Category Archives: Communist Party

Last Takes on the Party Congress

A few more before the Congress fades out and life under the new regime begins. First, from Evan Osnos:

On Thursday, however, the Great Hall of the People returned to its full orthodox splendor, if only for a few hours, for a peculiar ritual to mark the arrival of the new Standing Committee of the Politburo, the group of seven men who will lead the People’s Republic for the next ten years. (If they succeed, China’s Communist Party will have edged out the Soviet Union for the title of history’s longest-serving authoritarian regime.) Their début is, by tradition, a kind of Communist catwalk—officially, a “meet the press” opportunity, though no questions are asked, and none are answered. It is a performance as retro and choreographed as “Cats,” but, in its details, it gave us a few intriguing hints about the men who will seek to project China’s Communist Party into the future.

In person, Xi is a sharp contrast to the man he replaces, the robotic Hu Jintao, who spoke esoteric jargon about “harmonious society” and “a scientific outlook on development.” Hu leaves office unloved.

Divining anything about Xi’s politics from his public persona is a mug’s game, but one thing is beyond doubt: he conveys an understanding of style that utterly eluded his predecessor, and an awareness that he will be judged more openly and mercilessly than any paramount Chinese leader before him. His citizens’ experience with technology, prosperity, and cynicism has forced him to confront a problem that is now more acute than his predecessors ever faced: he was never elected, but he must figure out a way to be liked.

Those gestures of populist sensibility—the sense that, like it or not, the Party must figure out a way to be responsive—stand out especially because they are at odds with the credentials of the men that Xi will have by his side. Xi did not choose them exactly; they are a compromise between powerful families and factions. And when the members were unveiled, their composition confirmed what pundits had predicted: reform-minded candidates had been sidelined. Instead, the Party chose some of its most ardent conservatives. One is a seasoned propagandist. Another received his economics training in North Korea. They were so faithful to precedent that all but one wore a nearly identical dark suit and red tie.

When it was all over this morning, and the seven men had returned once again to the secluded backstage of the Great Hall of the People, trailed by their security, and the stage where they had stood was suddenly empty. I walked up to the spot where Xi Jinping had stood to deliver his remarks. It was carpeted in a brilliant shade of red, and at his feet there was a small piece of tape in the shape of the number one, to indicate where the most powerful man in China should stand. He looked out over a line of poinsettias and ferns, to a wall of cameras, and a world of expectations from his people. It must have been terrifying.

Next, a speculative piece from Bloomberg:

China’s new leadership, headed by Xi Jinping, will probably unveil new market-oriented changes in late 2013, according to Li Jiange, head of the country’s biggest investment bank.

Li, chairman of China International Capital Corp. and a vice chairman of state-owned Central Huijin Investment Co., which holds stakes in the nation’s biggest lenders, said the focus will probably be on reducing government intervention in the economy and breaking up state monopolies. Li spoke at Caixin Media’s annual conference in Beijing yesterday.

“Expectations are high” for the new leadership to make changes as government intervention, ranging from excessive regulation to rigid price controls, has become “unbearable” over the last couple of years, said Li, who previously worked for the Development Research Center, an organization that advises the State Council, China’s cabinet.

“When inflation was high, many Chinese stores, merchants and even producers received phone calls from regulators telling them not to increase prices,” Li said. “But how can a supermarket not change the price of pork if hog prices are rising,” he said.

There are also some sources speculating that Xi is planning to unveil changes to religious policies with an eye towards improving the situation in Tibet and Xinjiang- more if I see a proper writeup about it. Next, Susan Shirk at Chinafile says that the age of China’s new leaders may have been a key point in choosing this seven-person group:

So without an election, how did the self-interested supremos manage to agree on how power at the top would be shared?

But there is a third possibility that looks just as plausible: namely, reliance on a seniority principle. The new PBSC is more than one year older on average than the last one (63.4 vs 62.1 years). The new leaders who were promoted to the Standing Committee are all sixty-four years old or older. Of the seven members, all but General Secretary Xi Jinping and the presumptive premier Li Keqiang will need to retire in five years after one term. At that time, five (or more, depending on the size of the next PBSC) additional politicians now on the Politburo will get the chance to move up.

Seniority, plus a norm of five-year instead of ten-year terms, allows power, patronage, and the other rewards of top office to be shared more widely so that no one loses too much. Xi Jinping can work to get his close associates into the PBSC in 2017.

In this transition, there were eight Politburo members competing for five PBSC slots, which means three disappointed and potentially disgruntled losers: Wang Yang (age fifty-seven), Li Yuanchao (age sixty-two), and Liu Yandong (female, age sixty-seven). Wang Yang and Liu Yuanchao likely will be consoled with a soft promise (not enforceable, of course) that they will move up next time. The only one who has reached the glass ceiling is Madame Liu, and they are probably counting on her, as one of the very rare women ever to rise to a senior political position, not to push back.

Seniority, a useful rule for managing the social strain of competition in organizations everywhere, has helped the CCP leadership solve the power-sharing problem this time around. But it has worsened its credibility problem by widening the gap between the Party’s rhetoric about intra-party democracy and the highly secretive and concentrated process its leaders actually used.

And finally, Edward Wong on the lack of real meritocracy in the Party:

The Communist Party and its acolytes like to brag that the party promotion system is a meritocracy, producing leaders better suited to run a country than those who emerge from the cacophony of elections and partisan bickering in full-blown democracies. But critics, including a number of party insiders, say that China’s secretive selection process, rooted in personal networks, has actually created a meritocracy of mediocrity.

Instead of pure talent, political patronage and family connections are the critical factors in ascending to the top, according to recent academic studies and analyses of the backgrounds of the leaders.

In the United States and other Western countries, some prominent political families have certainly wielded power through successive generations — think of the Kennedys or Bushes — but entrenched dynasties and the influence of elders are becoming particularly noteworthy in China. The increasing prevalence of the so-called princelings, those related by birth or marriage to earlier Communist Party luminaries, is one sure sign that family background plays a decisive role in ascending to power. Four of the new standing committee members, including Xi Jinping, come from the red aristocracy. One of them, Wang Qishan, who seems to prefer blue ties, married into it.

“Xi Jinping himself didn’t come to power because of outstanding political achievements,” said Pu Zhiqiang, a rights lawyer, who added that he believed the new leadership was “quite mediocre.”

