Long-serving Guangdong governor Huang Huahua has stepped down after reaching the compulsory retirement age of 65 last month.
Guangdong's Provincial People's Congress accepted his resignation yesterday and named vice-governor Zhu Xiaodan acting governor, Xinhua reported. Huang had governed the province since 2003.
Huang, who was promoted to vice-governor in 2002, was the longest-serving governor in the province's history. There had been widespread speculation in recent years that he might step down before reaching the official retirement age due to a string of mass protests sparked by land disputes and strikes.
Huang's term in office accounted for almost a third of Guangdong's three decades of economic liberalisation, and political commentators said he had contributed to the province's outstanding economic growth, despite the challenges of severe acute respiratory syndrome in 2003, the global financial meltdown three years ago and the current pains of economic transition.
Huang, a native of Xingning county in Meizhou, was born in October 1946. He earned a mathematics degree at Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou in 1964 and joined the Community Party the next year. In 1988, he became deputy party head and mayor of Meizhou and 10 years later he was elected party head of Guangzhou, the provincial capital.
'He tried to boost the Guangdong economy and he did it,' said Liu Pinan, president of the Macroeconomic Research Institute at the Guangdong Academy of Social Sciences. 'It's a pity that he failed to handle relations between the provincial government and citizens, which resulted in countless mass incidents.'
Disputes over the use and acquisition of land escalated as the provincial government encouraged large-scale industrial and property development projects.
In one of the worst flare-ups, police shot dead at least three villagers involved in a land dispute in Dongzhou village, Shanwei, in December 2005.
'He should have paid more attention to the care of vulnerable groups and narrowing the gap between rich and poor,' Liu said.
Ding Li, a regional planning expert with the academy, said the Guangdong native always had to compromise with the province's party secretary, most likely someone from another province.
'The job of Guangdong governor is never an easy job,' he said. 'Huang is a very pragmatic official because he is a native and knows our province well, but our non-native party heads, such as Zhang Dejiang and Wang Yang, always thought in more advanced, strategic terms.
'Faced with such a situation, Huang tried his best to turn those advanced ideas into feasible measures that could be implemented.'
Ding also praised Huang's efforts in laying the foundation for the province's economic transition, including the implementation of the controversial Labour Law.
The Labour Law, passed two years ago, has increased labour costs in the province, causing many small- and medium-sized businesses to shut down and also leading to strikes at foreign-invested plants.
Former academy director Liang Guiquan said Huang had shown good judgment when dealing with political and administrative difficulties, but lacked the international perspective needed to attract global giants to help Guangdong's economic transition.
Said Liang: 'Huang failed to find a better position for Guangdong's future economic development.'