Party chief courts fame to help impoverished county

By Huang Jingjing Source:Global Times Published: 2016/7/1 5:03:02

Chen Xingjia sky-dives to promote Badong, Hubei Province, where he works as the Party chief. Photo: Courtesy of Chen Xingjia

Performing in music videos and sky-diving are just some of the ways in which Chen Xingjia, Party chief of a poverty-stricken county in Central China's Hubei Province, has won people over.

While these stunts seem irrelevant to his normal duties, they have won him great acclaim as Chen did them all to bring public attention to Badong, a mountainous county upstream from the Three Gorges Dam, the world's largest hydropower project.

"The mountains, waters and cliffs here are primal and magnificent, but no matter how beautiful it is, being isolated is useless," said the 45-year-old official.

He believes that tourism is the only way out for the county. To save on the cost of hiring celebrities to represent the county, he volunteered to take on the job of promotional ambassador.

But being high-profile has made him a controversial figure. As one of more than 2,800 county-level Communist Party of China (CPC) secretaries nationwide, Chen has shattered the usual image of officials who tend to stay low-profile and away from ordinary people.

Chen Xingjia Photo: Courtesy of Chen Xingjia

Rise to fame

Recently, a video of Chen sky-diving circulated on the Internet. On June 20, one day before a wingsuit event was held in Badong, Chen jumped out of a helicopter holding a flag bearing the phrase "Fairyland Badong."

The jump was broadcast live on an app called changjiangyun, run by Hubei Radio & Television, thrusting him into the headlines and making him an online celebrity.

It's not the first time he has been in the spotlight. In October last year, a music video promoting local scenic spot Shenlongxi River, in which he starred, went viral on social media.

"We had planned to invite a singer. But the payment the singer asked for was 200,000 yuan ($30,100)," he told the Legal Mirror.

"If Gree Electric's president Dong Mingzhu can represent her products herself, rather than inviting stars like Jackie Chan, I think I can do it myself as well," he noted.

This year in March and April, two other music videos he performed in which featured Badong's sights were released online, attracting tens of thousands of views overnight.

"To get more visitors to come, I would like to sing like a clown," he said. "I know some people can't stand the sight of my performances. But I don't care. I just like to live according to my own values," he told the Global Times.

Cleaning up

While he has enhanced the reputation of the county, his biggest pride comes from how he has improved local officials' sense of honesty.

"The climate here has become clean and upright, which I think is my biggest achievement in the past five years," he said. "As I said before, the Party secretary is the lighthouse of the Yangtze River, and should never go astray."

Badong, in the Enshi Tujia and Miao Autonomous Prefecture, has a population of 500,000. One-third of the residents live under the national poverty level, with an annual net income of no more than 2,800 yuan.

Badong became notorious in 2009 following a sexual assault in which a spa waitress, Deng Yujiao, stabbed one official to death and injured another. Deng, who was detained for murder, was acquitted following public outrage.

Chen, who hails from Xingshan county in Hubei's Yichang city, was made Badong's Party chief in October 2011 after serving as mayor of Yidu in Hubei, a city which is less than half the size of Badong. Since then, he has been making efforts to clean up its image.

The extravagant "gifts" he was offered in this poor county surprised him at first. During a visit to his office, a businessman left him an envelope stuffed with 200,000 Hong Kong dollars ($25,780). In another case, a company boss brought him two gold bars. He rejected all the bribes and pledged to clean up the culture of corrupt officialdom.

He has been merciless toward corrupt and negligent officials, always publicly naming and criticizing them at meetings or to reporters.

Through private investigations and radical sweeps, he has used his authority to solve many long-term problems, such as freeloading, firms monopolizing public project bids and embezzlement of poverty-relief funds allocated by the State, according to the Southern Weekly.

Xu Shenghua, 47, a resident of Badong, said the whole county shows a new look under Chen's leadership. "The county becomes clean and tidy. People become more enterprising," Xu told the Global Times.

The farmers have also felt the changes. New roads have been built in every village. Without leaving their villages, they can now complete most administrative approval proceedings online.

In May last year, Chen was selected as one of the country's top 102 county-level Party secretaries, and was visited by President Xi Jinping ahead of that year's anniversary of the founding of CPC.

However, several other officials in Badong, including two former vice county heads, were jailed for corruption last year.

Barriers remain

Chen's outspokenness and mercilessness have also made him some enemies who have threatened to take revenge.

Xiang Konghui, a public security official, said they have even fixed devices on Chen's car to detect explosives and require his chauffeur to conduct a safety check on the car every morning. "Due to safety concerns, we would prefer it if he were transferred somewhere else quickly," Xiang was quoted as saying by Southern Weekly.

However, Chen said getting a promotion is the least of his concerns, while boosting tourism and the economy, and increasing residents' incomes are the priority.

According to local media, the county has received an increasing number of visitors in recent years. During major holidays, hotels in the county are always fully booked.

The wingsuit flying event, which included 12 participants from seven countries, including the US and Norway and was organized by one of his Tsinghua University classmates, has also yielded quick results.

According to, the Enshi news portal, the Women Valley resort, where the event was held, has recently received reservations from 27 travel agencies, and about 10,000 tourists will travel there ahead of the children's summer vacation.

In addition, the Badong government has inked an agreement with the event's organizer, and is planning to build a wingsuit flying training base in the county.

The Xinhua News Agency said in a commentary that Chen should be praised, adding that "Publicity stunts are acceptable as long as they are for the cause of the Party and people."

A 30-year-old man from Badong told the Global Times that Chen does have a good reputation among locals. "But it's sad that the general poverty situation remains unchanged."

Poverty relief bothers Chen too. "The place is too remote and backward, and the transportation network is poor, which hinders the prospects of tourism development," he lamented.

Newspaper headline: Poverty stunts

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