“Normal logic is that based on a meritocracy, whoever is better in terms of performance should be picked,” said Bo Zhiyue, a scholar of Chinese politics at the National University of Singapore. “But in Chinese politics, they have a logic of reverse selection,” he added. “If A is better than B, then A should be eliminated.”

That antimeritocracy logic was at work even in the assigning of portfolios. Many political insiders say that of the seven men, Wang Qishan, with his years of experience in the finance sector, would be the most able to take on day-to-day management of China’s economy. But they said he was shunted aside to be head of an anticorruption commission because Li Keqiang, the second-ranked party member and designated heir to the title of government premier, which carries overall responsibility for the economy, and other leaders feared sharing that power with the confident Mr. Wang would cause friction.

“It’s sort of absurd,” said Wu Jiaxiang, once an adviser to Zhao Ziyang, the party chief purged during the 1989 student uprising. “It shows how power games can distort the arrangements.”

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Party Congress Reaction Roundup

The NYT covers the end of the Congress:

Minutes before noon on Thursday, after a confirmation vote by the party’s new Central Committee, Mr. Xi, 59, strode onto a red-carpeted stage at the Great Hall of the People accompanied by six other party officials who will form the new Politburo Standing Committee, the elite group that makes crucial decisions on the economy, foreign policy and other major issues. Before their appearance, the new lineup was announced by Xinhua, the state news agency.

“We have every reason to be proud — proud, but not complacent,” said Mr. Xi, looking relaxed in a dark suit and a wine-red tie. “Inside the party, there are many problems that need be addressed, especially the problems among party members and officials of corruption and taking bribes, being out of touch with the people, undue emphasis on formalities and bureaucracy, and other issues.” He added, “To forge iron, one must be strong.”

Mr. Hu, 69, also turned over the post of civilian chairman of the military on Thursday to Mr. Xi, which made this transition the first time since the promotion of the ill-fated Hua Guofeng in 1976 that a Chinese leader had taken office as head of the party and the military at the same time. That gives Mr. Xi a stronger base from which to consolidate his power, even as he grapples with the continuing influence of party elders.

Two points from Isaac Stone Fish on the differences with this new generation of leaders:

-They’re not engineers any more.

In 2006, each of the nine members of the Politburo Standing Committee had trained as an engineer; then-President Hu Jintao studied hydropower while his Premier Wen Jiabao was an expert in geology. That started to shift with the ascension in 2007 of China’s new leader Xi Jinping (he studied law along with chemical engineering) and his deputy Li Keqiang (who studied law and received a PhD in economics). The latest lineup features a far more diverse band of former economists, research fellows, and even a journalist. Without reading too much into how career background affects leadership styles — a 2006 article comparing U.S. and Chinese leaders in Bloomberg said that “engineers strive for ‘better,’ while lawyers prepare for the worst — it does mean that they bring a more varied set of experiences to the job.

-China’s new leader is far more personable than the last chairman.

By smiling and seeming relaxed, Xi already proved himself a far more natural presence than Hu Jintao, the faceless, stiflingly boring bureaucrat who stepped down yesterday. Hu and his interregnum of boringness was the exception rather than the rule. The despotic Mao Zedong astounded people with his charisma; the 4’11 Deng Xiaoping, who ran China in the 1980s and 1990s, charmed with his smile. Even though nature bestowed Jiang Zemin, Hu Jintao’s predecessor as president of China, with less of an ability to appear at ease, he at least tried to be likeable. If we’re lucky, Xi will end the last decade’s tradition of devastatingly boring speeches.

And finally, a strong piece from Sophie Richardson of HRW on what Xi and company could do right now to fix some of China’s human rights problems:

1. Set the Courts Free

Creating independent entities whose highest loyalty is not to the party but to the law itself would go a long way towards stemming corruption and renewing some of the waning faith in the system. Xi could abolish the party judicial committees that dictate some court rulings, and allow for the establishment of a truly independent bar association and for lawyers to operate according to their professional judgment rather than local officials’ political concerns. Such changes will invariably mean more prosecutions of party members and challenges to various laws, but a wiser leader would prefer to see these play out in a courtroom than face public ire and international embarassment.

2. Liberalize the Press

The Chinese constitution already provides lip service to freedom of expression, but the rise of the Internet has made censoring and controlling media content an endless and ultimately losing battle. Yes, a free press will mean embarrassing scandals and criticism of the government, but this is already happening. The benefits to the government of good information from China’s many excellent journalists and the opportunity to explain government initiatives devoid of propaganda could temper the discomfiture of exposure.

5. Improve Treatment of Ethnic Minorities

Beijing’s policies in Tibet and Xinjiang, which constitute about half of China’s territory, may be its greatest human rights failure over the last decade. Massive investment and infrastructure development have done little to offset the anger and despair of Tibetans and Uighurs forced to endure ever-tightening restrictions on their culture, language, movements, and religion. In the wake of protests in Tibetan areas in 2008 and in Xinjiang in 2009, the central government did not address underlying grievances, instead responding with enforced disappearances and harsh sentences. Since that time, access to both regions has been heavily restricted. It should be a source of profound shame and sense of failure to Beijing that at least 62 Tibetans have chosen to protest these policies by setting themselves ablaze, and it is hard to see the disproportionate indictment of Uighurs on state security charges and the razing of ancient parts of the Silk Road city of Kashgar as anything other than a grim indications of Beijing’s strategy for these regions.

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“Party Congress Diary, Day 4″

FP’s Kathleen McLaughlin has been posting updates from Beijing over the last week, and her latest is a look at the unrelenting sexism of the Communist Party:

Moving in synchronicity with their interchangeable smart suits and tidy hairstyles, the most noticeable women at the 18th party congress are, by design, part of the backdrop. Several hundred young women, chosen from a nationwide search, are working during the week as “ceremony girls,” a ubiquitous feature of official China, inside both the Great Hall of the People in Beijing where the congress is being held and the media center in the Western part of the city, as the Chinese Communist Party installs its next generation of top leaders.

Serving tea, ushering people to their seats, and standing in neat rows while posing for the cameras, “ceremony girls” are ever present in official China, from the sexy soldiers marching in China’s 60th-anniversary parade in 2009 to the young women delivering medals at 2008’s Beijing Olympics.

Their constant, attentive presence is a glaring reminder of what is forever missing from China’s top tier of power: women. They can pour tea with a smile, but they don’t get a seat at the table.

