COMMUNIST PARTY ELITE, PRINCELINGS AND A HARVARD EDUCATION

COMMUNIST PARTY ELITE IN CHINA

20080310-Standing Committe at the  National 11.jpg
Elite party members welcoming
the new Standing Committee in 2007
The Communist Party elite is made up of high-level officials, graduates of the party school, princelings (See Below), and friends and employees of the party powerful. According to the Economist, "Communist Party officials function as China's ruling class. They are a self-selected group accountable to nobody. They oversee government and industry, courts and parliaments...elections are allowed for 'people's congresses'’so long as the party does not object to the contestants...A party committee keeps watch within every institution of government at every level. The system was copied from the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, but expanded in translation."

Senior cadres remain overwhelmingly male, but there is now a compulsory retirement age and even (very low) quotas for women.

In the 1990s and many senior members of the Communist party were in their seventies and eighties and often had to be nudged by their bodyguards to stay awake during meetings. Many were trained in the Soviet Union. Over time, hard liners and old timers have become a smaller and smaller minority. These days the Communist Party seems to be run by colorless bureaucrats of which Hu Jintao is the best example.

Most the highest ranking officials in the Communist Party live in Zhongnanhai, a compound built between the 10th and 13th centuries as an imperial playground and now acts as sort of modern Forbidden City. Mao Zedong, Zhou Enlai and Deng Xiaoping all lived here and the main offices for the Central Committee and the Politburo are all here too. See Cities, Places.

China’s Central Party School

Central Party School trains all mid-ranking and senior officials and develops theory. Students say the school day begins at 6:00 am with physical exercise and included seminars and classes before evening lectures on subjects ranging from international economics to Taoism and calligraphy. [Source: Tania Branigan, The Guardian, June 30, 2010]

Journalists were shown simple bedrooms with computers, televisions and a small selection of books including the collected works of Mao Zedong. Despite the heavy stress on communist theory, students also study how other governments handle issues. The Eurozone crisis was added to the curriculum.

Officials rejected claims that cadres use the school to “meet people, make acquaintances, have a good meal and have a good rest”. Li Jingtian, one of the institute's vice-presidents, told The Guardian that while the school was not immune from unhealthy social trends, “we want to serve as a purifier to cleanse our students' minds and souls.”

Change from Charismatic Revolutionaries to Technocrats

Fareed Zakaria wrote in Time, “We don't much think of the party as a political organization these days. It is dominated by technocrats obsessed with economic and engineering challenges. These men---and they are almost all men---are comfortable talking about detailed economic and technical data, but they are not skilled politicians, adept at handling large crowds or palace intrigue. This apolitical system is a recent phenomenon and the outcome of a conscious decision by the founder of modern China, Deng Xiaoping. [Source: Fareed Zakaria, Time May 14, 2012]

“When the Chinese communists took power in 1949, the party was dominated by charismatic revolutionaries and military leaders. Court politics, intrigue, ideological posturing and mass politics were pervasive in the new regime, and its leader, Mao Zedong, was a master politician. In 1957 he launched the "antirightist campaign," which was followed by the Great Leap Forward, which was followed by the Cultural Revolution, all designed to divide and destroy his opponents and consolidate his power. [Ibid]

“Mao also kept his lieutenants in constant turmoil. Just before the Cultural Revolution, Beijing published a list of the 26 top officials in China. Two years later, only 13 remained in office, the others having been purged. Defense Minister Lin Biao, once designated as Mao's successor, tried to flee the country and was killed. Hyperpolitics persisted after Mao's death. The new head of the party ordered the arrest of the radical Gang of Four, who were said to have been perpetrators of the Cultural Revolution. They were tried, convicted and imprisoned. [Ibid]

“It was against this backdrop that Deng took power in the late 1970s and 1980s. Deng was determined to end the high drama of Chinese political life and focus on economic development. He wanted to turn the party into a professional organization run by technocrats, mostly engineers. He required them to have been top students who subsequently showed skill in practical problem solving. He even changed the tone of party meetings, which had been devoted to long-winded ideological speeches, saying in 1980, "If you don't have anything to say, save your breath ... The only reason to hold meetings and to speak at them is to solve problems.” [Ibid]

“The party was soon transformed. By 1985, the Central Committee was dominated by younger college graduates and the Politburo's Standing Committee, the country's ruling elite, were all engineers. That tradition of technocracy has persisted. A party whose history is tied to peasants, workers and soldiers is now the most elitist operation in the world. Its system of promotion favors engineers, economists and management experts over anyone with grassroots political skills. For two decades, China has been run like a company, not a country. [Ibid]

