They may have demonstrated diligence and efficiency, but officials in a northern Chinese county now face an arguably more demanding challenge: earning a thumbs up from their parents, spouses and in-laws.
Leaders are refusing to promote officials unless they show sufficient filial piety, hoping they will set a good example to other citizens.
Assessors quiz parents, in-laws and spouses about how well they are treated. Complaints from disgruntled relatives are enough to veto a promotion.
Eleven cadres have already lost their chance to rise through the ranks. Even devotion to duty does not count as an excuse for neglecting their elders or their children’s education.
“If we want to help the public have filial piety, officials should take the lead,” said Qi Jinghai (齊景海), party secretary of Weixian County, Hebei Province.
Qi said he believes in the Confucian teaching that filial piety comes above all other virtues and that those who do not care for their parents cannot be trusted with public affairs.
The new policy has met with a mixed reception.
“Officials should show more filial piety to their parents than common people,” a local resident told state media. “I would doubt his ability to do his job if he doesn’t even treat his parents well.”
However, others have argued that the public needs competent officials rather than people who treated their parents well.
Huang Yunming (黃雲明), a professor of ethics, told Xinhua news agency that he feared there was no good way to determine whether a person was filial or not.
“It is a good try, but we need to come up with a better mechanism to put the theory into practice,” he said.
One cynical commentator on the Chujin Web portal observed: “In fact, many corrupt officials are filial. They usually reserve part of the public funds they embezzled for their parents, but how can the system favor these kind of filial cadres?”
During the cultural revolution filial piety was scorned as “old thinking.” In recent years communist leaders have sought to reinvigorate it — motivated not so much by moral concerns as by the very practical issue of how to care for an aging population.
China had 167 million people over the age of 60 in 2009 and research in the US predicts that figure will have risen to 438 million by 2050 — with only 1.6 working-age adults to support every over-60, compared with 7.7 in 1975.
Earlier this month officials told state media they were drafting a law to allow old people to sue children who did not visit them frequently enough. The authorities have also dished out “piety star” awards to reward the virtuous.
However, many complain it is unrealistic and unfair to expect everyone to care for their elders given the massive changes that China has seen. Tens of millions of migrant laborers work far from their home towns, while the “one child” policy has created families where a single adult is expected to support two parents and four grandparents.
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