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Chinese villagers forced to buy cellphones to qualify for welfare

The party secretary of Zhangxian has been fired for telling villagers that they wouldn’t qualify for aid unless they bought a cellphone.

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An Apple store employee introduces the iPhone 4 to a customer in Beijing, China. (Feng Li/Getty Images)

This just in: China's Communist Party may in fact be serious about rooting out corruption.

A Party boss in Gansu province's Zhangxian village has been sacked, according to media reports, after telling villagers they had to buy a cellphone in order to qualify for aid.

The South China Morning Post reported that Party Secretary Qian Caiping told villagers they wouldn’t qualify for dibao, a 100 yuan stipend for low-income rural households, if they didn't buy a cellphone and phone cards.

His reasoning? He wanted to “raise the intelligence” of the villagers.

“[Villagers] need to know what’s going on in China. They need to be informed,” Qian told China Network Television, according to the South China Morning Post. “Some of them barely have any idea what went on at the 18th party congress.”

But it turned out Qian was in cahoots with a county telecoms provider to sell cellphones and phone cards, the report said.

Shocker.

GlobalPost's senior correspondent for China, Benjamin Carlson, says that Qian's sacking represents that "the Party is trying to show it is serious about eliminating corrupt officials — at least those who get caught red-handed."

Whether this extends to more structural reforms on corruption is still an open question.

Chinese citizens are increasingly worried about corruption among officials, an October 2012 Pew Research Center study found, according to Bloomberg News.

Fifty percent of poll respondents said official corruption was a very big problem, up from 39 percent in 2008.

Costing about 200 yuan, the phones were a reach for most in a county where GDP per capita is just 1,600 yuan per year. Many of the villagers don’t know how to read or use a cellphone.

Officials said that villagers have now been able to return any phones they were coerced into buying, and the situation has been “rectified,” according to the South China Morning Post.

More from GlobalPost: China's bridges and dams crumble under corruption

Benjamin Carlson contributed to this report from Hong Kong.

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/asia-pacific/china/130128/chinese-villagers-forced-buy-cellphones-qualify-welf