If KT takes a break from blogging, why shouldn’t JR? I’m thinking of a duration of ten days or so – but if Jiang Zemin leaves this world, or Deng Xiaoping rises from the dead, or whatever kind of colossal thing occurs, JR will be here to make sense of it for you.
A look back on the CCP’s 18th national congress: Felix Lee, a correspondent for Germany’s green-leaning daily taz, runs a China blog at a German weekly, Die Zeit. He’s usually very positive about, as we like to say, “China” – certainly from my perspective, but such optimism might sometimes give way to Welsh rats. His latest blogpost refers to Zhang Dejiang and Liu Yunshan as the new pigheads in the politbureau (Die neuen Betonköpfe im Politbüro).
And expectations towards reformers like Wang Yang had been too high. After all, even Wen Jiabao never had his way with more inner-party democracy, during his ten-year tenure.
Well, in fact, Wen Jiabao had his way with very few things (and I’m not sure that I can remember any, now).
I don’t know where many China watchers took their optimism from. The party had documented its schedule very clearly, in fall 2011. Now, I’m not saying that I could have predicted the composition of the 18th politbureau – but whoever would have entered the standing committee, would have had to stick to the line. If Wang Yang had entered the standing committee, it would have meant that he isn’t that reformist after all, or that he’s prepared to become less so.
But of course, Felix Lee doesn’t consider China’s future hopeless. After all, society is changing bigtime, he writes. Three controversial industrial projects had been thwarted by citizens this year, he writes.
Then again, you can discuss industrial plants with anyone, anyway – even with Zhang Dejiang. To object to them is no principal contradiction (主要矛盾).
The party published their line, Hu Jintao re-iterated it a few weeks later, but most correspondents seemed to take that lightly, or as some funny little theater. As if the document had been written (and agreed to by outgoing and incoming dictators) for fun, or out of boredom.
Hint (and, granted, no imperative logical connection): a year earlier, in September 2010, Wen Jiabao had made his last serious foray on those pig-headed fortifications: he talked to journalists from Hong Kong and Macau, about the need for political reforms. That was in New York, apparently. People’s Daily disagreed. Wen insisted. Half a year, there was the cultural decision.
Same with other concepts, such as social management. There weren’t a few Zhou Yongkang‘s sitting around a table and picking that stuff out of their nose.
Either, too many correspondents in China have no sense for political trends, or they don’t report their real assessment, because they wouldn’t sell. Or maybe something else I can’t imagine right now.
Either way: “staff issues” within the CCP are, in my view, hopelessly overemphasized in our press. Yes, it’s a dictatorship. Yes, it’s a totalitarian system. But it’s a collective
oligarchy leadership – pragmatic, maybe, but not unideological.
What interested me during the run-up to the 18th national congress was how the system tried to shape their citizens’ perception of their (local) realities. Some of the derivatives from the State Information Office’s publicity work prescriptions were – just my impression – written somewhat tongue-in-cheek by cheesed-off journalists who had to work with those guidelines. But that, too, shapes reality. It shows the small man who he is, and who they are. Dictators aren’t out with baseball bats to hit you every day. Quite obviously, harmony is cheaper.
That’s the year that was, I suppose, in terms of China and politics. The American fiscal cliff is moving to the fore, and so is the Euro crisis. Talking about baseball bats, democratic governments seem to know how to use them, too. Henryk M. Broder, not a great friend of demonstrators, I believe, but no great friend of the European project either, contrasted two European “events” on Thursday: Viviane Reding, EU Commissioner for justice, basic rights and citizenship, celebrated “a historic day” for womens’ rights in listed companies: by 2020, 40 percent of board seats would have to be for women. Patrician daughters will be delighted to hear that, of course. But some of Ms Reding’s smaller sisters were protesting in Madrid, about very different worries.
Clubbing is so much fun, isn’t it? Maybe Deng is already back from the dead. And if you see Francisco Franco dining and sniffing snow in some hip Madrid institution, don’t be too surprised. Chances are that he’s always been with us.