A recent survey on government officials' "reading habits" found that
engagement in work and social functions leaves them little time to read.
The survey, designed by China Books Business Journal and Outlook
Oriental Weekly, investigated 100 leading officials from five randomly
chosen provinces across the country. The officials all acknowledged the
importance of reading but 87 percent blamed "busy work" and "too many
social engagements" for encroaching on their time for reading.
A "leading official" is usually a decision-maker for governance at a
certain level. Correct decisions stem from correct judgment, which, in
turn, depends on the official's knowledge of the matter to be decided.
Besides drawing from practical experience, one's knowledge comes primarily
from reading. Without adequate reading, no officials are really qualified
to fulfill their duty.
For instance, local leaders have a final say in deciding whether a dam
should be built. They need not to be geologists or hydrologists but should
have some elementary knowledge to understand the feasibility reports
submitted by professionals on a locality's geological and hydrologic
That is not a groundless supposition. In the 1970s, I was a teacher in
a rural commune. In 1974, the commune leader decided to build a dam across
a river in a valley. He chose the site at the place where the valley was
the narrowest because it would "need the minimum amount of earth work".
The decision was made in haste and the dam was built in several months.
A fellow teacher of mine was a graduate of a well-known hydroelectric
college. He told me that to build a dam needs investigation of local
geological conditions and study of historical hydrologic data
I didn't know if the commune leader had consulted the technicians from
the county-level water conservancy bureau but I knew nobody came to listen
to my colleague, who had the highest educational background in
hydroelectricity in the county.
It was the heyday of the "cultural revolution", when knowledge and
reading were despised as useless and even harmful. Intellectuals were sent
to work in rural areas away from their professions.
Just as the dam had taken shape, heavy spring rains dramatically raised
the water level of the upper stream and the dam burst. The flood swept
down the valley, causing deaths and destroying houses.
The commune leader was not a villain. He labored hard together with
local farmers to build the dam and refused to withdraw to safety as the
dam burst. But his contempt for science and knowledge had serious
Most of today's officials hold graduate degrees. But they also need to
constantly update their knowledge through reading.
Unfortunately, many of them indulge in social life - banquets,
ceremonies and parties under various names - and spend little time
reading. They complain that they cannot shun these social activities
because some of their work has to be done on these occasions.
That is an unfounded excuse. Moderate participation in these activities
may be necessary but a person of lofty character would love reading more
than yielding to the temptation of epicurean pleasures.
And reading can help a person rise above fleeting interests and develop
sound judgment -- a requirement for leadership.
(China Daily 06/06/2007 page10)