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Tall or short, workers honoured
By Fu Jing (China Daily)
Updated: 2005-04-22 22:31

Dozens of farmers-turned-workers, private entrepreneurs and even basketball star Yao Ming are among the central government's long candidate list of "national model and advanced workers" about to get a handshake and certificate from the nation's top leaders.

Tall or short, it is a great honour -- no matter how one measures the occasion.

Chinese President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao will present awards to the 2,100 winners in Beijing next Saturday, one day before International Labour Day.

"All of them are outstanding representatives of China's working classes," Zhou Yuqing, vice-president of All China Federation of Trade Unions (ACFTU) told Friday's news conference.

Zhou said it is the first time to include migrant workers and private company owners into the candidates of model and advanced workers.

He said the final list will be decided by the mid next week since award candidates are accepting assessments from the public through websites and newspapers.

So far, about 170 model and advanced nominees are under investigation because the public has questioned their qualifications.

Although a few provinces and cities have named private entrepreneurs model workers of local levels in recent years, entry into the national selection process had kept closed to the country's new-rich till this February, when the selection rules were formally changed to make them "eligible nominees."

"We opened the door to them because we want to encourage people from all walks of life to make contributions to the country," said Zhou.

Private entrepreneurs used to have no access to the national top award because they were once regarded as people making profits from others' labour.

When China launched its economic reform in 1978, the private economy has contributed nearly half of the country's economic strength.

Liu Yonghao, board chairman of the Sichuan-based New Hope Group who was once dubbed "China's richest person" on the Forbes annual most wealthy list, and made the candidates' list for having helped 4.59 million people out of poverty over the past decade by sponsoring nearly 10,000 projects in the country's poorest western and central areas, Xinhua reported.

In addition to about 30 private employers, some 20 farmers-turned-workers are going to receive the honours. Zhou said they have set wonderful example for China's 130 million migrants because of their integrity, skills and contributions.

Including athlete Yao Ming, Olympic champions Liu Xiang and Wang Yifu, are also on the list. Liu made history by winning the men's Olympic 110 metres hurdles in Athens last year and Wang has taken part in six straight Olympics since 1984, and won two air pistol gold medals in Barcelona and Athens respectively.

Vice-Minister of personnel Yin Weimin said Yao is a natural to be awarded, though the Goliath NBA star's nomination has fueled a heated debate among the public.

"We award him because of his patriotism," Yin told China Daily.

Yao now is working as a player on the Houston Rockets in Texas of the United States. But whenever China needs him, he returns and plays for his national team, Yin said.

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