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The novel 《秘书长》 was written in 2007 by 洪放 and is the first in a trilogy about the inner workings of the leadership of a fictional city called Nanzhou, mainly from the view of an official called 程一路, who is Nanzhou's 秘书长。 I don't think the book is seen as particularly controversial, but perhaps fed an appetite for people who wanted to know a bit more about local government. Presumbaly some of it is a bit out of date by now.


I'm re-reading the trilogy now and found it useful to dig out and add to a 'cast list' that I put together to help me remember who is who. @phills mentioned he/she was going to read the first book and might find the list interesting, so I'll paste it below. It goes to around halfway or more through the first book.


I think the novel is fairly straightforward in terms of language, except for the fact that - naturally - it's full of references to government positions and committees. I'm not mega-interested in how Chinese government works, particularly below the national level, but it's nice to have an idea. However previously just reading stuff on wikipedia didn't make too much sense, it was all a bit abstract. 书记 and 秘书 might both get translated as "secretary" but they are very different jobs! With these roles attatched to characters and personalities in a novel, it all starts to tie together.


I couldn't actually find a single resource online that spelled out how all the committees and different government posts work - I got lost in endless wikipedia clicks. So I tried to piece it together myself from what I could find online. I've gone through it again just now and turned it into something others might find useful - although with the warning that much of it could be very wrong indeed (and I would certainly welcome corrections, whether about details or where i've got the general idea wrong as well).


And I should say I have no idea if the novel itself is an accurate or fair depiction of how any of this stuff works!






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Cast list


These are not necessarily the official way of describing job titles, but often the description as copied/pasted from the text of the novel.
If it doesn’t mention the place, it’s Nanzhou (i.e. “Mayor” = “Mayor of Nanzhou”).


常振兴    Cháng Zhènxīng    副书记分管组织

陈阳    Chén Yáng    秘书

程飞跃     Chéng Fēiyuè    (see 二扣子    Èr Kòuzi)

程一路    Chéng Yīlù    市委秘书长        (市委常委会)    Father was pro-revolutionary, hometown 湖西县 although moved to (and CYL grew up in) 南州

迟雨田    Chí Yǔtián    人大常务副主任    (on the 市委常委会 as a non-voting delegate)

二扣子    Èr Kòuzi    Technically CYL’s nephew (侄) and calls CYL 叔    Real name 程飞跃. Engineer for highway

方浩然    Fāng Hàorán    政协主席    (on the 市委常委会 as a non-voting delegate)

方良华    Fāng Liánghuá      桐山县的县委书记    Left the RMB10k card early on in the book.

方子鱼    Fáng Zǐyú    省文化厅的副厅长    Formerly 挂职, wants to keep some of the old town.

冯军    Féng Jūn    仁义县的书记    A 战友 of CYL, a bit closer than 刘卓照, when CYL was 团长, 冯军 was 政委.
Figures he’s on his last chance to get to the 常委

顾成民    Gù Chéngmín    开发区的主任

郭雷    Guō Léi    Works at 湖海山庄

高主任    Gāo zhuren    省委政策研究室    ... 来南州调研民营企业发展

胡长松    Hú Chángsōng    双规!!    Was 省交通厅的厅长    

胡平    Hú Píng    香港大中集团的总经理

黄成中    Huáng Chéngzhōng    香港大中集团的主席

黄川    Huáng Chuān    财政局长

简韵    Jiǎn Yùn    TV journalist

蒋和川    Jiǎng Héchuān    南日的老总

李明    Lǐ Míng    办公室的副主任

李仁    Lǐ Rén    建设局的局长    (one of those that met quietly with 张敏钊)    

林晓山    Lín Xiǎoshān    省委的副秘书长    (ex-挂职)    Formerly: 南州挂职任副书记, had a big role to play in the 南日集团.

刘安生    Liú Ānshēng    省委宣传部副部长    (ex-挂职)    Formerly 南州挂职任副书记 (after 林晓山)

刘军    Liú __?    军分区的政委    (on the 市委常委会)

刘卓照    Liú Zhuózhào    湖东县的书记    A 战友 of CYL

鲁胡生    Lǔ Húshēng    南日的副总    Old comrade, friend, from CYL army days, actually a 老部下.

鲁小宝    Lǔ Xiǎobǎo    村支书 (桐山县的青树村)

马洪涛    Mǎ Hóngtāo    市委政研室主任    (市委常委会)

马怀民    Mǎ Huáimín    仁义县的县长

明心    Míng Xīn    大和尚

莫__    Mò __    Hs is a 处长, the 带队 of the 省人事厅

齐鸣    Qí Míng    省发改委的齐鸣主任    (ex-挂职)    Formerly: 来挂职做副书记    Unsuccessful candidate for 副省长     

钱昊    Qián Hào    湖西县    县委书记    Got ticked off for drinking at lunchtime

乔小阳     Qiáo Xiǎoyáng    省委组织部副部长        Leading the inspection team from the province about promotions etc

秋浩月    Qiū Hàomíng    省委常委、组织部长       (女)

任怀航    Rén Huáiháng    市委书记        (市委常委会)    

孙前进    Sūn Qiánjìn    国土局局长    (one of those that met quietly with 张敏钊)

王传珠    Wáng Chuánzhū    市委副秘书长

王浩    Wáng Hào    副书记        (市委常委会)    In charge of economic matters

王平原    Wáng Píngyuán    人事局的局长

王士达    Wáng Shìdá    市长            (市委常委会)    

汪卫     Wāng Wèi    宣传部长

王志满    Wáng Zhìmán    公安局的副局长
吴兰兰    Wú Lánlán    总理 of some sort at a big Beijing (?) company.    Former gf. of CYL. Father was CYL’s 老首长. Divorced from 高岩.