“Eventually, politics had to re-emerge. China has reached a level of growth and development at which the big questions it faces are not technical engineering puzzles but deep political, philosophical ones.”Bo Xilai “represented the revival of politics in at least two ways. In a system of colorless men, he was charismatic, conniving and political. He was comfortable in front of crowds, eager to push himself forward, and he rubbed against the grain of consensus decisionmaking. Money was, as in U.S. politics, the grease that smoothed Bo's rise. But he also represented the "new left," an ideological movement that emphasized social and cultural solidarity, the power of the state and other populist issues. Whether he truly believed in these stances is irrelevant. Like all good political entrepreneurs, he saw a market for these ideas in modern China and filled it. And there are other would-be leaders---military nationalists, economic liberals, even more-full-throated populists---who are debating China's future furiously, though privately, in Beijing and Shanghai. [Ibid]

Beidaihe

During the summer, the party elite have traditionally headed to the seaside resort of Beidaihe, on China's Gold Coast on the Gulf of Bohai,. Beidaihe used to be where Communist Party officials engage in intense infighting and maneuvering while hidden in secluded villas. It was here that many important party conclaves were held and some fateful decisions to “stay or go” for political supremos in Chinese communist hierarchy were made before announcing them to the public from the formal party halls in Beijing. [Source: Antoaneta Bezlova, Asia Times, September 15, 2009]

Beidaihe is no longer the summer capital of China's political intrigue. The once heavily guarded beaches are occupied by Russian tourists and the media no longer pays much attention to what is going there. Its status as a top leadership retreat has been downgraded by party chief Hu Jintao, who has promoted a more egalitarian approach and wants to nurture the party's populist image.

In August, when state leaders still visit, if not for secret party meetings then for some relaxation, the streets are lined with police who occasionally stop cars and demand identification. “The security reminds me of the old days in the USSR, Russian tourist Yuri Gregoriev told the Asian Times while relaxing on a chaise-lounge on the beach. “But Idon't mind it at all. We all come from different parts of Russia's far east, and to get to any other beach with similarly good weather and warm sea, we would have to travel a long time.”

Beidaihe, See Places

Communist Party Politics

Economic policy for the coming year is often decided at the planing meeting of top Communist Party and Cabinet officials held in December. The agenda for the meeting is often worked out by the Cabinet’s National Development and Reform Commission.

Party membership has traditionally been very selective. These day many urban people see few advantages with joining but in rural areas party members are often still regaled as the elite and membership can protect individual interests or provide opportunities that otherwise would be impossible.

On deciding health care policy, Gordon G. Liu, of Beijing University’s Guanghua School of Management told the Washington Post: “It’s very interesting to see politics in China. Sometimes they are very old-fashion and sometimes so liberal, even more than in the U.S. Thus it said “since you guys are debating, lets do an experiment and see which way works better.” I tell my colleagues that what you’re doing is very consistent with your “scientific development philosophy” rather than being like a dictator telling us what to do like in the past.”

Jonathan Watts wrote in The Guardian, Internal party debates are carried out behind closed doors, but there has long been a divide between those like Jiang on the "right" who favour more deregulation, opening and market reform and those on the "new left" who favour a more interventionist, egalitarian and authoritarian approach. Hu was seen as being closer to the former when he took power in 2002, but he has spent much of his time as state president and party secretary straddling the two camps. [Source: Jonathan Watts, The Guardian July 1, 2011]

Princelings in China

"Princelings" (taiza or taishito ) are children or other relatives of Chinese leaders and high-ranking officials who have prospered through their connections. Depending on how you define a high ranking official, there are anywhere from 5,000 to 100,000 princelings in China and they range in age from recent Peking University graduates to former Prime Minister Li Peng, the son of revolutionary leader who was adopted by Mao.

“The Chinese word interpreted in the West as princelings is “Taishito.” "Taishito" signifies the group of people whose parents are past or current high-ranking party officials, or generals and other superior officers in the Chinese military. "Taishi" means heir apparent of a reigning king, or crown prince, while "to" means a group of individuals. So "Taishi-to" refers to a group of princelings, or the offspring of high-ranking people in society. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, April 10, 2012]

“Princelings are part of an inner privileged circle that has monopolized posts in important offices and lucrative government enterprises. The Communist Youth League, once headed by Hu Jintao, is seen as a counterforce and rival to the princelings. Michael Wines of the New York Times called princelings “a powerful, though fragmented, force in China’s internal politics.”

Describing an evening with a princeling in Quingdao in the mid 1990s, one writer in the Lonely Planet Guide to China wrote: "he shuffled me round to a few dreary tour spots, offered me a place to stay for the night and took me to dinner with his girlfriend. He was, I guess trying to impress her with his broken English---he certainly impressed her with the price of the meal. I stayed the night in his spacious apartment, finding out how cadre's sons live---high! They have enough money, or access to it, to create a generation gap between themselves and their parents."

