Veteran NPC deputy shrugs off controversy in efforts to alleviate poverty

By Global Times – Agencies Source:Global Times Published: 2017/3/10 5:03:40 Last Updated: 2017/3/11 7:08:55

Shen Jilan attentively reads documents for the National People's Congress. Photo: CFP

No one in China has managed to break her record as the "living fossil" of the National People's Congress (NPC), the country's top legislature. The 88-year-old Shen Jilan from North China's Shanxi Province has been elected as a deputy to the NPC for 12 consecutive times since 1954.

At the ongoing NPC meetings this year, Shen has brought two proposals aimed at alleviating poverty in her hometown.

"In order to help rural areas to alleviate poverty and become prosperous, we need to build good roads for transportation," she told the media.

A farmer from Shanxi's Xigou village, Shen is viewed by many as representative of the openness of the country's legislative system, as it is not limited to elites, but aims to include people from all walks of life.

But, many others are unsatisfied with Shen and criticize her after she told the media in 2013 that she had never cast a "no" vote against any proposals.

From farmer to official

Shen, born in 1929, only has a primary school education. Despite this, she reached a major turning point in her life when she turned 24.

That year, she was elected as deputy director of the village cooperative. Back then, women didn't work in the field, but Shen mobilized women in the village to work and pushed for equal pay for them.

In the following year, the People's Daily published an article praising Shen's work in Xigou, bringing her national fame overnight.

She then joined the Communist Party of China and was awarded the title of National Model Worker.

In 1954, the then 25-year-old Shen participated in the first NPC as a representative of rural residents.

"My heart beat like a drum when I sat there," recalled Shen of her early days as an NPC deputy in an interview with the Xinhua News Agency. "Imagine, I was one of just 147 female deputies in the 1,200-member Congress. Everything was new to me."

In 1973, Shen was appointed to the position of director of Shanxi Women's Federation (SWF).

After taking on these political roles, Shen made efforts to improve her literacy and knowledge so that she could keep up with the new job requirements.

In 1978, the opening day for NPC was fixed and scheduled to be held every five years. From that point on, the deputies' roles were broadened. They were not only required to turn up, but also to bring their own proposals and suggestions.

Shen, then 50 years old, started to learn more words, read newspapers and study the Party's new policies.

"Deputies today are well-educated and highly qualified," she told the Procurator Daily.

"Before, we raised our hands to vote, now we press buttons. The electronic machines for counting ballots are more advanced," she said.

Facing controversy

In 2013, Shen came under scrutiny after she told the media she has never voted against any proposals in an interview.

Her words annoyed the public, which was showing a growing interest in participating in the country's political affairs.

Netizens said a deputy who can only sing praises and applaud cannot represent the people. Some suggested that she should be replaced by people who are more active in expressing their opinions in national affairs.

Then, an old article that claimed Shen had never communicated with the public surfaced and went viral on the Internet. However, in the original article, she said that she didn't like to talk to voters to win ballots.

But her words were misrepresented. Other articles also came out saying that she made millions of yuan from various businesses. A search for Shen's name on the search engine baidu.com still brings out many articles and discussions about her.

Shen devoted herself to business after retiring as director of the SWF. She opened a ferroalloy plant in Xigou village, hoping to help the 2,100 villagers to become prosperous.

After this project failed, she cooperated with a local businessman to open a beverage company, which saw strong sales.

But she was not paid by the company, according to a report by the 21st Century Business Herald, which interviewed the company's staff. Shen did not respond to these accusations and claims.

Despite these attacks, Shen does have her fans. After learning about her story, businessman Si Deming in Shanxi was so moved that he invested 7 million yuan into making a film about her life.

Si is also a fan of Chairman Mao Zedong. Knowing that the film wouldn't garner interest in the market, he decided to spend 10 million yuan to invite people to the cinema.

Si put all the actors through a strict political background check before allowing them to participate in the film.

Completed in 2013, the movie didn't get the chance to be screened in cinemas, reported the Southern Weekly.

Si said that some retired officials who he invited to see the film praised it for being a good and positive movie, but most other viewers gave it a bad feedback. 

Shen hasn't seen the film yet and hasn't given her opinion. It's reported that an official version of the film Shen Jilan had also been in the works for a long time.

"She pushed for equal pay for women, which has contributed to women's movement around the world. Those who abuse Shen Jilan, do you really know her?" Si told the Southern Weekly.


Newspaper headline: Working for the people


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