China: changing of the guard —amid same old repression

As expected, Xi Jinping was chosen as general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party at the 18th Party Congress in Beijing's  Great Hall of the People Nov. 15. The process, concealed from domestic and international observers, and was thoroughly choreographed; Xi, the incoming president, and Li Keqiang, the new premier, were probably chosen years ago. The 2,270 delegates also named the new Central Committee, a ruling council of some 200 full members and 170 non-voting alternates. The leadership change happens every 10 years. The congress had an official theme of "Accelerating the Transformation of the Economic Growth Model," with the official report opening: "We need to expedite the improvement of the socialist market economic system." The target of doubling gross domestic product growth by 2020, set during the 16th congress, was raised to doubling both GDP and per capita income. Xi's remarks called for addressing "corruption" and "inequality," but made no mention of Marxism or Mao Zedong Thought. (China Digital Times, Xinhua, BBC World Service, Nov. 15; Caixin, IOL, BBC News, Nov. 14; Worldpress, Nov. 6)

Born in 1953, Xi is the son of one of Mao's "first generation" elite, Xi Zhongxun, and spent the first year of his life within the walls of the Zhongnanhai, the palace that houses the Communist party headquarters, adjacent to the Forbidden City. The elder Xi was purged and arrested in 1962, and the son went back to the ancestral homeland of Shaanxi and lived in a cave for seven years. Xi Zhongxun was rehabilitated after Mao's death in 1976, and the son's career track was restored. The elder Xi fell out of grace again by speaking out against the repression at Tiananmen Square in 1989, but the son was by then well ensconced in the bureaucracy and was unaffected. After senior political roles in Fujian and Zhejiang provinces, he was appointed as Shanghai's party chief in 2007 and ascended to the all-powerful nine-member Standing Committee of the 25-member Politburo. The following year, he was named vice-president under Hu Jintao. He became a leading advocate of market liberalization and developing the private sector. (Business Insider, Nov. 14;  IBT, Nov. 2)

When Xi Jinping served as deputy party secretary in Fujian from 1995 to 2002 and party secretary in Zhejiang from 2002 to 2007, he gained a reputation for targeting independent trade unions. In 2002, eight activists in Fujian who formed an independent union were arrested and received sentences of up to 16 years. After Xi departed for Zhejiang, those imprisoned in the case were one by one granted clemency. Only the leader Li Jianfeng is currently believed to be imprisoned. During Xi’s tenure in Zhejiang, the province imprisoned several members of the China Democracy Party—one of the largest underground opposition parties. After Xi’s arrival in Beijing, he became the Standing Committee's pointman for supressing dissent.  (Dui Hua, Oct. 26)

In 2009, Xi famously blasted critics of China's human rights situation—in comments clearly aimed at the US: "There are a few foreigners, with full bellies, who have nothing better to do than try to point fingers at our country. China does not export revolution, hunger, poverty nor does China cause you any headaches. Just what else do you want?" Yet he visisted with Obama in Washington and toured the US in February 2012, with stops in Los Angeles and Iowa. (NYT, Nov. 4; NYT, Nov. 3; BBC News, Feb. 14)

In the prelude to the Party Congress, police and security personnel cracked down on dissidents, human rights activists and petitioners, with hundreds detained—part of the effort pioneered by Xi to "maintain stability" during "sensitive periods" with pre-emptive measures. Many in Beijing who are routinely under surveillance were subjected to greater controls, with guards stationed outside their homes, and police "escorting" them when they ventured outside. Police in the capital held activist Hu Jia under house arrest for over a month before the congress opened. (Chinese Human Rights Defenders, Nov. 1)

The heightened repression also came amid a new wave of labor unrest. A sharp increase in the number of wage arrears cases saw the total number of worker protests recorded by China Labour Bulletin reach 49 in October, the highest monthly total since the Hong Kong-based watchdog launched its "strike map" in January 2011. The largest protests were reported at Singapore's Flextronics International plant in Shenzhen and Hong Kong-based Win Hanverky's plant in Guangdong, which produces sportswear for Adidas. (China Labour Bulletin, Nov. 6)



Cold Warriors confused on China

The exile-based Epoch Times, which bitterly opposes the Beijing regime, ran an enlightening story Nov. 13, "Open Alliance of Power and Money Meets in Beijing." 

The state-run Xinhua News Agency recently published an article by China Economic Weekly titled "Red Entrepreneurs." The article reported that, according to incomplete statistics, 145 out of the 2,270 Party delegates are CEOs of state-owned enterprises, banks, and financial institutions, and of private enterprises from provinces and municipalities.

