2016-07-27 12:40:16

A village chief in a poor area of rural Sichuan province in southwestern China has resigned after coming under fire from his superiors for moonlighting as a feng shui master, despite the fact that he was elected democratically by village residents and widely supported.

Zhang Yuzhong, 50, had held his leadership position in Qinghui Village for 12 years before he resigned on Tuesday, after news of his moonlighting was widely reported by media. Zhang was accused of carrying out Taoist rites at funerals and operating as a feng shui master for hire.

Members of the Communist Party of China (CPC) are not permitted to engage in feudal superstitious activity, which includes the practice of feng shui. The CPC views such belief systems, as well as most religions, as incompatible with the doctrines of Marxism and Leninism on which it is founded. But Zhang has never been a party member, and, subsequently, questions have been raised as to whether he has broken any rules.

Chen Dingping, deputy secretary of the Huaide Township party committee, whose administration Qinghui Village falls under, said that there were no clear guidelines in place for village chiefs who weren’t party members. “With regard to acting as a part-time feng shui master, if he is a party member, then this is prohibited,” Chen was reported in the Huaxi Metropolitan Daily as saying. “But as Zhang Yuzhong is not a party member, there aren’t any clear guidelines to determine whether or not his behavior was appropriate.”

Zhang’s superiors seem to have taken issue with him having a part-time job while holding a post as village chief. “We believe he is no longer suitable to hold a governmental post,” Chen said. Huaxi Metropolitan Daily’s article on Wednesday reported that the Huaide Township government was deciding whether to ask Zhang to resign or put the matter up for a village vote. Before they reached a decision, however, Zhang left his post of his own volition.

In 2014, Zhang was reprimanded by his superiors and encouraged to focus more on his role as village chief, rather than his part-time work. “I complied with their request and in the last two years I haven’t done much feng shui,” Zhang told Huaxi Metropolis Daily. He said he felt he was treated unjustly as his feng shui work has stemmed simply from an interest in the practice he has fostered since an early age.

“Before I became a village cadre, everyone in the village knew I was doing this,” Zhang said. “If a family had a funeral, they would ask me to look after the feng shui and carry out the Taoist rites ceremony.” 

Zhang said that he would usually charge 80 to 120 yuan (around $12 to $18) for simple feng shui tasks, while a Taoist rites ceremony would cost the customer five to six thousand yuan, but would also involve calling in the help of five other people. 

Demand for Zhang’s services in the village shouldn’t come as a surprise, according to Chen Ming, deputy researcher in the department of religion at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. “In areas where traditional culture has been well-preserved, people are more likely to believe in feng shui,” Chen told Sixth Tone. In such places, he said, feng shui is a local custom and a part of life. 

“Whenever there is a funeral, the family will use his services,” villager Tang Guojun told Huaxi Metropolis Daily. “As long as it doesn’t break any guidelines then it’s not a problem, everyone understands.”

Comments on microblogging service Weibo were largely supportive of Zhang. Under a post by Huaxi Metropolitan Daily, one user named Travel commented, “He’s only relying on a basic salary; how can he afford to provide for his family?” Another user wrote, “There is not even a slight conflict with his position. Could it be that village chiefs aren’t allowed to have outstanding skills?”

After resigning, Zhang is not going to continue practicing feng shui, planning instead to see out his working life growing crops and rearing sheep. “I want to have a life that’s different to before,” he said. 

Additional reporting by Fu Danni.

(Header image: A man looks into a feng shui compass through a magnifying glass, Zhengzhou, Henan province, May 22, 2016. Yu Hongen/IC)