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    Secretary Yan: China’s Latest Symbol of Lawless Privilege

    An angry mom went viral after bullying kindergarten staff by name-dropping a Party secretary.

    The curious case of a “Secretary Yan” has gone viral on the Chinese internet, and now even the authorities are getting involved.

    The discipline inspection and supervision committees of southwestern Sichuan province announced on Monday that they would investigate the case of Yan Chunfeng, deputy secretary of the municipal Party committee in Guang’an. Yan has inadvertently found himself embroiled in scandal after a woman invoked his government title to bully and intimidate staff at her child’s kindergarten.

    On May 10, a teacher at a kindergarten in Chengdu complained about a particularly naughty student on social app WeChat — without realizing that she had sent the message to a chat group full of parents. Hours later, the problem child’s mother responded, demanding that the teacher apologize — “or I will ask the leaders of your institution to explain what you meant by saying such words about Secretary Yan’s daughter,” she said, according to screenshots of the exchange. The irate mother later posted in the chat group that the teacher had been fired.

    The following day, the kindergarten issued a statement confirming the spat but denying that any staff had been disciplined.

    Since the dramatic episode, curious netizens have tried to find out who Secretary Yan is — and if he’s really as much of a big shot as the aggrieved parent would have others believe. They soon stumbled upon Yan’s page on Baidu Baike — China’s Wikipedia — and even found evidence of the tuition fee for the kindergarten in question.

    In the aftermath of the incident, unconfirmed photos of a document Secretary Yan allegedly sent to the provincial government were circulated online. In the document, Yan apparently explains that the woman involved in the WeChat spat is his ex-wife, and that he had no knowledge of her quarrel with the teacher.

    The strange story is reminiscent of a previous case that spawned its own enduring catchphrase: “My dad is Li Gang.” In 2010, the son of a deputy police chief in northern Hebei province shouted the phrase at the police officers who apprehended him after he struck two people — one of whom died — while driving his car on a university campus. The phrase has since become a tongue-in-cheek way of criticizing those who act as though they’re above the law because of their connections to people in power.

    A Tuesday commentary from state broadcaster China Central Television describes the Secretary Yan case as a trivial matter that had been magnified because it involved a government official. Yet given that the story had blown up to such a degree, the author urges Secretary Yan to respond publicly.

    “Silence isn’t necessarily golden,” writes the author. “In the vortex of public opinion, one has not only the responsibility to report to one’s organization, but also the responsibility to be frank and honest to the public. This is the spirit of rule of law in the online age.”

    Editor: David Paulk.

    (Header image: Parents wait to pick up their children outside a kindergarten in Beijing, April 23, 2011. VCG)