Gender discrimination often seems to be getting worse in China: Although a large percentage of Chinese women are employed (70 percent, compared with 25 percent in India), urban Chinese women earn about 67 percent of what men make, according to a 2010 survey from the All-China Women’s Federation. This summer, women in Guangzhou shaved their heads in protest of growing discriminatory policies around the country that require girls to score higher than boys on college entrance exams.

China’s ranking in the World Economic Forum’s annual Global Gender Gap report, which measures gender parity, is falling, from 57th place in 2008 to 69th this year.

“The gender-equality situation in China has not actually been improving in the past 30 years,” says Chan. “A small percentage of women can rise to the top in business and some sectors, but far more women are stuck in low-paid positions and service industries.”

Chan said there is “massive need” for policies that will improve women’s standing in China — things like girls’ education, affordable child care, and basic social services. “If any country prioritizes economic development and social stability ahead of social development, this kind of thing is bound to happen,” she says. “Historically and culturally, women in China have always been treated and still are treated as less important.” Just ask the People’s Daily, the official newspaper of the Communist Party, which on Nov. 9 published a slide show called: “‘Beautiful scenery’ at 18th CPC National Congress.” The scenery in the slide show? Women.

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“The Communist Party goes Kodachrome”

Evan Osnos with a good one on what we see in the Party Congress, and what we don’t see:

For a week, Beijing is flirting with memories of the pre-Internet age. By ramping up the electronic network of censors, dead ends, and other roadblocks, the government has succeeded in making the Internet, at times, as balky and circumscribed as at any moment since the Web arrived in China nearly a decade ago. It would be easy to forget that China now has nearly six hundred million people online, because the Chinese-language microblogs and forums have been scrubbed of the humiliating double entendre and mockery that citizens now pour forth on the Party and its leaders. At times, Google and Gmail disappear entirely. The outside world’s most nettlesome newspaper, the Times, has been blacked out. Likewise, it’s easy to think we’re back in the days before Bloomberg was anything but a person, because that site is blacked out, too, for publishing details on the fortunes of senior Party oligarchs, a subject the government considers an appalling breach of decorum.

For a week, all is quiet on China’s Western front, as far as the Party is concerned. It would be easy to miss the fact that six Tibetan protesters set themselves on fire in the course of two days last week, to protest the Chinese occupation of Tibet, because the only Tibetan participants you’re likely to meet in the Great Hall of the People this week are the kinds of Tibetans who call each other “comrade,” speak Mandarin, and point out, as the delegation did on Thursday, that the Tibetan capital has been voted the happiest city in China four times in the last five years. To make sure that the present doesn’t intrude on that memory, teams of guards are stationed outside the Great Hall with fire extinguishers in case anyone tries to burn themselves.

For a week, the Party is unified, tolerant of debate, and clear in its mission. To ensure that today’s complexities do not encroach on that, the State Council Information Office, which helps tell the Chinese media what it can report, advised all Chinese news publications that they are “forbidden from reporting on, commenting on or publishing Hu Deping‘s online article ‘Reform Cannot be Wasted.’” Hu, the scion of the late leader Hu Yaobang, is a frequent critic of the Party’s reluctance to reform, but there’s no reason for newspaper readers to be burdened with those ins and outs. It was just one of scores of advisories given to the Chinese media this week to maintain what filmmakers call continuity. It is the authoritarian equivalent of ensuring that the extras in the shot aren’t wearing digital watches.

Like all parties, the Party’s party will come to an end, eventually: Thursday, to be precise, when the next generation of leaders will be revealed to the world. It will be up to those men to face the reality of the Party’s future, if the present is not unnerving enough.

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“Li Keqiang, China’s next premier, carries reformers’ hopes”

A good read to raise our hopes while we wait for the end of the Party Congress:

Li is described as an extremely intelligent self-taught speaker of English and a loyal Communist Party member who gave up a rare opportunity to study abroad when the party asked him to stay in China to work organizing students at Peking University as a top official in the Communist Youth League. It was at the university that Li made friendships with many outspoken pro-democracy advocates, some of whom were jailed or went into exile after the 1989 military crackdown at Tiananmen Square.

But some said he is not ruthless enough for the party’s internal maneuverings — a fact that some colleagues said may have relegated him to the No. 2 job, and not the presidency, which will go to the current vice president Xi Jinping.

Li entered Peking University, China’s most prestigious, in February 1978. Yang Baikui, who was an international politics student there, worked with Li for one year while at the school, translating an English book, “The Due Process of Law,” by British jurist Lord Denning. The book was brought to China by a professor, Gong Xiangrui, then one of China’s few British-trained lawyers, who inculcated his students in the ideas of Western-style liberalism and constitutional law.

“He learned a lot from the book he and I translated,” Yang recalled. “I’m not sure about democracy. But I’m sure he believes in constitutional government. And also the rule of law.”

Li had little formal English training. But Yang and others recall how Li diligently carried a stack of small notecards, held together with an elastic band, with English words on one side and the Chinese translation on the other. He would study the cards while waiting for the bus or standing in line at the school cafeteria. He became so proficient that in 2011 he stunned listeners at a Hong Kong University event by breaking protocol and speaking for two minutes in fluent English.

Li’s rise has not been without controversy. In Henan, where Li became governor in 1998, he has been criticized for not taking steps to prevent the spread of the AIDS epidemic to hundreds of thousands of villagers who were contaminated after donating blood through a government program.

Most of the infections happened before Li was governor. But one critic, Chen Bingzhong, a 79-year-old former head of China’s National Institute of Health Education, wrote an open letter that appeared on overseas Chinese Web sites in September calling Li “unsuitable to be the leader of a country.”

Will we get the rule of law aficionado, or the AIDS ignorer, or just another do-nothing Wen Jiabao?

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“Can China Be Described as ‘Fascist’?”

Can it? Seems like authoritarian is much more accurate, but NYT explores the issue:

That’s what Hu Deping, son of the late Hu Yaobang, the party general secretary forced to resign in 1987 for being too reform-minded, said to a group of mostly Chinese businesspeople and environmentalists in late 2005, in the Great Hall of the People on Tiananmen Square.

Here’s what Mr. Hu said, according to my notes: “No matter how authoritarian this society is, even fascist, the people of this country still want justice. One thing they seek is profit, and the other is justice.”

Is today’s China fascist?

To cite a few characteristics, starting with the one-party state: Since the economic reforms that followed the death of Mao Zedong, it has grown immensely wealthy through its state-owned companies, some of which rank among the world’s richest. What was once a poor, authoritarian state has become a rich, authoritarian state.

