WUHAN, June 23 (Xinhua) -- A 29-year-old man who is believed to be China's youngest city mayor on Tuesday admitted he understood the reasons for a heated debate on the Internet over his youth and alleged inexperience.
Zhou Senfeng, formerly acting mayor of central China's Yicheng City, was elected mayor Sunday in a secret ballot of the city's People's Congress.
Zhou told Xinhua by e-mail, "The concerns about my inexperience are reasonable, I should say.
"As a youthful mayor born after 1980, I lagged far behind senior officials in experience," said Zhou, a graduate of the prestigious Tsinghua University, known as a cradle of senior officials, such as President Hu Jintao.
"But what young officials need is the stage where they can perform. We will develop better given such a stage."
In a country where such officials are usually not elected till their mid 30s or even early 40s, Zhou pledged as his appointment to "live up to the people's expectations and be fully devoted to the development of Yicheng."
"I am inspired and moved when I knew I had been elected mayor," Zhou told Xinhua.
"As a young mayor, I will keep expanding my horizons and keep learning from people around me," he added.
His appointment coincided with the government's campaign to foster more young cadres.
In March, Vice President Xi Jinping said the training and selection of young cadres was "of great importance for the lasting stability of the Party and the state."
"It is obvious to all that he is very talented and hardworking," said an official surnamed Wang, who was Zhou's colleague in Xiangfan City. "Every colleague of Zhou speaks highly of him."
The appointment, however, sparked a heated debate in cyberspace,with the major disagreement centered on his age.
More than two thirds of the 20,000-plus respondents to an online survey by sina.com said they "accept Zhou's election as mayor at such a young age as long as the election was fair and square."
"His age is not a problem as long as he is qualified for the job," said one posting from Beijing on Sina.com.
But a quarter of the respondents bombarded the young mayor withharsh criticisms, saying he was too young to be a mayor.
"I have been a civil servant for 20 years and I am still a low level official," said one posting from the northwestern Shaanxi Province. "Zhou, who served in the government for only five years,must have connections to reach such a position so soon."
Many people requested the local government to provide details of the mayor's family background.
But Zhou said in his reply to Xinhua that he was born to an ordinary family and his parents lived in the countryside.
"Both of them are peasants and none of my relatives are officials," he said.
Other netizens accused Zhou of being too young and lacking experience.
"A mayor should be experienced and sophisticated to handle thorny issues such as corruption, poverty and social unrest," saida posting from Yicheng. "I do not think such a young man can handle it."
More than 90 percent of 2,300 respondents to an online survey launched by people.com.cn and the cpc.people.com.cn in April said they considered the experience of most young cadres was relativelylimited and they should have more experience of life before being given decision-making authority.
"Age does not matter as long as he is able to handle problems such as social unrest and the grassroots problems in the countryside," said Gao Xinmin, a professor with the Party School of the Central Committee of Communist Party of China.
An official with the city government said Zhou was low-profile and down to earth, and wanted to downplay the news.
A teacher from Yuzhou Third Senior School, where Zhou graduated,said the mayor had called the school, asking them not to give any information to the media.
"The mayor said he was under great pressure and did not want tobe in the spotlight," said a teacher at the school.