Family ties can also hurt one’s career. Isaac Stone Fish wrote in Foreign Policy: In the 1980s, Yu Zhengsheng was a promising young official, with a deep red background: His father Huang Jing was the first-ever Communist party secretary of Tianjin (and also an early husband of Jiang Qing, who went on to become Madame Mao); his father in law was reportedly a former PLA general. But in 1985 Yu's brother, formerly the director of the Beijing National Security Bureau, defected to the United States. The defection not only brought down a Chinese spy in the CIA, but also nearly torpedoed Yu's career. He spent the next dozen years working his way up through relatively low-level positions in the coastal province of Shandong. Now some analysts are predicting that Yu, the party secretary of Shanghai, might receive a seat on the Standing Committee this fall ; his brother's whereabouts remain unknown. [Source: Isaac Stone Fish, Foreign Policy, May 30, 2012]

Princeling Power in China

“Generally...modern China belongs to the children of the revolution. All three officers appointed last year to the rank of full general in the People's Liberation Army were children of senior party leaders, “John Garnaut wrote in the Sydney Morning Herald. Xi Jinping is the son of a revolutionary hero. Eight or nine of the 25-member Politburo are princelings (defined as having a parent or parent in-law who held the rank of vice-minister or above), according to Cheng Li, an expert on Chinese elite politics at the Brookings Institutution. In the previous Politburo there were only three. [Source: John Garnaut, Sydney Morning Herald, February 13, 2010]

“The strategic heights of China's economy are also in princeling hands. The family of former president Jiang Zemin - whose adopted father was a revolutionary martyr - pulls strings in the telecommunications, railways and postal systems. The family of former premier Li Peng - who was adopted by former premier Zhou Enlai - has outsized influence over electricity production, transmission and hydro-electric dam building. His daughter Li Xiaolin, who became famous in Australia this week for her disagreement with Clive Palmer over a $60 billion deal, is at the helm of a major power generating company. Her brother headed another large electricity company before being transferred to help run the coal-powered province of Shanxi. Family friend Liu Zhenya controls the electricity grid.[Ibid]

“Distinctions between state and personal enterprise are not always clear in China. Some of the most eminent princeling families discreetly control large companies that are listed on the Hong Kong stock exchange, sometimes in concert with Hong Kong's mega-billionaire families, and often through loyal personal secretaries or close relatives who have changed their names.” [Ibid]

“Further in the background, Chinese political analysts say the descendants of Marshall Ye Jianying, Deng Xiaoping, Chen Yun, Wang Zhen, Peng Zhen and Bo Yibo are China's real political and financial king makers.” [Ibid]

Princeling Money in China

Children of Jiang Zemin, Zhu Rongli and Li Peng all became princelings. Jiang’s son, Jiang Mianheng, was vice president of the Academy of Sciences and an important player in Shanghai’s telecom and semiconductor industries. Zhu’s son, Levon Zhu Yunlai, was the head of China International Capital Corp, a company n which Morgan Stanley had a stake. Li Peng’s son Li Xiaoping was the head of Huaneng Power International Inc. and now is vice governor of Shanxi, one of China's major coal-producing provinces. Li Peng’s daughter, Li Xiaolin, was vice president of China Power Investment Corp. and now runs a major subsidy of China Power.

Perhaps the greatest princeling of them all is Larry Yung, son of Chinese Vice President Rong Yiren. As general manager of Hong Kong-based conglomerate he has amassed a $2 billion fortune that included thoroughbred race horses, a Hong Kong penthouse, a mansion in Vancouver and an 800-acre estate in Britain. Life has not always been easy for Yung, however. During the Cultural Revolution he spent eight years doing hard labor in a remote area in southwest China.

As of 2012 Li was the vice-governor of Shanxi and still wielded power behind the scenes. Isaac Stone Fish wrote in Foreign Policy: He is not officially a princeling, but he is the adopted son of Zhou Enlai, China's premier under Mao, a connection that helped him climb the ranks. Li managed the controversial Three Gorges Dam project, and two of his children inherited his love for power -- the electric kind. His daughter Li Xiaolin is the CEO of China Power International Development, which had revenues of $2.2 billion in 2010, and his son, currently vice-governor of Shanxi, one of China's major coal producing provinces, was formerly CEO of China Huaneng Group, one of the largest Chinese power generators. [Source: Isaac Stone Fish, Foreign Policy, May 30, 2012]

China’s Princeling System

“The Communist Party has enjoyed enormous success in turning China into a powerful nation and lifting its citizens out of poverty, “John Garnaut wrote in the Sydney Morning Herald. “But the party is also a club that allocates political, financial and social privilege to its members. It has its own internal system of hierarchy and quasi-royalty, where revolutionary leaders bequeath their status to their children and children's children. Those descendants are called “princelings” in China. [Source: John Garnaut, Sydney Morning Herald, February 13, 2010]

“Mostly, China's princelings get on with expanding the national cake and carving it up. Maoist leader Bo Yibo is said to have helped institutionalize the princeling nexus of power and wealth in the 1990s by supporting a proposal that each powerful family can have only one princeling in politics, leaving other siblings to cash their political inheritances for financial ones. [Ibid]