Bloomberg News published an article in February, titled, "China’s Billionaire People’s Congress Makes Capitol Hill Look Like Pauper," saying, "The net worth of the 70 richest delegates in China’s National People’' Congress, which opens its annual session on March 5, rose to 565.8 billion yuan (US$89.8 billion) in 2011, a gain of US$11.5 billion from 2010, according to figures from the “Hurun Report,” which tracks the country’s wealthy. That compares to the US$7.5 billion net worth of all 660 top officials in the three branches of the U.S. government."

The 18th Party Congress is hosting political and military elites, along with rich businessmen...

The feast of wealth began in 1990s in China, and now red aristocrats can be seen in every sector, including electricity, oil, real estate, the stock market, the financial sector, and so on. According to reports on the Internet, about 200 Chinese political families have monopolized China’s wealth.

A diplomatic cable leaked by WikiLeaks in August 2011 said former Chinese Premier Li Peng and his family controlled all electric power interests, Politburo member and security czar Zhou Yongkang and his cronies controlled the oil interests, while Premier Wen Jiabao’s wife controlled China’s precious gems sector.

Over 130 state-owned enterprises under the state-owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission of the State Council are said to be operated or managed by people who come from an official family background.

In fact, the biggest problem in China today is not the gap between rich and poor, but that the regime's insiders took the nation's wealth hostage long ago.

Um, now what exactly is the difference between these two concepts? In addition to being completely naive about the US ("In the United States, rich peoples' wealth is mainly attributed to personal capabilities"), Epoch Times seems to accept the Orwellian construction of "red entrepreneurs" at face value. We have noted before their outdated anti-Communist prism. Do they really think nothing has changed since 1945, when the constitution of the CCP read:

The Communist Party of China is the organized vanguard of the Chinese working class and the highest form of its class organization. The Party represents the interests of the Chinese nation and the Chinese people. While at the present stage it works to create a system of new democracy in China, its ultimate aim is the realization of a system of communism in China. [Quoted in Fanshen by William Hinton, p. 168]


OK, sophomoric exercise in historical irony over now...

"Red Dawn" reveals contradictions of new cold war

The 1984 jingo-fest Red Dawn was nearly an official piece of Cold War propaganda, given the advisory role of bellicose Secretary of State Alexander Haig (as Fast Rewind recalls), and the controversy over the current remake reveals much about the contradictory nature of the New Cold War with China—characterized by an uneasy tension between imperial rivalry and globalist interpenetration. When word got out that this time the enemy occupying forces of the American heartland would be Chinese rather than Russian, China's largest paper, Global Times, ran not just one but two angry editorials accusing Hollywood of "demonizing" and "planting hostile seeds against China." Producers MGM capitulated like spineless cultural-elite quislings, spending $1 million to go through the movie frame by frame and digitally alter every Chinese symbol seen on the screen into North Korean!

Of course in so doing, they sent the film's premise over the edge from wildly improbable to straight-up impossible. C. Thomas Howell, a star from the 1984 version, stated the obvious, telling USA Today: "Quite frankly, we all know North Korea cannot afford to invade itself. How is that going to happen? That's already stupid in my book."

Maybe the North Koreans will now protest too, as they did the execrable 2002 James Bond flick Die Another Day, Wikipedia recalls...

By the way, dig these shots from the movie at the Daily Mail. See those Chinese, I mean North Korean, propaganda posters...? See the one that says "Fighting Corporate Corruption" with the staff of a Communist flag skewering an image of the Wall Street bull? Is that supposed to make us think of Occupy?


China: apocalyptic cult makes rulers nervous —with reason

Lost amid the endless hoopla about the end-of-the-world panic last week is what a big deal it was in China—and how nervous it made the authorities. From NBC's Behind the Wall blog:

The government is taking one aspect of the doomsday talk seriously; it has reportedly rounded-up members of a religious group calling for the toppling of the Communist Party. 

The group, known as the "Almighty God," has called for a "decisive battle" to slay the "big red dragon," a reference to the Book of Revelation and the organization’s name for the Chinese Communist Party.

Nearly 1,000 members of the sect have been arrested, The New York Times reported. NBC News could not independently verify the number of detentions, but Chinese state media also reported that authorities had detained around 1,000 members over some seven provinces, Reuters reported.

