While it is not unusual to see villagers in China sometimes kneeling to petition for their rights or to seek justice from senior officials, Datong residents have gone down on their knees to plea for a popular mayor to remain in office.
Geng Yanbo has been mayor of Datong - a coal-producing city in northern Shanxi province - since 2008. But on Friday, he was ordered to step down and become vice-mayor following a decision by a regional government committee. It is still unclear what prompted the decision.
When news of his demotion was announced, thousands of residents took to the streets to petition for Geng to remain mayor, chinanews.com reported.
In video clips and photos uploaded online, people are shown carrying posters saying: “Please stay, Mayor Geng,” and “Datong needs you.” Some residents claim they have gathered as many as 10,000 signatures on one of their banners.
Dozens of residents then knelt and chanted: “Mayor Geng, please come back, Datong is your home.”
Datong news centre director Gu Shengming said several officials even wept during Geng’s farewell party. “I was also having a hard time, simply because Geng was such a fine mayor,” Gu added.
Geng, who has an MBA diploma, was known for his strong leadership, efficiency, and charisma, according to chinanews.com. Over Geng’s five-year-term, he carried out a series of urban re-developments. These included building roads, planting trees and restoring ancient cities. This was part of a strategy to promote tourism and end the region’s heavy reliance on coal.
Despite criticism of Geng for forcibly relocating some residents and the high cost of his building projects, many greatly admire his diligence, chinanews reported.
There have been other achievements. Statistics show Datong’s air pollution underwent significant improvement during Geng’s term.
In 2005, city’s air quality was ranked 115th out of 117 cities monitored. By 2012, it was ranked 47 out of 120 cities, according to data from the Ministry of Environmental Protection.