“Things are not always between princelings and their battles are sometimes cloaked in complicated webs and layers that are difficult for outsiders to make sense of. . Bo Xilai and Fu Yang, the sons of Bo Yibo and Peng Zhen, two Mao era heavyweights that were members of the Eight Immortals, for example, have battled one another through proxy lawyers in Chongqing in a complicated case there involving organized crime. [Ibid]

“Privately, close political observers in China say that whatever you think of Bo Xilai or his personal motivations, he has thrown a bomb inside Party Central. His public dissection of Chongqing's power and protection rackets invites Chinese people to worry and talk more openly about whether their country is evolving towards some kind of mafia state.” [Ibid]

“Some liberal thinkers hope Bo is a catalyst for those in the system who are not beholden to “princelings” - perhaps the Vice-Premier, Li Keqiang - to rise and challenge the party's privileges. But the party's princeling bonds will be hard to break. To the extent that they stick together they will loosen their grip on power only when necessary to preserve it.” [Ibid]

Red Princesses

“Red princesses” is a term used to describe the offspring of Communist leaders who are now members of high society. They include Jasmain Li, the granddaughter of Communist Party No.2 Jia Qinglin, who made debute at a debutante ball in Paris attended Princess Diana’s niece and the daughter of casino tycoon Stanley Ho; and Chen, Xiaodan, the granddaughter of Chen Yun, a founding father of Communist China, who came out at ball attended by princesses from Italy and Belgium.

Among those who have made a splash in the fashion world are Ye Mingzi, granddaughter of Red Army general, Ye Jiangying, a designer in Paris who attended St. Martins in London and worked with Issey Miyake in Japan; and Wan Baibai, granddaughter of former legislature chairman Wan Li, who is regular at fashion parties and has her own line of jewelry.

Among those that are well known in China are “China Power Queen” Li Xiaolin, the only daughter of former Chinese Premier Li Peng; and the “Charity Princess” Deng Zuoyue, the Wellesley-educated granddaughter of Deng Xiaoping, who has hosted balls to raise money for Sichuan earthquake victims and deaf-mute children among other causes.

Communist Elite Family Members at Harvard and Stanford

Andrew Higgins and Maureen Fan wrote in the Washington Post, “When scholars gathered at Harvard in April 2012 to discuss the political tumult convulsing China’s ruling Communist Party, a demure female undergraduate with a direct stake in the outcome was listening intently from the top row of the lecture hall. She was the daughter of Xi Jinping, China’s vice president and heir apparent for the party’s top job. Xi’s daughter, Xi Mingze, enrolled at Harvard University in 2010, under what people who know her there say was a fake name, joining a long line of Chinese “princelings,” as the offspring of senior party officials are known, who have come to the United States to study. [Source: Andrew Higgins and Maureen Fan, Washington Post, May 18 2012]

“Grandchildren of two of the party’s last three top leaders---Zhao Ziyang, who was purged and placed under house arrest for opposing the military assault on Tiananmen Square protesters in June 1989, and his successor, Jiang Zemin---studied at Harvard. Huang Bin, the son of Huang Hua, a foreign minster under Mao, also went to Harvard as did Sabrina Chen, the granddaughter of Chen Yun, a powerful party baron and Bo Guagua, son Bo Xilai and grandson of Mao fiend-turned enemy Bo Yibo. Before his death in 1995, Chen took a hard line against the “infiltration” of Western values and, along with Bo Yibo, pressed for a military crackdown against student protesters who gathered in Tiananmen Square around a plaster statue inspired by the Statue of Liberty. [Ibid]

“On the manicured, sun-drenched grounds of Stanford University in Silicon Valley, Jasmine Li---whose grandfather, Jia Qinglin, ranks fourth in the Politburo and has made speeches denouncing “erroneous” Western ways---blends in seamlessly with fellow American undergraduates. Photographs have appeared online showing her wearing a black-and-white Carolina Herrera gown at a Paris debutante ball in 2010, and she shares with Bo Guagua a taste for horse riding. As a freshman last year, she rode with the Stanford Equestrian team. [Ibid]

“But her presence on campus is low-key, like that of Xi’s daughter at Harvard, whom fellow students describe as studious and discreet. Li rides a shiny red bicycle to and from classes, has an American roommate and joined a sorority, Kappa Alpha Theta. She often studies after class in the sorority house’s high-ceilinged living room alongside fellow members. [Ibid]

“The kin of senior party officials rarely attend state schools but congregate instead at top-tier---and very expensive---private colleges, a stark rejection of the egalitarian ideals that brought the Communist Party to power in 1949. Of the nine members of the Politburo Standing Committee, the supreme decision-making body of a Communist Party steeped in anti-American rhetoric, at least five have children or grandchildren who have studied or are studying in the United States. [Ibid]