This is not the first time that China has dealt with a fast-moving Christian cult it deems a risk to party rule. In fact, according to the newspaper, "Almighty God" has its roots in a sect that claimed it had 300,000 adherents called "Lightning from the East," according to Time Magazine in 2001.

Lightning from the East propagated the belief that Jesus had returned to earth in the form of a 30-year old Chinese woman who had written a third testament of the Bible and promised salvation from the coming apocalypse for all who joined her.

You can bet that China's rulers, in ordering the mass arrests, were recalling the Taiping Rebellion, a mid-19th century peasant upsurge against the Qing dynasty, with apocalyptic Christian overtones, that shook China for 15 years at a cost of millions of lives and nearly brought about the collapse of the imperial state. 

Such memories doubtless also inform the harsh crackdown on the Falun Gong movement. We are agnostic on the claims of Falun Gong leaders that their movement's imprisoned adherents are being killed so that their organs can be harvested. (Epoch Times, Dec. 21)   But it is bad enough that they are being imprisoned. It's been 12 years now since Falun Gong followers filled Tiananmen Square. (See The Telegraph, Oct. 2, 2000) It's a shame that just a decade after the 1989 Tiananmen Square movement was crushed, popular dissension was being exploited by an obscurantist and cultish sect. But the dissension remained real. And has probably only grown since then.
 

More clues to Xi Jiping's contradictions

The New York Times noted Feb. 14 that off-the-record comments made by Xi Jiping to party insiders in Guangdong in December were leaked by a blogger named Gao Yu (who seems to be associated with the Seeing Red in China website). In the comments, which may not be verbatim, Xi apparently said that China must heed the "deeply profound" (sic) lessons of the fall of the Soviet Union. "Why did the Soviet Union disintegrate? Why did the Soviet Communist Party collapse? An important reason was that their ideals and convictions wavered... Finally, all it took was one quiet word from Gorbachev to declare the dissolution of the Soviet Communist Party, and a great party was gone. In the end nobody was a real man, nobody came out to resist."

The Times notes the signifance that the comments were made in Guangdong: "In a province famed for its frenetic capitalism, he demanded a return to traditional Leninist discipline."

Xi's reference to "ideals and convictions" is very revealing—showing the propaganda utility of the Mao era for maintainence of the one-party state, even as the actual "ideals and convictions" of the Mao era are utterly betrayed. This is telegraphed by the reigning bureaucracy in other ways—e.g. in the continuing official denigration of the Cultural Revolution (also evidenced in the Bo Xilai affair). A Feb. 21 AFP report notes the strange trial of an octogenarian in Zhejiang who is charged with having carried out a murder in connection with the Cultural Revolution purges in 1967. This has actually sparked some wry commentary on Weibo, China's answer to Twitter. According to AFP, dissident attorney Liu Xiaoyuan posted: "The biggest murderer in the Cultural Revolution has no responsibility, while a common murderer is held accountable decades later." This is obviously a reference to Mao, without actually naming him. The fact that he (apparently) got away with this comment indicates how finely the line is drawn in contemporary China.

Of course this little game actually began with the Gang of Four trial, when scapegoats were needed for the Cultural Revolution to signal the consolidation of the "revisionist coup" (as the Maoists continue to call it today)—while Mao himself, safely dead, remained sacrosanct so that the regime could exploit him as a symbol of national unity. Note how these anti-Gang of Four propaganda posters all ironically invoke the style of Cultural Revolution propaganda posters from a decade earlier. Of course, you don't see anything like that in China today—but commercial adverstizing is just as crass and ubiquitous as in the West (see reports at Ad Age), and Col. Sanders' face is far more ubiquitous than that of Mao.

As we have noted.

China: golf courses for the rich, caves for the poor

A revealing juxtaposition of news stories. New Statesman is but one among several outlets to give play to Dan Washburn's new book, The Forbidden Game: Golf and the Chinese Dream. Golf is (appropriately) illegal in China, yet there is nonetheless a golf course boom going on—with the connivance of authorities. And the boom and illegality are another example of the paradoxical unity of opposites. Golf was banned under Mao for the same reason it is now being avidly embraced by China's contemporary elite—it is an ostentatious symbol of bourgeois profligacy.

Meanwhile OffGridQuest.com makes note of a story in the LA Times last year finding that up to 30 million Chinese currently live in caves. The report portrays cave life favorably, and we are not here to diss it. But we wonder if the ranks of the cave-dwellers is not growing as poor Chinese are forced from their homes by the country's real estate boom.