Red tape crusader

By Lin Meilian Source:Global Times Published: 2014-3-7 5:03:01

Cao Zhiwei displays the 103 certificates and documents that an ordinary Chinese can't live without during a CPPCC meeting in Guangzhou, Guangdong Province, on February 19. Photo: CFP

Stamp! Stamp! Stamp! Life in China is all about official documents. People getting them, people trying to get them, and people who can't get them. No wonder Chinese people are getting richer but not necessarily happier.

Last month, in the southern city of Guangzhou, Guangdong Province, Cao Zhiwei, 46, an entrepreneur and advisor to the city, demonstrated the scale of bureaucracy in China by unrolling a scroll almost four meters in length, on which he listed 103 official documents needed by an average Chinese over his or her lifetime.

The exhibition, titled "On the Document Road," which aims to put an end to inefficient red tape, has received a warm welcome by citizens and attention from the local government.

"It sends a message to our government that red tape is torturing its people, and it is time to change," Cao told the Global Times.

"If 1.3 billion people can lift the burden placed by these official documents, they can have an easier life," he continued.

400 papers

Born in Guangzhou, Cao is known as an outspoken businessman and member of the Guangzhou Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), a government advisory body. He said up to 70 percent of his time is spent on political advising.

It is not the first time Cao has railed against the country's inefficient bureaucracy. Last year he presented five A3-sized "long march diagrams" to show how difficult it is for a company to get all the official documents it needs.

About three months after the show, the number of days required to get approval for an investment program dropped from 799 to 37 in Guangzhou. The number of rounds for administrative checks was reduced from 93 to 5.

"The reason for this inefficient bureaucracy is the lack of communication between government departments," Cao said. "They don't talk to each other, they don't share information. That's why people have to go through all of them and repeatedly hand in documents."

The idea for this exhibition came from a call from local residents asking if he could do something to express how difficult it was for ordinary people to obtain official documents.

He said he soon realized that this was a more complicated problem. How many certificates does an average Chinese citizen need over a lifetime? And how difficult is it to get through bureaucracy to obtain them?

It took Cao and his team of 19 university students four months to get the answer: 400. The 103 shown at the exhibition were common ones such as identity, education, property and marriage. Each involves at least 30 million people. More obscure ones, such as certificates for harvesting corn and burning straw, were not presented.

According to the calculation by Cao's team through on-site experience and via making phone calls to government offices, in order to acquire all the 103 certificates, one has to submit the hukou, or household registration, 37 times, photos 50 times and the ID card 73 times.

Learning from experience

Cao himself has experienced this torture. Once, he needed a certificate proving he was unmarried for his company's annual returns. He had to change his status from a permanent resident of Guangzhou to a temporary resident due to the family planning rules.

Red tape crusader

"In many other countries, people just need one social security card with all their information on it, and can also use their driver's license as their ID. This does not apply in China," Cao said.

Other media also reported on Cao's deeds. During the investigation of Cao's team, they found an elderly couple who had remarried to obtain a marriage certificate, as they had lost the old one years ago.

"They made us feel like our past 50 years of marriage had been illegal," Yang Guigen told the CCTV news.

In another case, it took a couple 16 days to go through eight departments to get five documents and eight stamps in order to obtain a birth permit.

"Each government department is like an isolated island. It needs citizens to go through it and connect it with the others," Cao explained. "They also make a small fortune out of it."

Li Jingxin, a Guangzhou resident who saw the exhibition, said it was impressive and meaningful.

"Just imagine how much time and energy we have wasted on getting these documents. It is time to make our life easier," she told the Global Times.

Less is more

The solution to the red tape problem is to build up an online database that includes citizens' tax and criminal records, Cao said. Moreover, he suggested that local authorities can merge separate departments into a one-stop office and set up online application systems.

Doing so, he argued, it would save citizens a lot of time and increase government efficiency. However, that also means reducing the power and revenues of the departments involved.

"That is the biggest obstacle to changing the government's function," said Cao.

In response, Wan Qingliang, the secretary of the Communist Party of China Guangzhou Committee, said Cao has "given us a crab," a Chinese way of describing a tough problem.

"Cao Zhiwei has given us a crab, and we cannot not eat it," Nanfang Daily quoted Wan as saying.

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