“A degree from Harvard or the equivalent ranks as “the ultimate status symbol” for China’s elite, said Orville Schell, a Harvard graduate and director of the Center on U.S.-China Relations at the Asia Society in New York. “There is such a fascination with brand names’ in China that “just as they want to wear Hermes or Ermenegildo Zegna, they also want to go to Harvard. They think this puts them at the top of the food chain,” Schell said. [Ibid]

“The attraction of a top-brand university is so strong that some princelings flaunt even tenuous affiliations with a big-name American college. Li Xiaolin, the daughter of former prime minister and ex-Politburo member Li Peng, for example, has long boasted that she attended the Massachusetts Institute of Technology as a “visiting scholar at the Sloan Business School.” MIT says the only record it has of attendance by a student with Li’s name was enrollment in a “non-degree short course” open to executives who have “intellectual curiosity” and are ready to spend $7,500 for just 15 days of classes. [Ibid]

Hypocrisy of Chinese Communist Leaders Sending Their Kids to Elite U.S. Colleges

Andrew Higgins and Maureen Fan wrote in the Washington Post, “The stampede to American campuses has delivered a propaganda gift to critics of the Communist Party, which drapes itself in the Chinese flag and regularly denounces those who question its monopoly on power as traitorous American lackeys. A widespread perception that members of the party elite exploit their access and clout to stash their own children and also money overseas “is a big Achilles’ heel for the party,” said Harvard’s Roderick MacFarquhar. In China’s “dog-eat-dog” political culture, he told the Fairbank Center seminar, the family is both “a wealth-generating unit” and a “form of general protection.” As a result, he added, “you have a party that is seen as deeply corrupt.” [Source: Andrew Higgins and Maureen Fan, Washington Post, May 18 2012]

“This is about haves and have-nots,” Hong Huang, the stepdaughter of Mao’s foreign minister Qiao Guanhua and a member of an earlier generation of American-educated princelings, told the Washington Post. “China’s old-boy network . . . is no different from America’s old-boy network,” said Hong, who went to Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., and whose mother served as Mao’s English teacher. [Ibid]

“There is something about elitism that says if you are born in the right family, you have to go to the right school to perpetuate the glory of the family. Going to an elite college is a natural extension of that,” said Hong, now a Beijing-based style guru and publisher. Among her ventures is iLook, an edgy fashion and lifestyle magazine that offers tips on how to enjoy what a 2010 cover story proclaimed as China’s “Gilded Age.” [Ibid]

“Noting that the Communist Party has drifted far from its early ideological moorings, Hong said she sees no contradiction between the desire for an Ivy League education and the current principles of the ruling party and its leaders: “What part of China is communist, and what part of Harvard is against elitist authoritarianism?”

Helping to foster growing perceptions that the party is corrupt is a big, unanswered question raised by the foreign studies of its leaders’ children: Who pays their bills? Harvard, which costs hundreds of thousands of dollars in tuition and living expenses over four years, refuses to discuss the funding or admission of individual students. [Ibid]

“Bitter foes of the ruling party such as the banned spiritual movement Falun Gong have reveled in spreading sometimes unfounded rumors about privileged party children. New Tang Dynasty TV, part of a media empire operated by Falun Gong, reported, for example, that 74.5 percent of the children of current and retired minister-level Chinese officials have acquired either green cards or U.S. citizenship. The rate for their grandchildren is 91 percent, said the TV station, citing an anonymous Chinese blog posting that in turn cited supposed official U.S. statistics. No government agency has issued any such statistics. [Ibid]

“Though of dubious accuracy, the report stirred a storm of outrage on the Internet, with Twitter-like micro-blogs denouncing the hypocrisy of the party elite. Most of the comments were quickly deleted by China’s army of Internet censors. But a few survived, with one complaining that officials “curse American imperialism and capitalism all the time but their wives and children have already emigrated to the U.S. to be [American] slaves.” [Ibid]

Myth About China’s Princelings

Eric X. Li wrote in Global Viewpoint: The Bo Xilai saga of power, wealth, corruption and murder has brought the issue of China’s princelings to the front and center of the international discourse on contemporary China. Three underlying assumptions about the princelings drive the noisy speculations about Chinese politics by many mainstream commentators: The princelings form a powerful interest group, akin to a political aristocracy, that exerts decisive influence on China’s political system; their corruption is enormous and sapping away China’s national strength; and their privileges of birth are so vast that they are undermining the party’s legitimacy and destabilizing Chinese society as a whole. Such assumptions are disconnected from reality and need to be debunked. [Source: Eric X. Li, Global Viewpoint, April 30, 2012; Li is a venture capitalist in Shanghai]

