretary for Guangdong Province and long seen as a key rival of Bo's for top party leadership positions.

The generally accepted interpretation of these developments was that Wang's "Guangdong Model" had emerged victorious over Bo's "Chongqing Model."

Compared with the tall, urbane Bo, Wang cuts a rather ordinary figure, and until one hears him speak, he may come across as a little unsophisticated.

Relative to Bo's vigorous, well-publicized "Sing Red, Smash Black" campaign in Chongqing (combining pro-Communist sloganeering with a clamp-down on corruption), Wang's tenure as chief party administrator for Guangdong Province seems mostly unremarkable. Wang's deft touch came to national attention only recently with the peaceful resolution of the so-called "Siege of Wukan," an anti-corruption protest in the provincial village of Wukan.

So just exactly what sort of fellow is this Wang Yang? A press conference called by the Guangdong Provincial Caucus to the recent NPC provided a relatively rare opportunity for Taiwanese and foreign media to get a closer read on China's newest rising political star – a man of refreshingly few public proclamations of his own political achievements.

On the afternoon of March 5, the opening day of the NPC, the Guangdong Provincial Caucus met in a banquet room at the Capital Hotel in Beijing, following that up with a press conference.

In a hall roughly the size of a basketball court, more than a hundred reporters from various countries joined Guangdong Provincial delegates, all eager to hear what provincial party secretary Wang Yang had to say in the wake of his resolution of the sensational "Siege of Wukan."

During the news conference, Wang sat silently by as delegates issued statements one after another. Following a statement from Provincial Governor Zhu Xiaodan, Wang finally spoke. With a "customary willingness to hear the views of others" he answered the question every reporter present was champing at the bit to ask: Are the Wukan Village elections indicative of a new chapter in democratic elections across China?

 "Speaking realistically, I have but one thing to say … Absolutely no new trails have been blazed here," he stated, in an instant deflating the expectations of the gathered reporters and dousing outside hopes that "China is moving toward democracy starting with Wukan Village."

Wukan's elections, Wang said, were conducted in accordance with procedures for local-level elections that have been in place for years. It was merely an instance where the process was relatively more sound this time around, nothing more.

The key point, however, came in with what Wang had to say next.

"The contradictions and complications in this village built to a point where we realized… a need to analyze this incident to gain from the experience… improving our local level government administration," Wang continued with powerful resonance.

Behind this statement was an implicit realization that 30 years after the start of reforms, numerous local-level party officials were using their positions to enrich themselves, forming mutually profitable cabals with developers and entrepreneurs and sparking public outrage from all sides, leading to a wave of protests spreading all across China.

Wang is not only no stranger to instituting bold reforms or handling crises like the Wukan incident, but more importantly he is also able to precisely gauge the CCP Central Committee line on ruling the nation.

Wang took the bull by the horns for the first time in 1991 as a 36 year-old mayor of Tongling City in Anhui Province, instituting a "great ideological liberalization," in a series of reforms aimed at renovating aging systems and institutions.

The following year during a tour of the country's south, former Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping eliminated countless obstacles to reform by stressing that "those who do not reform will be those that are removed from office."

Human Life or GDP?

In 2006 during his second year as party secretary for the city of Chongqing, the region was suffering from the worst drought in a century, putting a squeeze on the electricity supply. Wang resolved to prioritize provision of electricity for private citizen consumption, placing restrictions on industrial power usage.

Facing criticism that his decision would adversely affect Chongqing's economic growth that year, Wang became a national media sensation with his line "people's lives far outweigh the importance of GDP," a position entirely consistent with the "people-oriented view of development" proffered by paramount leader Hu Jintao.

The following year, Chongqing was caught up in the spectacle of the "Nail House Incident," in which a husband and wife refused to vacate their home for developers, citing unfair compensation, defiantly holding out, their home by then like an island fortress amidst a 17-meter deep construction excavation, earning the moniker in the popular lexicon for being "tough as nails."

As this was transpiring, Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao were forcefully pushing for adoption of the controversial "Property Rights Law" in the NPC to provide for formal legal protections for private property. Wang seized upon the "Private Property Law" as the guiding principle for resolution of the "Nail House" dispute, not only adhering to the "Hu-Wen Line," but also negotiating a settlement to the issue.