“The signs have long been there,” said Wang Lixiong, a prominent writer and scholar. “I feel there is a very clear trend toward fascism, and the source of fascism comes from the ever-growing power of the power holders.” China is “a police state,” he said, where power rules for power’s sake.

The passing of Mao did not lead to power-sharing, it just stripped China of its Communist ideology, and no convincing value system has filled the gap, he said.

“Power has become an interest group,” Mr. Wang said.

“Today the interest groups have no ideology,” he said. “Their goal is to protect their own profit and power. They can only rely on power to rule, because they have no goal that convinces the people. So the state relies on power to suppress society and attain its objectives. I think there’s no other route the power holders can go.”

“One of the strongest objections to using the word fascism is that a central element of fascism was mass mobilization,” which included the symbolism and choreography associated with, for example, Hitler’s rallies at Nuremberg, Mr. Delury said. While Mao did that, the current leadership does not, he said, a sign that the term does not exactly fit.

“I think still this leadership is very post-Mao, if not anti-Mao,” said Mr. Delury.

Yet for Mr. Wang, fascism is a threat, even without Mao’s charismatic leadership. He points to rising nationalism at home, increasingly directed overseas.

Does it surprise him to hear what was once a taboo word, an epithet to be hurled at the enemies of Communism, used by a member of China’s elite — even if a critical member — to describe China’s political direction?

“I’m not surprised to hear it, because they know, the people in these ruling circles, they don’t think it’s strange, they know what’s happening,” he said.

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Wen Jiabao: As Corrupt As His Peers

NYT writer David Barboza tipped off a firestorm this week when he published a piece detailing the enormous sums the Wen family has accumulated recently:

The mother of China’s prime minister was a schoolteacher in northern China. His father was ordered to tend pigs in one of Mao’s political campaigns. And during childhood, “my family was extremely poor,” the prime minister, Wen Jiabao, said in a speech last year.

But now 90, the prime minister’s mother, Yang Zhiyun, not only left poverty behind — she became outright rich, at least on paper, according to corporate and regulatory records. Just one investment in her name, in a large Chinese financial services company, had a value of $120 million five years ago, the records show.

The details of how Ms. Yang, a widow, accumulated such wealth are not known, or even if she was aware of the holdings in her name. But it happened after her son was elevated to China’s ruling elite, first in 1998 as vice prime minister and then five years later as prime minister.

Many relatives of Wen Jiabao, including his son, daughter, younger brother and brother-in-law, have become extraordinarily wealthy during his leadership, an investigation by The New York Times shows. A review of corporate and regulatory records indicates that the prime minister’s relatives, some of whom have a knack for aggressive deal-making, including his wife, have controlled assets worth at least $2.7 billion.

The article is long but worth a read, as Barboza details how a Chinese politician known for his down-to-earth touch has become the center of a massive corruption vortex. None of this is surprising, as such, but the details have never been laid out so clearly and investigated so thoroughly before.

The blowback has been impressive, as the Times’ Chinese-language site was blocked in China within hours:

The episode is an extreme example of an enduring newspaper-world fact: journalism and business interests don’t always go hand in hand.

The Times did exactly what one would hope and expect: It published a great story without undue regard for the short-term business consequences.

Mr. Sulzberger said the publication of the article was preceded by “conversations with the Chinese government to discuss it.”

“They wanted to air their concerns – which I listened to, as I should,” Mr. Sulzberger said. “And eventually, we made a decision to publish.”

Joseph Kahn, the foreign editor, told me that he knew when the reporting on this story began – about a year ago – that it would be a “threshold issue” for the Chinese government.

“I expected it to test the limits of what they would tolerate from the foreign media,” he said. (In speaking with me, he emphasized that Mr. Barboza’s direct editor on the story was Dean Murphy, a deputy business editor.)

Mr. Kahn said that as recently as Wednesday, Mr. Sulzberger and the executive editor, Jill Abramson, met with Chinese government representatives at The Times. But the focus of that conversation was not about the journalism – it was about political and cultural differences.

In short, Chinese officials were making the case that The Times not publish the article.

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“Amid Calls For Reform, China Waits For New Leaders”

From Louisa Lim at NPR, a good one to read while we wait for the new guys to take over:

Even the state-run media is on the offensive. Two months ago, an editor at the Study Times newspaper wrote an article declaring that the problems caused by the past decade’s policies “are even more numerous than the achievements.”

This was followed by a call for reform in the party publication Seeking Truth, which pronounced that “stagnation and turning back is a dead end.”

Historian Zhang Lifan believes this essay is significant.

“That a conservative magazine is singing about reform shows a change in attitude at the top,” says Zhang. “I don’t think they’ve reached consensus on how reform will be carried out. They just realize they can’t continue as before.”

Zhang himself sees the party’s future in absolute terms, predicting either “reform within five years or death within 10 years.”

The new president isn’t all-powerful, however. He’ll be first among equals in a collective leadership. Currently that committee consists of nine people, but rumors are circulating that it will be reduced to seven posts.

Only two of the current members of the committee will remain: Xi and his premier, Li Keqiang. As for the rest of the positions, horse-trading could continue until the very last minute.

But the black box of Chinese politics means all this happens behind closed doors. Zhang, the historian, warns of the dangers of oversimplification.

“Westerners think black is black and white is white,” he says. “How could they know that for Chinese, black contains white, white contains red, red contains black, everything is mixed. It’s rather complicated.”

In less than three weeks, a new chapter in China’s political history will begin at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. However, no one knows how many men or women will rule China, or who they are. Change may be coming, but the question remains just how much.

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“China inequality causes unease – Pew survey”

Pew has a new survey out, asking Chinese about a whole lot of things. The results confirm what a lot of us have sensed about China:

A slowdown is particularly troubling for Xi because, as China prepares for its once-in-a-decade leadership transition, a Pew Global Attitudes survey conducted there this year finds that its citizens are also increasingly worried about a variety of other domestic issues, especially corruption, inequality and consumer protection.

In the economic realm, while standards of living have improved for the vast majority of Chinese, and the country’s middle class has expanded tremendously, there is nonetheless a widespread belief that not everyone is enjoying their fair share. And as consumers, many Chinese feel at the mercy of a system that cannot guarantee the safety of life’s basic necessities.

Half say corrupt officials are a very serious problem in China, up from 39% in 2008.

Second, there is a consensus that some people are being left behind by China’s rapid growth – 81% of those polled agree that today the “rich just get richer while the poor get poorer”. Nearly half (48%) describe the gap between rich and poor as a very big problem, up from 41% four years ago.