“Many commentators, including some leading political analysts on China, are framing the princelings as if they are a powerful and unified political block, influencing policies in their favor and pushing for promotions of candidates who represent their interests. There is no empirical evidence to support such a conceptual framework. If one takes a cursory look at the sons and daughters of China’s senior leaders, current and former, they appear to be living lives ranging from pinnacles of power or wealth to completely ordinary existence, and everywhere in between. Of the ones who have made it to the upper echelons of wealth or power, their economic interests are widely disparate and in some cases competitive to each other’s. There is no indication that somehow they have coalesced to promote a coherent political agenda. In fact, the very few who have become vocal on politics are voicing very different and even opposite views. Princelings who are climbing the party’s political ladder engage in fierce competition amongst themselves no less intense than anyone else. [Ibid]

“No doubt the princelings are formidable players in both politics and business in part because of their connections. But they are nothing like the landed aristocracy of pre-industrial Europe or the oligarchs of post-Soviet Russia. The former possessed enormous political, social and military power amassed through centuries of accumulation; the latter came to control a vast portion of Russia’s entire economy. Just as influence peddlers everywhere, many princelings trade on their connections and are corrupt. Some of them are even stupid enough to flaunt their unlawful or unethical gains by conspicuous displays of wealth. [Ibid]

“But many more princelings do live ordinary lives. Among the ones who are successful, many have indeed excelled on merit. Vice President and heir apparent Xi Jinping is a case in point. His father was a senior leader but was purged by Mao when Xi Jinping was still a child. The younger Xi paid a price for his father’s political downfall and began his career at the lowest level of government service in the villages. The rehabilitation of his father came only after the younger Xi had moved up the ladder through apparently only hard work and merit. His track record since, from mayor to governor to provincial party secretary and now to the Politburo Standing Committee, has been by all accounts exemplary. [Ibid]

“There is no question that princelings enjoy privileges, as do descendants of power and wealth in any other country. But their influence does not come close to holding the political system or the economy captive. On the contrary, upward mobility, both political and economic, is the underlying force of China’s vitality. The current Politburo, the country’s highest ruling body, consists of 25 members. Only five of them come from backgrounds of power. The remaining 20, including the president and the premier, come from completely ordinary families. In the larger Central Committee, those with privileged backgrounds account for a much smaller percentage. Compare that to ruling institutions of many other countries, such as the U.S. Senate, the party’s top organ is surprisingly short of those from special privilege. In fact, in the party’s 90-year history, and the 62 years of the People’s Republic, Xi will be the very first leader who is a descendent of a senior leader -- and this one came through the ranks, overcoming significant personal adversity. In economics, if one goes down the list of China’s richest, a vast majority of them are entrepreneurs who started with nothing. [Ibid]

“Abuse of privilege breeds anger in any society, and China is no exception. Frustrations expressed on the Internet demonstrate such resentment. But Chinese society in general is rather sanguine about the privileges of princelings and the newly rich alike. Perhaps it is a sign of maturity. It is only a fact of life that those who are born into situations of wealth or power enjoy a degree of advantage to the rest. Some such advantages are even institutionalized, such as legacy admission programs at U.S. Ivy League universities. Only the most radical societies seek to equalize all with brute force, and they did not end well. Jacobin France, Peronite Argentina and China’s Cultural Revolution come to mind. [Ibid]

“A healthy society exercises moderation and tolerance towards privilege as long as mobility is sufficient, which is certainly the case for contemporary China. As such, most princelings would continue to enjoy their birth advantages. The few who abuse their privileges and behave as if their good fortunes are entitlements do great damage to themselves. But the notion that they have held the Chinese state hostage is a total myth. [Ibid]

Privileged Youths Above the Law

Peh Shing Huei, Strait Times, the Chinese public is increasingly becoming angry with a “clan of young Chinese are rich, arrogant and seemingly above the law because their parents are powerful and wealthy local officials.” In late 2010 public anger reached the boiling point towards this privileged group over several brutal incidents, mostly callous car accidents, that received widespread attention on the Internet. “These privileged young people have come to embody the qualities that ordinary Chinese hate about the authorities - corrupt, violent and lawless.” [Source: Peh Shing Huei, Strait Times, December 9, 2010]

Experts believe that if the trend is left unchecked, it may lead to large-scale social unrest. “With more and more of these guan er dai abusing their power, the people would have less faith in the ruling party, seeing it as a feudal organization,”' anti-graft analyst Lin Zhe from the Central Party School told the Strait Times. “It would be a threat to social stability... Such things build up bit by bit, before exploding. Once the people revolt, it will be too late.” [Ibid]

“Unhappiness with abuse of power by these “guan er dai” has boiled over in the past. Corruption by so-called 'princelings', children of top Chinese Communist Party leaders, was a key factor which led to the Tiananmen protests in 1989. 'The officials today are even greedier than the old cadres of the 1980s,' said Professor Lin. 'They want money, sex, government positions, academic titles, you name it. And not only do they plunder for themselves, they do it for their sons and daughters too.” [Ibid]