吴太平    Wú Táipíng    市建委副主任    Works at construction dept, was readied for job as 市建委副主任. Early on his promotion is blocked because of politicking by Wang

向倩    Xiàng Qiàn    Accountant, in car

徐成    Xú Chéng    组织部长

徐硕峰    Xú Shuòfēng    市政府常务副市长    (Has already served two full terms, CYL hopes for this job.)

叶峰    Yè Fēng    省委叶书记的侄子

叶开    Yè Kāi    CYL’s driver

叶小兵    Yè Xiǎobīng    工商局的副局长    Does the ‘spying’ on officials

叶正明    Yè Zhèngmíng    省委书记    

徐真    Yú Zhēn (F)    南州挂职的省妇联    , 副书记

阎丽丽    Yán Lìlì    湖海山庄的总经理    (女)

张风    Zhāng Fēng    建委下属的工程局的局长    Crew cut, HK gangster-style, gave  a 500Y card.

张敏钊    Zhāng Mǐnzhāo    副省长    Formerly 南州市委书记. Uncle of CYL’s wife

张晓玉    Zhāng Xiǎoyù    WIFE of CYL

张宜学    Zhāng Yíxuě    市政府秘书长

周守一    Zhōu Shǒuyī    公安局长    (one of those that met quietly with 张敏钊)    

朱潇峻    Zhū Xiāojùn    湖西县    县长 (?)    Got ticked off for drinking at lunchtime.


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南洲 A fictional city/municipality, Nánzhōu has 4m people and is located between the mid and lower Yangtse valley. It belongs to the fictional province 江南省. 南洲 has four counties I think:


仁义县    Rényì County
Its secretary is 冯军, a close 战友 of CYL.
Poor county, it’s a 山区县. Mining. Although poor, it topped the latest list for rate of economic growth.


湖东县    Húdōng County    
Its secretary is 刘卓照, another 战友 of CYL.
Tops the list for gross economic achievement.


湖西县    Húxī County.
Secretary is 钱昊.
Economically, not much better than 仁义县.
It’s CYL’s hometown, though his father moved the family to Nanzhou.


桐山县    Tóngshān County
Secretary is 方良华.
Also mentioned is a 村 belonging 桐山县, called 青树村.



南日集团    Nánrì Group    南州最大的民营企业

湖海山庄    Kind of hotel/guesthouse used mainly by the government, luxurious on the inside (lake etc) Its boss is 阎丽丽.

金大地    五星级的金大地酒店

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Key people at start:


程一路       Chéng Yīlù                       Nanzhou’s 秘书长 (abbrev. CYL)            

任怀航       Rén Huáiháng                Nanzhou’s Party Secretary

王士达       Wáng Shìdá                    Nanzhou’s mayor

张晓玉       Zhāng Xiǎoyù                 CYL’s wife

张敏钊       Zhāng Mǐnzhāo             Uncle of CYL’s wife; deputy provincial governor

叶开            Yè Kāi                                CYL’s driver


Early on we’re introduced to 林晓山 and 齐鸣 who are now at the provincial level but previously worked in Nanzhou on a 挂职 basis: 挂职 is where officials are sent to serve at a lower level unit for a period of time in order to build up experience before returning to their original place on the ladder or higher.

林晓山       Lín Xiǎoshān                   Provincial deputy 秘书长, previously Nanzhou’s deputy secretary.

齐鸣            Qí Míng                            Head of the provincial 发改 committee, previously Nanzhou’s deputy secretary.





The lead character in 《秘书长》is called 程一路 and he is a 秘书长 in a fictional municipality. 秘书长 is a party-level role. In short, as I understand it, it’s the dogsbody role on the standing committee, doing lots of day-to-day small jobs for everyone else. Perhaps more of a conduit between the Party leadership on the committee and people lower down who aren't on the committee.


秘书 means “secretary”, but in an every-day sense. Mustn’t be confused with 书记, also translated as “secretary”, but who runs a Party committee.

I guess there will be lots of lowly 秘书s in any government structure, but the 秘书长 is the most important of them (he’s a 长).


秘书长 gets translated confusingly as “secretary-general”. Yes he’s the main clerk! But in, say, the United Nations, the “secretary-general” is the top guy. 秘书长 is not the top guy…. Also the very top guy in China is the 总书记, translated as “general secretary”….