And in another sign that many do not see a level economic playing field, less than half (45%) agree with the statement “most people can succeed if they are willing to work hard”.

Roughly four-in-ten (41%) now consider food safety a very big problem, up from just 12% in 2008.

During that same time period, concerns about the safety of medicine have more than tripled, from 9% to 28%. Similarly, the percentage saying they are very worried about the quality of manufactured goods has jumped from 13% to 33%.

These are important points, and I think they’re very telling for the crisis of confidence the Party is facing. Xi needs to seriously change course if he wants these numbers to stop climbing.

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“With a Transition Near, New Questions in China”

Edward Wong has the latest from the Changing of the Guard series, in which he says that Chinese leaders are still trying to decide who will ascend to the Standing Committee in just a few weeks:

After nearly a year in which planning for the succession has been upset by an extraordinary string of scandals, the leaders and elders have finally agreed on Nov. 8 as the date to begin the 18th Party Congress, the climax of just the second peaceful transfer of power in China’s Communist era. Much of the back-and-forth over the succession, which officials have kept behind a curtain of secrecy, has involved horse-trading over leadership positions between a faction led by President Hu Jintao and one loyal to his predecessor, Jiang Zemin.

One blow to Mr. Hu this summer was the quiet unfolding of a scandal involving a powerful politician, Ling Jihua, who is Mr. Hu’s fixer. Now another stress point is becoming evident: Mr. Hu appears on the defensive over his legacy because of growing criticism that policies enacted during his decade-long tenure were responsible for the excessive growth of the security forces and also stalled an overhaul of the Chinese economy that is needed to maintain its dynamism.

“Right now, I think Hu feels very worried because a lot of people both inside and outside the party have been criticizing him,” said a party intellectual with ties to the leadership. “Some say he’s the worst leader China has had since 1949. Conflicts in society have intensified; monopolistic and antimarket tendencies in the economy seem to have intensified; and there’s been no real progress on reform.”

Speculation has swirled around the other potential candidates for the standing committee, which many predict will shrink to seven. Beyond the top two, three men are now seen as safe bets: Li Yuanchao, the head of the Organization Department and expected to be the next vice president; Wang Qishan, a vice premier; and Zhang Dejiang, another vice premier.

But after numerous twists, several other top candidates do not appear yet to have secured a seat. They include Yu Zhengsheng, party chief of Shanghai; Wang Yang, party chief of Guangdong Province; Zhang Gaoli, party chief of Tianjin; and Liu Yunshan, director of the Propaganda Department. If the standing committee remains at nine, Liu Yandong, China’s most senior female official, would have a greater chance at a seat, analysts say.

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“The Bo Xilai Case: China’s Pandora’s Box”

Evan Osnos on the verdict we’ve all been waiting for- Bo, guilty:

The Chinese Communist Party has just done something it hates to do: hang its dirty laundry out in public. With a level of force and lurid color that surprised just about everyone who pays attention to these things, on Friday the Party ended the greatest guessing game in Chinese politics by unveiling the charges against the once-golden politician Bo Xilai.

According to the announcement of the charges, Bo “abused his power, made severe mistakes, and bore major responsibility” for the attempted defection of a powerful police chief and the murder of a British businessman (a crime for which his wife was convicted). In other words, the state is saying that he had a hand in killing or covering up the killing of a foreigner, and that he failed to prevent a bearer of secrets from attempting to flee.

There’s more: “He took advantage of his office to seek profits for others and received huge bribes personally and through his family. His position was also abused by his wife, Bogu Kailai, to seek profits for others, and his family thereby accepted a huge amount of money and property from others.” In today’s China, what is a “huge amount”? Well, Bloomberg figured that Bo’s in-laws had more than a hundred million dollars in assets. And those are the ones we know about. “Bo had affairs and maintained improper sexual relationships with a number of women.” Plural? The émigré journalist Jiang Weiping has estimated that Bo had somewhere around a hundred mistresses.

One of the biggest surprises in these charges is that the Party didn’t confine its attention to the dramatic events of this spring and declare victory. On the contrary, they harkened back to virtually his full political career, accusing of him impropriety as early as his posts in Manchuria, where he was first stationed in 1984. That’s a quarter century of opportunities, and for years, Bo was said to have been involved in corruption. But nobody ever thought he would be prosecuted for it, not any more than they think that the other members of the Politburo who are routinely subject to rumors about corruption will ever see a day in court.

And therein lies the powder keg at the center of the Bo Xilai case. In seeking to purge him with a finality that can restore short-term political balance, the Party may have raised a more dangerous spectre: the full-scale accounting of a life in government. The results could reveal a culture of self-dealing and personal enrichment that exceeds even the Chinese public’s considerable tolerance of official abuse. It may start a conversation that will be hard to end.

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“Beijing’s Dangerous Game”

Perry Link in the NYRoB on the anti-Japan protests, good as always:

Many have ascribed the vehemence of the protests to deep-rooted anti-Japanese sentiment linked to injustices committed by Japan eighty years ago. But there is little evidence to support this. Rather the protests appear to have everything to do with the interests of China’s current rulers, at a moment when the top leadership in Beijing is in turmoil.

The Chinese state media suggest that Chinese people have long memories of Japan’s invasion of China in 1931, when the Japanese army carried out a brutal massacre of civilians in the capital city of Nanjing in 1937. According to them, what we see today are echoes of this longstanding “national insult.” But there are not many people in China today who personally remember the 1930s. Recollections of these distant events handed down within families are not that strong, and moreover must compete with some terrible memories of the intervening Mao era. The anti-Japan expression that we see on the streets today springs largely from other sources.

In 1985, nine years after Mao’s death, a Nanjing Massacre Memorial Hall opened in Nanjing. China’s textbooks and media also began to mention the massacre, and the government began to use the issue as a way to stimulate nationalism and draw support to itself. The anti-Japan vitriol that we see in the streets today comes much more from that “education” since the 1980s than it does from memories of the 1930s. In 1998 Jiang Zemin, China’s president, visited Japan and demanded a written apology for Japan’s invasion of China. Public demonstrations against Japan have flared occasionally since then, often after government prodding but always under government monitoring and control.

It is significant that the numbers of protesters, by Chinese standards, are small. Crowds are in the hundreds, rarely over a thousand. By contrast the crowd at the pro-democracy demonstrations at Tiananmen in 1989 reached a million at its peak. There is no doubt which cause had the deeper appeal. Today, too, measured in numbers, the complaints of Chinese protesters are overwhelmingly not about uninhabited islands but about things closer to home—corruption, pollution, land annexation, special privilege, and abuse of power—and the usual adversaries today are not Japan but Chinese officials and the wealthy people associated with them.

