Grassroots poverty alleviation official attracts national attention for aging so quickly on the job

By Global Times – Agencies Source:Global Times Published: 2018/11/22 18:38:41

Li Zhongkai, Party secretary of Wanbi township, Dayao county, Chuxiong Yi Autonomous Prefecture Photos: IC

A Chinese county official in a remote area in Southwest China's Yunnan Province recently became famous on social media for looking significantly older than his age.

On November 16, the ID photo and a short biography of Li Zhongkai, Party secretary of Wanbi township, Dayao county, Chuxiong Yi Autonomous Prefecture, which was published on government website, sparked heated discussion on the internet. According to the biography, Li was born in 1980 and is 38 years old. However, his half-white hair seem to suggest that he is much older. Some netizens said he looks as if he's in mid-50s.

Online controversy prompted the local government to investigate if Li had misreported or tampered with his age. It turned out that not only was his age true, but he was one of 20 outstanding grassroots officials lauded by Chuxiong this September.

Soon, Li was flooded by interview requests from journalists from across the country, who dubbed him as the "white-haired Party secretary" and lauded him as a role model among lower-level officials who is so hardworking that his hair had turned white.

Li told the media he is just a common grassroots official and does not deserve so much attention. He said he hopes people can focus their attention on grassroots officials in general and poverty alleviation. "We can't stop our hair turning white, but we can stop poverty," he told Xinhua News Agency.

Serving the people

Earlier this month, Li was nominated as the vice chairman of Dayao county's political consultative committee. As part of the nomination process, he was asked to provide an ID photo, among other materials.

In the morning of November 13, Li took the photo in a photo studio and sent it to the township.

The photo and Li's biography was then made public on government website.

The next day, Li started to devote himself to his job as Biwan's Party secretary, and his schedule was busy due to a flood that was expected to arrive in the township.

Biwan township stretches 56 kilometers along the Jinsha River. A few days before, a dam broke along the river, and as a result, 26 households, with 97 villagers in total, were in danger. "The water could rise by 15 meters," Li told Red Star News.

On the morning of November 15, Li started to visit the villages that were most susceptible to the flood. "For these 97 villagers, we asked village committees and team leaders to locate where each person is," Li said.

Apart from people, ships were recalled, livestocks, construction projects and villagers were relocated, and safety signs were installed on roads leading to riverside. After midnight, Li, fearing the flood might come soon, headed a team to the township's power plant to monitor water level. It  not until 5 o'clock the next morning that he returned home.

The next day, the flood passed with no casualties. Li then had a meeting with village officials on local environment improvement, and planned to visit several villages over the next few days.

Li Zhongkai inspects flood protection measures in the village.

But the plan was interrupted by a phone call at 4 pm.

"It was completely unexpected. On 4 pm, the organization department of the county's Party committee called me and asked me to verify my work experience and provide my documents, including my household registration and marriage certificate," he recalled to Xinhua.

Only then did he learn that his photo had gone viral on social media.

Li said many officers in Dayao county government know that he looks older than his age, but he had never thought that this would spark national attention. "I'm still young. I can stand up to these questions," Li said.

Local officials say Li passed the public service exam in 2007. Back then, he still looked young.

But his public servant job in the township, which involved poverty alleviation and relocation of people in poverty-stricken areas, changed his appearance. "After a few years on the job, he looked entirely different from before," the official told the media.

Li said before 2014, grassroots officials in Biwan township were mainly focused on relocating people living in areas prone to being flooded. Over 4,155 people were relocated, he said.

The relocation project allowed villagers to move from earthen houses to brick houses. "Their living environment were greatly improved," he said.

In recent years, poverty alleviation became Li's biggest goal.

There are 4,690 households in Biwan county, and 1,647 of them are considered destitute households. The county's plan is to lift 611 households out of poverty this year. It was in this background that Li's hair turned white.

Li said he hopes a bridge can be built on the Jinsha River in Biwan township, as it will make the lives of villagers more convenient. He said a few villages had just got access to electricity, and roads are being built in three villages.

After he got famous, a chain restaurant brand across China contacted Li, saying they wanted to help the villagers sell the agricultural products. Li felt for the first time that attention can help boost the local economy. "I hope they would cooperate with Dayao county in selling its agricultural products across the entire county," he told Red Star News.

Newspaper headline: Old soul

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