I suppose 秘书长 could be translated as Senior Clerk? But in my mind I just think of it as mìshūzhǎng.

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On 9/11/2021 at 8:21 PM, 889 said:

Since the 秘书长 is responsible for passing on orders and following up, doesn't he in fact have a lot of power?

He certainly has proximity to power - he sees more of the Party secretary than anyone else, and much of what's going on behind the scenes. The character often complains that people outside the inner circle overestimate how much power he has. But yes, he appears to have lots of discretion about how he handles the stuff he's told to handle, and the book would be rather less interesting were that not the case!

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@realmayo  Thanks for the wordlist !  I just started reading it, and being able to consult the Key People at the Start is quite helpful.


Right now I'm still kind of lost because I find it hard to picture any of the people in head.  Except for 程一路, the protagonist (Mr One Straight Way?), the rest of them are all faceless bureaucrat / politicians. 


Compared to 圈子圈套, I don't have any reference points for what any of these people care about (except maybe their own promotion or their budgets 争项目).  The language isn't too tough though, so I'm sure the picture will start filling in, as I continue onwards. 


Again much appreciated.

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I got a bit further in (chapter 8).  Chapter 1 starts off kind of dry, but it gets interesting once they introduce you to his wife, so you see some personal interactions of 程一路, our protagonist. 


Then in Chapter 3, the envelopes 信封 and VIP cards 贵宾卡 start flying, and Chapter 4 starts with an internal investigations, with hidden cameras and all.  Accompanied by very  persistent complaints by 老百姓, you start seeing the life of a 秘书长, beyond HR gossip & ass-kissing which can happen in any organization.


On 9/12/2021 at 3:21 AM, 889 said:

Since the 秘书长 is responsible for passing on orders and following up, doesn't he in fact have a lot of power?


He's in charge of running the investigations / discipline process that they start on lower ranked govt officials, so that automatically makes him powerful.  He doesn't get to decide much policy though.


So far, it reminds me of the House of Cards tv show (UK version).  程一路 is a bit like Francis Urquhart, except I doubt the author will turn him evil. 


Urquhart's famous line supposedly represents canny UK govt secretaries.  When talking to the press, he often says: "You may very well think that, but I couldn't possibly comment".


程一路's equivalent seems to be, when responding to unreasonable outbursts by superiors & colleagues: "最好的办法就是听而不答". 


... Also, there's way more drinking and dancing then I would have guessed before I started.  In 8 chapters, they've already had 3 drinking banquets and 2 dance parties.

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I'm a bit further in (about 2/3rds thru), and it seems my initial impression is wrong.  CYL is not like Urquhart at all.  He's masterful at dealing with the smaller things, but when the bigger fish get caught in the net, he's as clueless as the rest of staff. 


He then becomes of an observer rather than an actor.  Although it doesn't seem like he's in much personal danger, he does get tossed around by the political waves.  It's fun to watch him try to figure out what's going on.


I have no idea yet how things will resolve themselves, since I can't rely on western tropes.  I already thought there was going to be some sort of affair with 吴兰兰, but the story didn't go that direction.  Plus the uncle-in-law development caught me off guard.

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I finished it!  The last third is like watching a person carefully setting up dominoes and then finally setting it off.  All fall down.  Between 调整, 换届, 调查 and 双规, you feel the pressure  and uncertainty as even if they're safe, they don't know who else is safe, which means their ally network is de-stabilized, and they don't want offend anyone or to 闹事 or become 牵涉.


Overall the book is pretty interesting, and gives me a picture into a world I know little about (govt & politics of local cadres).  One mild complaint about it is that it can be a bit dry, because CYL is the main point of view character.  He plays the role of an observer, and he's clean, well-respected and safe.  He's a stoic, so he doesn't express too many emotions, and he keeps his head down.  The story would be more interesting if you could read a few chapters from the perspective of one of the other people, someone who is more hot-headed or is in trouble. 


On the other hand, I liked that I wasn't familiar with the style of Chinese political novels, so the story didn't march along the narrative conventions I expected.  There weren't huge plot twists, but the guys I predicted who would be the good guys and the bad guys were mostly wrong, or missed the point.  So I wanted to keep reading to see how things would turn out.


Finally, you get vocab in political & govt domain, and lots of practice parsing that language.  I feel I can read news articles better now; I no longer balk at the long titles, where you see 委, 长, 会 and 组 4 times in 6 characters, or 2 govt groups that have long names that seem similar & overlapping. 


Overall, the language isn't too difficult to understand, once you get the hang of the jargon, and the pattern of their speech / activities.  @realmayo's guide above helped a lot.  I expect to come back to part 2 after a few other books in the pipeline.


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Glad you thought it was worthwhile.


On 9/22/2021 at 7:15 AM, phills said:

I no longer balk at the long titles, where you see 委, 长, 会 and 组 4 times in 6 characters, or 2 govt groups that have long names that seem similar & overlapping.


Definitely. Bet you now know all you need to about 樟树 too!

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