“Indeed, guan er dai are also believed to get plum government jobs because of their parents' connections,” Peh Shing Huei wrote. “In Pingnan county, southern Fujian province, for example, the employment requirements for a finance department position were so specific and detailed that only one applicant fulfilled them last month. She was the county party secretary's daughter. And in north-west Ningxia region, the son of two officials edged out 487 applicants for a civil service job despite allegedly not having completed his examination papers during the entrance exam.” [Ibid]

Law professor Zhang Min from Renmin University told the Strait Times that if most people believe officialdom is beyond their reach and is reserved for only the children of officials, the people's hatred of officials would intensify. “Such hatred would coalesce into a frightening force,' he wrote on the People's Daily website. 'And history tells us that once such a force has been formed, there is little chance of peace in the world.' [Ibid]

My Dad is Li Gang

The most infamous involved the son of a senior police official in northern Hebei province who, when caught fleeing a fatal car accident in October, shouted: 'My dad is Li Gang!' His words went viral on the Internet and have become the country's newest catchphrase, used in jokes, poems and even art installations. [Source: Peh Shing Huei, Strait Times, December 9, 2010]

China Hush reported: “In the evening on October 16, 2010, due to drunk driving and speeding, a black Volkswagen Magotan hit two female student pedestrians wearing roller shoes in front of a supermarket at Hebei University. The incident caused one death and one injured. After the incident, like nothing had happened, the driver continued to drive his girlfriend to school. He was then later stopped by number of students and school security guards on his way back. Surprisingly, the young man showed little remorse and fear, he shouted, “Go ahead, sue me if you dare, my dad is Li Gang”. The report of this incident immediately caused uproar in China’s online community.” [Source: China Hush, October 12, 2010]

“The incident caused widespread concerns of the netizens. Internet users expressed their anger towards the perpetrator on web. Posts condemning the perpetrator were seen everywhere. Netizens unmasked the perpetrator as Li Yifan. One pasting read: “name used in the past: Li Qiming, currently attending Hebei Institute of Media class of 2008, majoring in radio host.” The human flesh search report also listed all the schools he had attended since 1988) Home phone number: 13730287 ***. Netizens also confirmed that Li Gang is Bei District, Baoding City Public Security Bureau deputy director of criminal investigation.” [Ibid]

“Many netizens flooded his QQ space where you can find the angriest comments towards him and the unjust and irrational situation. People also posted his childhood photos: Authority is now scrambling with the investigation; according to GZdaily now there are almost no witness stepping forward for the investigation, where are they”; Questions are also raised about why emphasizing victims wearing roller shoes, as if they are trying to blame part of the fault for these shoes? And netizen also pointed out on one of the released photos where you can see the victim’s shoe was just a normal shoe---Let’s see how this incident unfolds.” [Ibid]

Changchun Incident

Peh Shing Huei, Strait Times, “A young man bumped his red Mazda 6 into an elderly woman, got out to scold her and then decided to inflict more pain by beating her up as well. 'I can even kill you. I have money. I would rather kill you and compensate you for it,' he shouted at the hapless woman. [Source: Peh Shing Huei, Strait Times, December 9, 2010]

Thousands of onlookers in north-eastern Changchun city quickly surrounded Mr Jiang Xiaozhu, according to local media, and ransacked his car before he was rescued by the police. An online background search for Mr Jiang, nicknamed 'police uniform man' because of what he was wearing, was quickly launched by netizens, whom the Chinese refer to as 'human flesh search engine'.

It revealed the 27-year-old to be a son of a local government official. His father is believed to be a county official and his father-in-law belongs to the same county's security forces. Mr Jiang, an employee in a state tobacco firm, is what the Chinese refer derogatorily to as guan er dai, or the offspring of officials.

According to China Hush, “Essentially, what happened is that a police officer driving his own car got angry with an old woman who wouldn’t get out of his way. He eventually got out of the car, argued with the old woman, and then started to beat her, grabbing her by the hair and punching her in the face, according to an interview she gave that’s excerpted at the end of the video. The old woman’s daughter came over and he hit her, too. That was when passers-by started to gather, and they were not amused. [Source: C. Custer, ChinaGeeks, April 16, 2011]

On a video of the released on the web picks up the action at this point. At the 1:00 mark, the narrator says “Rationally, everyone [jumped in] to prevent the [police]man’s crude behavior.” Then the video cuts abruptly to a shot of a mob going absolutely apeshit on the police officer’s car (which he, by that point, was wisely hiding inside). Even after police arrived, they kept smashing the car, and began chanting “Apologize, apologize!” Several scuffles with police occurred. Hours later, after police unsuccessfully tried to get the mob to disperse, the police finally got the man out of his car and into a waiting police van (2:19, note the people in the background still fighting to break through the police lines and attack him).” [Ibid]

C. Custer wrote on ChinaGeeks: “Of course, there’s more to this than privileged versus commoner (he was also beating an elderly woman, which wouldn’t win him many friends regardless of the prevailing mood of the time in any society). But the old woman he beat puts it in terms of haves and have-nots, and apparently so did the policeman. She also said he looked down on thelaobaixing, the common people. What’s most telling about this video is not the comments, which call for the offending officer’s head on a platter, and many of which also condemn police officers and public servants in general for their increasing lack of concern for the common people. No, what’s most interesting about this video is that it’s from early December 2010, but it’s still being passed around on Chinese social networks today.”

