Shanghai civil servants hope for raise if 'stingy' Party chief gets promotion

A period of austerity could end if party boss Yu Zhengsheng moves on after a possible promotion at the national congress

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 20 October, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 20 October, 2012, 10:46am

Shanghai civil servants have their fingers crossed in anticipation that they could finally get a pay rise if municipal party boss Yu Zhengsheng moves on after a possible promotion at the Communist Party's upcoming 18th national congress.

The city's 100,000 civil servants have not seen a salary increase since Yu took the reins from president-to-be Xi Jinping in October 2007. The recent austerity is in stark contrast to the more generous days of Chen Liangyu, before he was shown the door amid corruption charges.

Many civil servants secretly blame Yu for keeping a tight rein on the local purse to burnish his image for the central government.

Whether such speculation is true, the fact that Yu - a native of Shaoxing city, Zhejiang province - never spent time in the Shanghai government before his appointment as party boss did little to improve his popularity among the bureaucratic corps.

Despite Shanghai's reputation as the mainland's most international and cosmopolitan big city, its government remains insular and clubby and shows a strong resistance to outside leaders. The "Shanghai gang" is alive and well.

The three Shanghai bosses before Xi - Chen, Huang Ju and Wu Bangguo, each spent decades working through the ranks in Shanghai before their promotion to the top post. Former president Jiang Zemin, who became Shanghai mayor in 1985, had worked intermittently in the city since 1947.

Yu belongs to the so-called princeling faction. Yu's father, Yu Qiwei, was the first mayor of Tianjin after the Communist Party's victory in 1949. Yu Zhengsheng's mother, Fan Jin, was vice-mayor of Beijing.

Many civil servants perceived Yu's appointment as Shanghai party secretary as sending a strong message that Beijing was tightening its grip on the city government. Now Shanghai civil servants are hoping things may soon loosen up.

Yu is widely tipped for promotion at the party congress - slated to begin on November 8 - although some say he may not be able to secure a seat on the Politburo Standing Committee, the epicentre of power. The possible promotion has Shanghai officials quietly sizing up his potential replacements.

Many support Mayor Han Zheng, a veteran Shanghai cadre who miraculously survived the scandal that toppled Chen in 2006. Having spent his entire political career in the city, including nine years as mayor, he certainly knows Shanghai well.

More importantly, civil servants believe that Han would make sure that his colleagues got a pay rise.

"If mayor Han were in power, he would certainly care about the needs of the subordinates," one Shanghai official said. "He understands our thinking and he certainly wants to do something to boost local officials' morale."

Despite Yu's poor popularity among local officials, civil servants admit that he has been enterprising during his tenure.

During the World Expo in the city in 2010, he would sometimes slip into the command centre and quietly watch monitors for hours. His easygoing manner and tendency to keep a low profile among senior party officials also earned him respect.

People were similarly impressed in November 2010 when he issued a public apology, accepting blame for a high-rise fire that killed 58 people. Yu's promise during a January 2008 inspection tour to raise the salaries of city bus drivers and conductors also won him support.

Indeed, Yu's prudent and progressive leadership has helped make Shanghai the world city it is today. Many civil servants are proud of their city's growing presence on the international stage and want to see that continue.

But they want a Shanghainese person in charge, preferably one who will raise their salaries.