‘Fault Lines On The Face Of China: 50 Reasons Why China May Never Be Great’ - Excerpt 9
“Politicians who have to appeal to the electorate need to develop star power. Think of Bill Clinton. Think of Tony Blair. Think of Nicolas Sarkozy, or Junichiro Koizumi. Think of up and coming Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama. Politicians from democracies are sexy.
These leaders sought power by taking their case to the people – by showing the people they had a vision and understood the needs of the country. These leaders earned power. Some of them became mired in scandal, yet they never quite lost their star quality. Their sexiness.
But China’s politicians have never earned power in this fashion. They have never had to answer to the people they ostensibly serve. Ever since 1949, when ‘New China’ was founded, the Communist Party has used violence, fear and intimidation to keep its grip on power, rather than take its case to the citizens of the nation. There’s no point in being sexy if you’re a Chinese politician.
China does not have any sexy or charismatic political figures like JFK or Churchill in its recent past. While both these magnetic politicians had flaws, they also had many powerful qualities which enabled them to shape their nations for the better. But even the powerful leader of ‘New China,’ Mao Zedong, could only bring misery and suffering, balanced by few positive characteristics. There are no Lincolns or Washingtons in Chinese history, no Benjamin Disraelis or Horatio Nelsons. Even regally, there is no Queen Elizabeth the First or Queen Victoria. There is no Uncle Sam, or John Bull. No St. Nicholas. No Harry Potter and certainly no Mickey Mouse.”
I have a theory. I think the reason Chinese politicians are so unsexy is because there is a sum total of sexiness available in Chinese society, and Chinese women have somehow absorbed it all. The Shanghai women especially – so smart, so stylish, so sexy. How else to explain their passion for life – and their passion in bed – compared to China’s leaders, a bunch of dyed-hair, buttoned-down, stuffed-up, Brylcreemed, identikit-suited wind-up manikins?
Watch a Chinese politician speak. Watch Hu Jintao giving a speech, his lack of warmth, energy. Look at the politicians lined up at the big Party pow-wows, a line of wax dummies. It’s just one more of the many reasons why the Chinese people have no respect for their politicians.
When Hu speaks, what you never see is the demeanor of an elected leader trying to connect with the citizens of the country. What you see is the dour, abrupt face of the dictator. Not the dictator in the Adolf Hitler mode, trying to whip the people to a frenzy with rabid, nationalistic oratory, but the technocrat dictator, sour, unyielding, expecting his orders to be obeyed without question. Hu plays the role of chief executive of China in the style of the most colorless, faceless accountant. To look at him on the podium, you might not think that this was the man who had sent hundreds of Tibetans to jail – and to their deaths - when he was in charge of that country a few years back.
But even the Communist Party, glacially impervious as it might seem to change, can, like a glacier, melt – if only a little.
I am thinking here of Wen Jiabao, China’s Prime Minister. The recent earthquake, so bad for the 80,000 Chinese now dead, has been pretty good for him; he has become ‘Grandpa Wen’ – a piece of rebranding that seems to have worked rather well. He’s been popping up all over the Chinese media, doing his best to project warmth, humanity. Now, sure, he’s a bit ham-fisted at it – that’s an unavoidable side-effect of a whole career spend being a bastard (the only way to get to the top in Chinese politics) – and when he hugs a photogenic child he looks more like he’s handling an unexploded bomb than a fellow human being.
The Chinese people, apparently easily convinced by this simple media campaign, approve of him. Seemingly, all it takes is a few stage-managed smiles, and all the Party’s crimes, all its corruption, all its grotesque mismanagement of China, are forgotten. ‘Grandpa Wen’ is right at the forefront of a rising sense of pride in the Party. Many of my friends have said ‘Look how quickly the Party has responded to the quake – sending in the army and police to help, finding new homes for the homeless, providing food and medicine.’
Sure – but no questions about the Party mismanagement that was so directly responsible for the massive death toll among schoolchildren.
One friend even argued that the aftermath of the earthquake proved socialism was better than capitalism. ‘Look how all the people worked together to help the victims’ he said. ‘That shows our political system is better.’
Communism getting the credit for basic human decency. Score one for Party propaganda.
But propaganda and popularity can bite you back. ‘Grandpa Wen’ had better watch out. There’s another reason why Chinese politicians are never sexy – standing out too much, being too much the individual, can be dangerous.
Consider Zhou En-lai. He too was beloved, popular, and, by god, Mao Zedong made him pay for that. Mao killed him for it – refused to let Zhou get treatment for the cancer he developed until it was too late to cure. This, of course, is something the people of China do not know, and I expect many to pop up on the comments to say I am talking nonsense. But Chinese politicians know their Party history. They remember Zhou. Many of them saw how Mao tortured and harassed Zhou. They know what Mao was.
Right now ‘Grandpa Wen’ is riding high. Right now that’s good for the Party. Right now it helps support Hu’s control of the nation. Other top politicians, like Xi Jinping, tried to get their snouts into the limelight. But they couldn’t catch up with Wen. Good for Gramps.
But that won’t last. I’m sure Wen remembers 1989, when he stood behind a popular politician of the time, Zhao Ziyang, who spent the rest of his life under house arrest for the 'crime' of being sympathetic to the Tiananmen Square students, and died in 2005. I’m sure Wen remembers the ‘re-education’ he underwent.
Shanghai used to have a popular and charismatic mayor, Xu Kuangdi. He got too much limelight, so he got demoted, kicked down to some meaningless talking-shop role. Mind you, one spicier rumor says part of his demotion was due to pissing off the Party boss of the time, Huang Ju. The scuttlebutt is Huang was expected at a big meeting in Beijing, chaired by the then-PM, Zhu Rongji. Huang didn’t make it and Xu, present at the meeting, gave the game away – ‘Huang is shacked up with his mistress in Shanghai.’ On hearing this, Zhu (renowned as a hot-tempered guy) lost his rag and demanded Huang be ‘escorted’ up to Beijing ASAP. After Huang’s loss of face, Xu’s goose was cooked, and Huang made sure he paid.
Yeah, in China, it’s best not to stand out, whether you’re at the bottom of society or the top.
‘Fault Lines On The Face Of China: 50 Reasons Why China May Never Be Great’ - Excerpt 10
“`Having a nubile, young mistress is not only fashionable for China’s middle-aged officials partial to a spot of corruption but also a perfect cloak for taking a bribe’ explained Chinese media in summer 2007, announcing a new regulation to tackle bribery. Many corrupt officials kept ‘clean hands’ by funneling bribes through family members or lovers. The new rules meant that “for the first time prosecutors will no longer need to provide evidence of the involvement of a mistress in order to convict an official charged with accepting bribes.” Under the new guidelines, Zhao Zhanqi, a transport chief in eastern Zhejiang Province, was sentenced to life in prison. He had taken a bribe of 550,000 yuan through his mistress, Wang Peiying, to award an airport construction contract. As well as this sum, Zhao took a further 5.6 million yuan (US$737,000) via his son.
But mistresses only get reported when the leader in question falls from power. This ensures that most politicians in China are never associated with a ‘human’ side, but remain remote and unknowable figures. There is no way for the population of China to feel any connection with their leaders, and nor are their leaders individual enough to inspire affection or emulation.”
And remember -- T for Tibet, X for Xinjiang at the upcoming Olympics.