Mayor impresses in debut swimming race
Barely two weeks after learning to swim, the mayor of Guangzhou has beaten a field of 2,000 swimmers in an annual race across the Pearl River, coming second only to his boss, the city's Communist Party chief.
Immediately after completing the 800-metre race across the heavily polluted river, Guangzhou party secretary Zhang Guangning congratulated Mayor Wan Qingliang on his feat, saying: 'You deserve to be our role model for succeeding in mastering swimming skills in such a short time.'
Wan in turn congratulated his boss for winning the race, praising Zhang's remarkable swimming skills and thanking him for his encouragement over the 12 days of arduous training during which he had learned to swim.
'To be honest, my swimming skill is by no means good enough to enable me to swim across the 800- metre-wide Pearl River,' Wan conceded. 'Without the help of flotation materials, I would not have been able to make it.'
Zhou Xiaohui, a police officer with the Public Security Bureau in Guangdong province, was similarly impressed by the leaders' prowess, saying: 'I found myself surpassed by secretary Zhang and Mayor Wan and was left far behind, although I led at the beginning.'
Another entrant in the race, Gu Guangping, an official with the China Southern Power Grid, was quoted by Guangzhou Daily as saying: 'To me, an 800-metre swim means nothing. But I was short of breath when I tried to catch up with secretary Zhang today.'
Yuan Weishi, a professor at Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou, criticised the event as nothing more than a well-choreographed political show.
'This truly reflects an undesirable custom in Chinese officialdom for hundreds of years, in which lower-ranking officials will spare no efforts to avoid stealing the limelight from their superiors, even in a game,' Yuan said.
He did, however, commend officials who each year jump into the Pearl River to raise public awareness of water pollution, an issue that has obsessed the city since the late 1980s.
Mayor Wan said the river's water quality had been upgraded from level five to level four after six consecutive years of swimathons, adding that 'sometimes it even reaches a high standard of level three'.
According to Guangzhou's environmental yardstick, level four is suitable for factory use, though it is not good enough for swimming.
Liu Jun, a Guangzhou resident who has taken part in the annual swimathon four times, told The Southern Metropolis News that the river was much cleaner this year than in previous years.
However, the visibility was still so low, Liu said, that he could not see his fingers in front of his face, let alone who was leading the race.