While I may not be making much time to write any Notes From Xi’an at the moment, the world does still seem to be turning. And one aspect of this ongoing rotation is the leadership transition going on right now at the top of China’s Communist Party. So, for my part, I thought I would just re-post a couple of relevant Notes I wrote earlier in the year, which took a look at that transition. For ongoing and up-to-date insight do not forget to check out Bill Bishop’s daily updates. It is also well worth taking a look at this rare interview with Xí Jìnpíng, recorded in 2000 but translated and published by the Nordic Institute of Asian Studies (NIAS) in October this year.
As an extra aside, I have just seen that Richard over at The Peking Duck has highlighted an interesting review, by Ian Johnson, of the newly translated English version of Yang Jisheng’s ‘Tombstone: The Great Chinese Famine, 1958-1962‘, that I was just reading in The New York Review of Books at the weekend. It is maybe worth checking out Richard’s post, Ian Johnson’s review and the book itself. There is also this piece in The Nation by Samuel Moyn, titled: ‘Totalitarianism, Famine and Us‘.
cartoon from es.toonpool.com
While I am still in a post-nuptial state of flux, or rather more disconcertingly a post-matrimonial photo-shoot state of mind, and as my next atom-splitting Note is still only in the gestation stage I am going to have to follow the lead of prolific blogger David Wolf at Silicon Hutong. I will do what I rarely do [update: then at least!] and that is simply post an extract from another blogger (or two). I will, however, throw in the odd comment for good measure or at least for my own small sense of ownership.
I agree with David’s appraisal that Patrick Chovanec’s Primer on China’s Leadership Transition is well “worth reading and absorbing”. For those of us uneducated about all things Chinese, or more specifically uneducated in things Chinese government, this article is a godsend. [Update 11/2012: also see this report by Susan Lawrence and Michael Martin produced for the US Congress, titled: 'Understanding China's Political System']
I will, however, go a step further and throw in a second extract from another great blogger, Sam Crane, whose perspective on China comes from a slightly different academic domain to Patrick’s Business, Economics and Management perspective. Creator of The Useless Tree, Sam is a professor of political science who focuses on ancient Chinese thought, and who approaches the issues covered on his blog from that multi-faceted but concentrated perspective. He wrote a piece last week, titled Understanding China – Or Not, in response to Vice-premier Wang Qishan’s recent emotive comments that Americans are a simple people who don’t understand China.
…continue reading the rest of the original Note
As I am at present stuck in that no-man’s land between British time and Chinese time (which means waking with intent at 3am) and as Xí Jìnpíng – China’s President elect – is at this same moment quietly crossing America, I thought I would simply note down extracts from, and links to, a couple of profiles of Xí that I have just been reading. Going on the basis that they didn’t have the desired affect of sending me to sleep, they may be worth passing on. It does seem, though, that not a great deal is known of the man who will, more than likely, succeed Hú Jǐntāo as Party head later this year and as President of China in March 2013, let alone what he might actually do when in office.
The visit has highlighted the fact that both parties – the Americans and Chinese – are in election mode, although with differing strategies. Vice President Biden has taken the opportunity to publically air a few American grievances vis-à-vis China’s control of its currency (link), its various trade irregularities (link) and its role within the UN, most recently in relation to Syria (link). Xí Jìnpíng seems to have adopted the “let’s not rock the boat” school of diplomacy, which is as much to do with his own election – not yet in the bag – than any significant representation of his leadership style or his views on China’s relationship with America. See this piece in the New York Times.
The Guardian: Profile – Xi Jinping by Tania Branigan – ‘His name is becoming more familiar but his face is still unknown to most and his opinions and intentions are an enigma. Xi Jinping’s visit to the US this week is unlikely to answer the west’s most important questions. But this is a getting-to-know-you trip for China’s heir apparent, who is expected to take the helm of the world’s second largest economy and fastest rising power from late this year. The Chinese vice-president’s Valentine’s Day meeting with Barack Obama is notable – as are his plans to catch a Los Angeles Lakers basketball game and to return to Muscatine, the tiny Iowa town he visited in 1985 as head of an animal feed delegation. His activities suggest he is shaping an image very different from that of the current Chinese president, Hu Jintao. While Hu is determinedly anonymous, Xi is “a big personality”, according to those who have met him.’ + a more recent profile (Nov’ 2012) from Tania Branigan here.
The Washington Post: Profile – Xi Jinping by Andrew Higgins – ‘After years of persecution by a Communist Party he helped bring to power, Xi Zhongxun was hauled from solitary confinement and taken to see his family. The purged revolutionary could barely recognize his own offspring and recalled a melancholy Tang Dynasty poem: “My children do not know me. They smile and say: ‘Stranger, where do you come from?’ ” More than three decades later, his son is set to become China’s next leader. Just months from his near-certain elevation to the country’s most powerful post — general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party — 58-year-old Xi Jinping arrived in Washington on Monday for a visit that U.S. officials hope will clarify the direction of the world’s fastest-rising economic and military power. Probing where Xi might be going, however, involves answering a question that, back home in China, is largely taboo: Where exactly is the leader-in-waiting coming from?’…continue reading + this recent piece (Nov’ 2012) from the Washington Post on China’s next Premier Lǐ Kèqiáng
Tea Leaf Nation.com: Netizens On Xi Jinping – The Inscrutable Heir Apparent by Rachel – ‘The Chimerica couple is serious about romance. As President Obama gears up to teach Vice President Xi Jinping some Potomac two-step on Valentine’s Day, netizens on China’s microblogs are voicing their own hopes for their Heir Apparent. No one is questioning the succession chances of Xi aside from few grumblings of “who elected him?” A widely circulated speculation on the reason behind the clampdown on Cantonese broadcasting is that his future title “Party General Secretary Xi” (习总书记) sounds like “Secretary Bastard” in Cantonese (for those who speak mandarin Chinese, the pronunciation of ‘Xi’ in proper Cantonese resembles ‘Za’). Xi, a “princeling” whose father was a high level official in Mao and Deng’s days, has not really shown his colors on the key question of political reform and whether the country should turn “left” or “right.”’…continue reading + this from them.
And then there was this [another 3am moment] :
The New York Times: Why China’s Political Model Is Superior from Eric X. Li - ‘This week the Obama administration is playing host to Xi Jinping, China’s vice president and heir apparent. The world’s most powerful electoral democracy and its largest one-party state are meeting at a time of political transition for both. Many have characterized the competition between these two giants as a clash between democracy and authoritarianism. But this is false. America and China view their political systems in fundamentally different ways: whereas America sees democratic government as an end in itself, China sees its current form of government, or any political system for that matter, merely as a means to achieving larger national ends. In the history of human governance, spanning thousands of years, there have been two major experiments in democracy. The first was Athens, which lasted a century and a half; the second is the modern West.’ …continue reading