From the regime’s point of view, the reporting is the whole point. The purpose of instigating protests is to generate “mass opinion” to serve a political purpose. Let me offer an especially clear example from a different context. In March, 2008, in Lhasa, Tibet, young Tibetans went on a rampage against Chinese shop owners. Some people say that agents provocateurs were at work, some say not. But in either case, credible eyewitnesses on both sides reported that for several hours Chinese police stood by and did nothing. They watched the looting and burning of stores while reporters from state-owned media made video recordings. Only when the taping was over did the police step in, arresting hundreds. Then, during the ensuing seventy-two hours, Chinese television—nationwide—showed and re-showed the video footage, explaining that the Dalai Lama, a wolf in sheep’s clothing, had been the instigator of the mayhem. Twenty days later, when young Tibetans ventured onto the streets of Lhasa and seemed ready to protest again, the police quelled them instantly. This time there was no need for videotapes.

What is it, today, that the people at the top in China want to achieve by stimulating and advertising anti-Japan sentiment? They do not say, of course, so the world must guess, but in broad outline the guessing isn’t very hard. The people at the top, who are used to maintaining a smooth façade, have every reason right now to distract attention from the unexpectedly messy handover of power now taking place, the results of which are hugely important to them.

The men at the top are very adept at staying there, and doubtlessly are aware of the dangers of this game. To them, stirring up and giving media attention to anti-Japan sentiment is a way to further their psychological engineering of the Chinese public. They know that it carries a risk. But the potential damage to the regime that could come from letting the public concentrate on their power transition, or get a deeper look into how corruption and special privilege work, is even greater.

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Filed under 2012 power transfer, Communist Party, Japan, protests

“Preserving Stability”

Qian Gang has a good post at the China Media Project, looking at how stability preservation has hijacked the Chinese political landscape, and wondering about whether or not it will preserved as a main principle of the next leadership group:

The two-character Chinese phrase weiwen is an abbreviated form of the full phrase, weihu wending, meaning to preserve or safeguard stability. The Chinese Communist Party has many such shortened phrases, compact verbalisms that pack a political punch, invoking whole histories of policy and practice. For those versed in China’s political vocabulary, these are important shibboleths.

In the phrase “stability preservation,” stability is a coded reference to social disorder — which is to say, social disorder must be avoided at all cost.

Meeting with U.S. President George H.W. Bush on February 26, 1989, Deng Xiaoping said: “Before everything else, China’s problems require stability.” In the aftermath of the Tiananmen crackdown just over three months later, Deng again stressed this point in what quickly became a hardened phrase: “Stability is of overriding importance.”

The phrase “wending yadao yiqie” could also be translated as “stability above everything else.” This term’s coming of age, you might say, was heralded when it became a headline in the People’s Daily on the one-year anniversary of the Tiananmen crackdown in 1990.

“Stability above everything else” is a slogan much beloved by Party leaders associated with the conservative faction, or baoshoupai, who oppose reforms in China. When Deng Xiaoping used this phrase, however, he used it in conjunction with his advocacy of reform and development.

When Jiang Zemin passed the baton on to Hu Jintao in 2002, a careful balance of these three ideas — stability, reform and development — was maintained. The full phrase, “Stability above everything else,” this hard-edged watchword, did not appear at all in either of Jiang Zemin’s political reports to the 14th and 15th national congresses in 1992 and 1997. The phrase did sneak into the political report to the 16th National Congress in 2002, the year when Hu Jintao took the presidency, but it was dropped again in the political report five years later.

As the phrase “stability preservation” has risen in prominence, so has the influence of officials associated with the Central Politics and Law Commission, the Party organization that takes charge of political and legal affairs in the country.

Some within China have referred to the 10 years of President Hu Jintao’s leadership as the “stability preservation decade.” During these years, political reform has stalled as an agenda item, and powerful interest groups have hijacked politics and the economy.

As China’s national strength has advanced, China’s population at large has paid a heavy toll. Social inequality in China has worsened substantially. Facing a growing tide of rights-defense movements by disenfranchised Chinese, the response by Party authorities has been to apply pressure on top of pressure. This has sometimes been called “maintaining a high-pressure environment.” Its net result has been a constant outbreak of violent incidents. When thousands of residents in the Sichuanese city of Shifang took to the streets in July 2012 to protest the building of a copper alloy plant close to residential areas, the local government responded by mobilizing armed police, who sought to clear the streets in tightly advancing formations, even firing stun grenades at protesters.

In terms of Party watchwords, this leaves us with two important questions:

1. Will the phrase “stability is of overriding importance” appear in the political report?
2. Will the phrase “stability preservation” appear in the political report?

If these terms do appear, this will signal that the Party intends to perpetuate the political line of “stability preservation,” and maintain an atmosphere of high pressure on all perceived forms of unrest, regardless of how legitimate the claims of those carrying out rights defense may be. If these terms do not appear in the political report, the question will be how the report deals with the agenda of social stability, and whether there are watchwords of change to read between the lines.

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“China considers downgrading domestic security tsar in next line-up”

Not like this would necessarily lead to better governance, but kicking the head of the PSB off of the Standing Committee certainly wouldn’t hurt. From Chris Buckley of Reuters:

Reducing the party’s Politburo Standing Committee, the inner council at the apex of power, from nine to seven members would come as part of a once-in-a-decade leadership change expected in the next few weeks or months.

China’s domestic security chief, Zhou Yongkang, faces defeat if his successor does not follow his example, and that of recent predecessors, and win a place at the top table.

Before he was tainted in a succession of scandals that hurt the Communist Party this year, Zhou expanded his role into one of the most powerful, and controversial, fiefdoms in the one-party government.

Leaders appear likely to put a tighter leash on Zhou’s successor as head of domestic security by keeping him or her off the down-sized Standing Committee. That successor would remain a member of the less powerful Politburo, which has 24 members — returning to a pattern the party kept to for much of the 1980s.

The provisional agreement to shrink the Standing Committee and to effectively downgrade the status of Zhou’s successor has been rumored for months and firmed up during secret discussions since July, said six sources with direct ties to senior leaders and retired party elders.

