A photo of a hardworking grassroots official in Yunnan province drew attention online over the weekend because it showed him with grey hair－which was surprising at age 38.
Li Zhongkai is Party chief of an impoverished village in Dayao county, Chuxiong Yi autonomous prefecture, where he has been working in poverty relief for six years. He was recently honoured for his performance.
County officials have been striving to remove the poverty label, and it's common for them to stay up late or have meals at irregular hours, which could have contributed to his grey hair, Li said.
"Most grassroots officials work extra hours to get the job done, and I do not deserve the special attention," he said in an interview with China National Radio.
Li became a topic of discussion online after the local Party organisation department released a list of nominees for government positions.
Li's photo, showing wrinkles and grey hair, made him seem much older than a person born in 1980－the year listed on his resume.
The drastic contrast led some to believe Li had tampered with his personal data to advance his career.
But the prefecture government said it had confirmed its authenticity.
Li lamented to the radio network that he "was indeed born in 1980, and I don't remember when my hair turned grey".
The photo was taken on Tuesday, and he had been in a hurry and hadn't had time to groom himself beforehand, he said.
"I took the photo at a studio at the county seat because I was filling in forms that required a profile photo," he said.
One social media user commented that appearance has no direct link to workloads, and people with an easy job do not necessarily look younger.
But Yuan Lingqing, an endocrine and metabolic diseases doctor in Changsha, Hunan province, told Chinese Business View that Li's grey hair is abnormal and could be a result of long-term anxiety, exhaustion and a resulting endocrine disorder.
"And exposure to extreme weather has accelerated the ageing of his skin," Yuan said.
China has pledged to eradicate extreme poverty domestically by the end of 2020.
A total of 125 counties have had their poverty labels removed since the start of last year, according to the central government.
A netizen said he had been in contact with some grassroots officials during a research project, and found that many were respectable and dedicated, and working for meagre wages.