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MU SUI-XIN Mayor of Shenyang, a northern industrial city

In 1998, Mu has one of the toughest jobs in the country: mayor of Shenyang, a post he's held for just one year. In Shenyang, 85 percent of the economy is state-run and the workers there, once the proud elite of the communist state, are scrambling to survive now that state-run companies have been told to either become efficient and profitable or shut down.

Some experts estimate that of the city's 8 million people, 1.3 million were out of work in 1998. Demonstrations by laid-off workers and pensioners became an almost daily event.

"We have to change the way people think," Mu said. "Under the planned economy, workers' and officials' lives were managed from cradle to grave by the government. In the market economy, you're responsible for yourself. This is an historic change."

When producer Sue Williams revisits Mayor Mu in 1999, he still is trying to keep the lid on the city's explosive situation. He tries to reason with the protesters, who complain that the factories haven't been paying their pensions on time.

FRONTLINE's camera follows Mu as he gains a reputation as one of the party's most active and aggressive leaders. He performs well for the media, dashing from one meeting to another, trying to solve problems and encouraging people to take responsibility, seemingly trying to will the city out of its crisis. His position gives him extraordinary power and he doesn't hesitate to use it.


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It's 1999 and the tough, charismatic Mayor Mu is trying everything -- arranging loans, brokering deals -- to help create jobs in Shenyang. But unemployment keeps rising.

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But in 2000 when producer Sue Williams again returns to Shenyang, a corruption scandal has shaken the city and rumors swirl around City Hall and Mayor Mu.

photo of mayor mu of shenyang in custody

Shenyang's Mayor Mu in custody

By the following year, Mayor Mu's corruption scandal has paralyzed Shenyang's City Hall and derailed the reforms. At Mu's home, police found jewelry, gold bars, and cash -- evidence, prosecutors charged, that he had accepted bribes and kickbacks. Mayor Mu went on trial in September 2001. In a written statement, he admitted the charges.

"My heart has always been with the Communist Party," the statement said. "When I was young I was a very good person. Now I am very bad. This is my tragedy."

Mu was sentenced to death. The execution was suspended for two years, and he was sent to jail. Dozens more officials have been arrested and investigations are ongoing.

"As Mayor Mu's corruption case unfolded, that became extremely sensitive and no one would talk at all about it," says producer Sue Williams. "Some in the West have wondered, 'Why Mayor Mu?,' when corruption is endemic at all levels of the Party. And probably we will never know all the reasons why."

Mayor Mu died in prison, of cancer, in 2002.

 

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