Zhou was implicated in rumors that he hesitated in moving against the politician Bo Xilai, who fell in a divisive scandal. Security forces also suffered a humiliating failure when they allowed blind rights advocate Chen Guangcheng to escape from 19 months of house arrest and flee to the U.S. embassy in Beijing.

Such fumbles gave President Hu Jintao and his virtually certain successor, Vice President Xi Jinping, a shared motive to put a growing array of police forces and domestic security services under firmer oversight, said Xie Yue, a professor of political science at Tongji University in Shanghai.

“It seems quite likely that Hu and Xi have mustered the will to demote the political standing of the Political and Legal Affairs Committee,” he said.

“They’re taking advantage of the opinion that the committee’s reach has gone too far, and that it’s created too many problems and scandals.”

The push to slim down the Standing Committee at least partly reflects hopes that the next generation of leaders will be more nimble and cohesive in tackling problems, said several observers in Beijing.

“The Hu-Wen era pattern of dividing up powers and allotting responsibilities among all these different stallholders has ended up creating many problems,” said Pu Zhiqiang, a Beijing lawyer who closely follows politics. “The next leadership wants to be able to act more swiftly.”

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“Chinese leadership reshuffle revives another high-level scandal”

WaPo on the ‘red ferrari’ scandal that just won’t go away:

Details of the crash on a Beijing street remain murky, but according to some accounts it involved the son of Ling Jihua, an ally of President Hu Jintao who was moved Saturday from his post as head of the Communist Party’s General Office of the Central Committee — the rough equivalent of the U.S. president’s chief of staff — to a less powerful job handling relationships with those outside the party.

Rumors of the link had swirled since the March 18 incident, but by Monday, Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post had forced them into the purview of party officials, publishing a front-page story alleging that the crash involved a sleek Ferrari, two naked or semi-naked women and a half-clothed man the paper identified as Ling’s son.

The allegations touched on some of the flash points China’s leaders fear most, especially the image of privileged children of party officials living in extreme luxury, unbound by law or consequences. They also hit the headlines just as the party leadership may have felt it was beginning to contain the Bo Xilai saga, one of the most divisive and embarrassing episodes in China’s recent political history.

Back in March, authorities reacted quickly to the accident, preventing most Chinese media from covering it, banning microblog posts from mentioning it and blocking several search terms, including “Ferrari.”

Before his job switch this weekend, Ling had worked more closely with Hu than most other party officials, overseeing the day-to-day details of his and many other top leaders’ meetings and travel arrangements. He had even been viewed as a contender for the party’s 25-member Politburo, a position near the top of China’s political food chain.

The timing of Ling’s transfer, just ahead of the upcoming leadership change, has left experts speculating on its significance. His replacement, former Guizhou Party secretary Li Zhanshu, also has ties to Hu. But Li is also thought to have some ties with Xi Jinping, the leader earmarked to succeed Hu — a double connection that party leaders may have viewed as necessary as they navigate the transition.

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“The Politics of a Chinese Orgy”

Evan Osnos has an article up about the unspeakably hilarious orgy scandal that rocked Weibo last week:

Orgies are back in the news in Beijing, but this time it’s the Communist Party that has found itself in an uncomfortable position, and it is now praising the virtues of privacy. A leaked batch of photos swept across the Chinese internet this month, depicting a festive gathering of five, arrayed in various numerical combinations. Of more than a hundred photos, the ones that attracted the most attention were not the most acrobatic; they were the group portraits in which participants posed for the camera so clearly that it was not long before they were identified by Chinese Web users and discovered to include several government officials.

It’s tough to spin an orgy. The local Party office in question first claimed that the images had been photoshopped; then they dropped that angle and said they were, instead, simply old pictures from elsewhere in China, unrelated to the county. But that explanation ran aground when one of the men—identified in state press reporters as Wang Yu, a deputy secretary of the Youth League Committee of Hefei University in Anhui province—while insisting that “the two other men are his friends, not government officials, conceded that “he regretted his behavior.” (The photos, it seems, were plucked from the computer of one of the participants after the machine was brought in for repair.) Another Party organ was not as contrite. “NAKED GUY IS NOT OUR PARTY CHIEF: LOCAL AUTHORITY” was the headline in the Global Times after the Communist Party committee in Lujiang county declared a case of mistaken identity in response to the suggestion that a bespectacled participant bears an extraordinary resemblance to Wang Minsheng, the local Party secretary.

At bottom, the sex party is vexing for the Party because it highlights the gap between the artifice of official solemnity and the unadorned reality beneath, a gap that has become more pronounced in recent years as the Web eats away at the monopoly on authority. The downfall of Bo Xilai is of interest to the Chinese public not simply because it involves murder, corruption, and betrayal but because it is unfolding noisily just offstage from where the Party is desperately seeking to convey the sense that everyone is proceeding according to plan. As the Global Times commented of the group shots, people “feel that this is but scratching the surface of the lives of luxury and sin that many officials secretly enjoy. Such activities are being pointed to as evidence for the decaying morality of government officials.”

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“PLA Influence Over Chinese Politics: Fact of Fiction?”

Trefor Moss at The Diplomat has a response to the piece that ran a few days ago claiming that the PLA is pushing for more power in China:

The take-home message of the Times story is therefore that PLA leaders are indebted, and also subordinate, to top Party figures like Hu – not that they’re agitating for greater political clout. The odd drunken rant aside, these men know their place.

The idea of the PLA getting out of control, or at least of asserting greater influence over foreign policy, is of course an attractive one for the lazy headline-writer. It’s news, unlike the long and deliberate arc of incremental military modernization, which is the real story of what’s happening with the PLA.

There is some fire behind all the media smoke. It’s true that PLA generals are quoted in the Chinese press with increasing regularity, and that China’s nationalistic newspapers provide a ready platform for hawks both inside and outside the military. One such purveyor of interesting views, Major General Luo Yuan, has become a minor celebrity thanks to his forthright commentary on territorial disputes: he recently spoke out in favour of “decisive action” against the Philippines, for example.

But it’s important to remember that Luo is a small fish in a big Chinese power-pond. The government, while tolerating (or perhaps encouraging) his confrontational stance, did of course completely ignore his advice. Instead, Beijing took a much more measured position, sending civilian law enforcement ships rather than the PLA Navy to handle its spat with Manila. Hence the military that is supposedly trying to grab influence over foreign policy was uninvolved in the biggest foreign-policy issue the country has faced this year – and that was probably just how most senior PLA commanders would have wanted it.