In 2007, after his election to the CCP Central Committee's Politburo and his elevation to party secretary for Guangdong Province, Wang announced his initiative to "promote a new round of great development through a new round of ideological liberalization," intending to "carve out a way forward" for Guangdong.

Despite the onset of the global financial crisis, Wang pushed through his initiative to "clear out the cages to make way for new birds," and was lambasted by leftists within the provincial CCP for delivering a serious blow to Guangdong's economy. But given the initiative's adherence to the Hu-Wen Line, it received support from the CCP Central Committee.

Over the past four years, Premier Wen has toured Guangdong seven times, and President Hu visited three times last year alone. In contrast, Hu did not once visit Chongqing during Bo Xilai's tenure as party chief there. It goes without saying where the president's support lies.

A native of Anhui Province – as is First Vice Premier Li Keqiang – Wang Yang is exceedingly adept at accurately gauging the CCP Central Committee's developmental line while also possessing excellent crisis management and oratorical skills.

Whether at the local or national level, from Anhui and Chongqing to Guangdong, Wang has always set about tackling those issues closest to his heart in each post he has held, but has been refreshingly reluctant to publicize his own political achievements.

In promoting reform he is most fond of "liberating thought," forcefully eliminating outdated habits. New York Times columnist and The World Is Flat author Thomas Friedman has called him one of the most innovative thinkers among the contemporary Chinese leadership.

These qualities have consistently allowed Wang, the product of a poor working family with no formal higher education, to win the appreciation of senior party officials and secure promotions throughout his political career.

His most recent two posts – party secretary for the city of Chongqing and party secretary for Guangdong Province – have both been areas the CCP has designated as focal points for development, a clear indication of the degree of importance of the tasks to which he has been assigned.

The two early March conferences coincidentally overlapped with the 20th anniversary of Deng Xiaoping's tour of southern China and once again set in motion a wave of reform, becoming the hot topic of conversation.

Government Must Reform Its Own Destiny

People from all walks of life, including noted academic Wu Jinglian, have been strongly advocating the need to carry out political reform lest China be unable to retain the fruits of her economic development.

They note that the market economy in which the state and state-run enterprises have a monopoly on power and resources, in other words the so-called "Chinese model" of state capitalism of which so many Chinese are so proud, has given rise to pervasive corruption and resulted in the growing wealth of the state while the majority remain impoverished --- a situation that has gotten to the point it can no longer be ignored.

"I believe the most critical reform is reform of government itself," Guangdong provincial governor Zhu Xiaodan said unambiguously prior to Wang Yang's statement. Delving further into the heart of the matter, Zhu continued: "The greatest impediment to reforming government comes from within government itself; the revolution has now arrived at its own doorstep, and this will be a real test for government."

Under the CCP's one-party rule, getting anything done in China, big or small, requires passing through various levels of government "review and approval." This sort of wholly unsupervised power of review and approval is now seen as the primary cause of corruption.

"Some of this corruption comes through review, through approval," Zhu incisively declared.

Zhu's comments echo what Wang has sought to accomplish in Guangdong with initiatives to reform the administrative review and approval process and in improving the building of village-level organizations.

What Wang hopes to accomplish is taking matters that government should not or cannot handle, or that government handles poorly, and turning them over to the market mechanism for allocation of resources, proactively working to reduce the power of government.

China's reform and liberalization began 30 years ago in Guangdong.

Today, it's no accident that the government and economic reform initiatives Wang has undertaken in Guangdong will serve as the developmental roadmap for China's future.

Translated from the Chinese by Brian Kennedy

Wang Yang
Born: 1955, Suzhou, Anhui Province
Education: High School Dropout, Central School of Chinese Communist Party
Experience: Anhui Communist Youth League (1981)
Mayor, Tongling City, Anhui Province (1989)
Deputy governor, Anhui Province (1993)
Member of National Development Planning Commission (Precursor to National Development and Reform Commission)
Deputy head of NDPC (1999)
Deputy secretary general, State Council (2003)
Party secretary for City of Chongqing (2005)
Party secretary for Guangdong Province (2007)