Officials need to read in order to lead
[ 2007-06-06 17:08 ]

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 conditions.

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 consequences.

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) 


About the author:

刘式南 高级编辑。1968年毕业于武汉华中师范学院(现华中师范大学)英文系。1982年毕业于北京体育学院(现北京体育大学)研究生院体育情报专业。1982年进入中国日报社,先后担任体育记者、时政记者、国际新闻编辑、要闻版责任编辑、发稿部主任、《上海英文星报》总编辑、《中国商业周刊》总编辑等职。现任《中国日报》总编辑助理及专栏作家。1997年获国务院“特殊贡献专家政府津贴”。2000年被中华全国新闻工作者协会授予“全国百佳新闻工作者”称号。2006年获中国新闻奖二等奖(编辑)。

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