There’s no reason for the PLA to crave political power, so long as the government continues to ramp up military spending – as it has done reliably for over two decades.

I’ll be interested to see if this response generates another response in turn.

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Filed under 2012 power transfer, Communist Party, PLA

“Party Bristles at Military’s Push for More Sway in China”

Apparently when you derive your legitimacy from the barrel of a gun, your gunmen may eventually start to wonder why they aren’t getting a bigger slice of the pie (via Edward Wong at NYT):

During a holiday banquet for China’s military leadership early this year, a powerful general lashed out in a drunken rage against what he believed was a backhanded move to keep him from being promoted to the military’s top ruling body.

The general, Zhang Qinsheng, vented his fury in front of President Hu Jintao, according to four people with knowledge of the event. At the banquet, he even shoved a commanding general making toasts; Mr. Hu walked out in disgust.

The general’s tirade was one of a series of events this year that have fueled concerns among Communist Party leaders over the level of control they exercise over military officials, who are growing more outspoken and desire greater influence over policy and politics.

“Party authorities have come to realize that the military is encroaching on political affairs,” said one political scientist with high-level party ties. “Although the party controls the gun, the expression of viewpoints from within the military on political issues has aroused a high level of alarm.” He, like others who agreed to discuss internal party affairs, spoke on the condition of anonymity because of fear of reprisals.

[Conversations] with officers suggest that some may feel an affinity for the incoming Mr. Xi they do not share with Mr. Hu, a tea trader’s son who has struggled in Mr. Jiang’s shadow to win respect. Mr. Xi, 59, is the “princeling” son of a revered Communist guerrilla leader who grew up in Beijing with military families. He is stepping into the leadership role with closer military relationships than anyone since Deng Xiaoping.

“When those from the ‘red second generation’ move up, there will be a personal feeling, a traditional bond,” a senior officer said.

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“As China Talks of Change, Fear Rises on the Risks”

Michael Wines has a solid look at the voices for change coming from inside the Party in the run-up to the Party Congress:

A heavyweight crowd gathered last October for a banquet in Beijing’s tallest skyscraper. The son of Mao Zedong’s immediate successor was there, as was the daughter of the country’s No. 2 military official for nearly three decades, along with the half sister of China’s president-in-waiting, and many more.

Most surprising, though, was the reason for the meeting. A small coterie of children of China’s founding elites who favor deeper political and economic change had come to debate the need for a new direction under the next generation of Communist Party leaders, who are set to take power in a once-a-decade changeover set to begin this year. Many had met the previous August, and would meet again in February.

“Compare now to 1989; in ’89, the reformers had the upper hand,” said Mr. Zhang, a historian formerly associated with the government’s Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, referring to the pro-democracy student protests that enjoyed the support of a number of important party leaders but were crushed in Tiananmen Square. “Twenty years later, the reformers have grown weaker. Now there are so many vested interests that they’ll be taken out if they touch anyone else’s interests.”

To Mr. Zhang and others, this is the conundrum of China’s rise: the autocracy that back-flipped on Marxist ideology to forge the world’s second-largest economy seems incapable of embracing political changes that actually could prolong its own survival.

Many who identify with the reform camp see change as inevitable anyway, but only, they say, because social upheaval will force it. In that view, discontent with growing inequality, corruption, pollution and other societal ills will inevitably lead to a more democratic society — or a sharp turn toward totalitarianism.

If peaceful change is to occur, Mr. Zhou and many others say, it must begin inside the Communist Party; the lesson of Tiananmen Square is that the leadership will not tolerate threats to its control. Many speak of a transformation along the lines of that in Taiwan, where authoritarian rulers peacefully gave way to direct elections in 1996, and helped spawn today’s robust democracy.

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“Is Li Xingong Arrest Another Victory for China’s Weibots?”

Today I’ve got another post for an article I disagree with, although this time it was written by someone I certainly respect. Stan Abrams, writer of the great China Hearsay blog, is an intellectual property lawyer in Beijing and member of the Central University of Finance and Economics faculty. Last week he wrote about the Li Xingong case, in which a Communist Party official in Henan has been accused of raping multiple underage girls. After describing the case Stan writes:

That being said, there is another twist to this case that I’m frankly still trying to unravel: the role of public pressure. As you know, I have a great deal of interest in cases where the public seemingly exerts an influence on the judiciary, prosecutors or the police, usually in criminal matters. As I’ve said many times, the general trend disturbs me; the criminal justice system should generally be immune to public pressure. If not, scary things can happen.

And here, sadly, I have to take issue with him. As a general rule, sure- cases should be decided by their merits using the law, not by crowds in front of the courtroom or on Weibo. This isn’t just any case, though. This is a case in the People’s Republic of China involving a Communist Party official accused of doing heinous things to regular Chinese citizens. The chances of justice being done here are vanishingly small. If public pressure is worth worrying about, what of the other pressures that are surely exerted in less visible ways during a case like this? We’re talking about a man with money, guanxi, power, the Party, and a judiciary which understands the meaning of loyalty at his back. The moment accusations are leveled at the Communist Party, the rule of law isn’t simply compromised- it disappears entirely. Mr. Abrams is worried about scary things that can happen when public pressure influences cases, but scary things are already happening, and do happen every time the law bumps up against the Party.

He goes on to say:

More disturbing than any media failure is the rush to judgment by the weibots. The automatic assumption that Li’s actions had somehow been known and covered up prior to May 8 or that the local authorities would definitely try to cover up his crimes even after he was detained, is troubling. It suggests severe credibility problems of local officials, although that’s not exactly news. The level of distrust that is illustrated by these types of cases is startling.

And here’s where I have to come back to the problem I have with his concern about public pressure. I believe that he’s looking at the whole issue backwards. The rush to judgment and the tendency of online commentators to dog-pile the Party is a symptom of the flimsy nature of the rule of law in China. People are used to seeing the Communist Party let itself off the hook, and to seeing the Party use official propaganda organs to cover up misdeeds. Many Chinese have reached the conclusion that public pressure is one of the few tools that is capable of balancing the lopsided power balance enjoyed by the Party, and I can’t say that they’re wrong. In the future a mature Chinese legal system will have to learn to resist public pressure, although I suspect that a system capable of delivering just outcomes in situations like these wouldn’t face as much public pressure to begin with.

I can appreciate how Mr. Abrams, as a lawyer, found this objectionable. The moment the Party gets involved, however, this ceases to be a legal problem and becomes a political one. Until the Party allows justice to be done, public pressure seems like the least of our worries.

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