“This is, of course, an isolated incident. But this kind of thing happens a lot, and moreover, it obviously speaks to deeper issues. Unsurprisingly, it spread quickly across the internet, and has been reposted many times already. This posting on 56.com These stories keep getting passed around beyond their news shelf life, I suspect, because they are tapping into an increasingly common feeling of anger and exploitation among those who really are laobaixing. The story may be from December, but the feeling is as widespread today as it was then, probably more so. Are people about to take to the streets and launch a second Communist revolution to overthrow the new bourgeoisie? Absolutely not. But instead of harassing innocent dissidents and their lawyers, China’s leadership would do well to pay more attention to these issues.

“Friend” of Senior Leaders Gets 15 Years for Fraud

Huang Jingjing wrote in the Global Times, “Shi Dongbing, the author of a number of books about Chinese politics and who claimed to have close connections with the country's senior leaders, was sentenced Sunday by a court of first instance to 15 years' imprisonment for fraud. According to the Beijing No. 2 Intermediate People's Court, Shi fabricated stories of having personal relations with top Chinese leaders and some local officials, and claimed that through those "connections," he could help others gain promotion, approval for projects and even discount prices on cars.” [Source: Huang Jingjing, Global Times, April 26, 2011]

“Shi defrauded eight victims of 3.44 million yuan ($528,750) between 2004 and 2006, the verdict said. The victims included Zhou Wuxuan, former deputy director of the North China Regional Administration of the Civil Aviation Administration of China, Li Dequan, former party secretary of the land development center with the Shenzhen Land and Resources Commission, and Liu Jianmin, former deputy head of the Bank of Beijing, according to a report in Caijing magazine.” [Ibid]

“Shi has faced criticism from the children of nine former Chinese leaders, who denied having close relations with Shi and accused him of fabricating interviews with leaders in his books. The leaders include Hua Guofeng, a former chairman of the Communist Party of China (CPC), Hu Yaobang, a former general secretary of the CPC, and Ye Jianying, a former vice-chairman of the CPC, all now deceased. According to Shi's autobiography, which had been quoted in various media reports, he saved the wife of a Chinese leader during the Cultural Revolution (1966-76), and the woman later introduced him to many high-ranking officials. Shi claimed that he joined the Literary Association of Houma, Shanxi Province, in the 1980s and began to write books about China's top leaders. Due to their sensitive nature, many of his books were published in Hong Kong and pirated versions were circulated in the mainland.” [Ibid]

According to the Southern Weekend newspaper, despite the difficulties inherent in verifying the contents of Shi's books, many officials and businessmen treated him as an honored guest. "We thought Shi had deep connections with the leadership. On the first day I met him, he said that he could help me get a promotion. But he never delivered on his promises," the paper quoted Zhou Wuxuan, who gave Shi an 850,000 yuan villa, as saying. [Ibid]

According to the court, Shi made about 2 million yuan by touting his connections with Xu Zongheng, a former mayor of Shenzhen, who was detained in 2009 for "serious disciplinary violations." According to media reports, Shi claimed that in response to Xu's request, he wrote recommendation letters to senior government officials to help Xu become mayor. After Xu's election, the two became "good friends." But Shi said they broke up after he discovered Xu's corrupt actions, and he spent five months in prison on fraud charges in 2006 under an arrest ordered by Xu. [Ibid]

Zhu Lijia, a professor of public administration at the Chinese Academy of Governance, told the Global Times that Shi's case exposed hidden rules in China's political circles. "The reason why so many officials were easily fooled by Shi is because they knew that connections to higher authorities are shortcuts to success and wealth," Zhu said. "Such fraud cases will never end until these hidden rules are eliminated and the system for electing officials becomes more transparent." [Ibid]

Shi was not the first one to prey on gullible officials in recent years. In 2005, Zhang Chen, a farmer from Heilongjiang Province, was sentenced to life imprisonment for defrauding over 8 million yuan from several officials by pretending to be a relative of a leader in the central government. Zhou Bihua, deputy head of the Writers' Association of the city of Changde, Hunan Province, wrote in his blog that the so-called victims of Shi's actions should also be brought to justice. "These people saw Shi's 'connections' as shortcuts to success. They gave Shi many rewards, but how could they afford them by relying only on their salaries? It is ironic that they were treated as victims in this case," Zhou said. [Ibid]

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Yomiuri Shimbun, The Guardian, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated August 2012

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