Posts Tagged ‘Hu Jintao’

On November 8th, Chinese President Hu Jintao will step down from his posts atop the Communist Party and Chinese government after exactly 10 years in power.

If one word could sum up Hu’s presidency, it would be stability. In policy and in character Hu has remained ever-wary of deviating from a steady, low-key approach to leadership. He lacks the cultish devotion enjoyed by Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping, and the charisma of his predecessor Jiang Zemin. Hu’s approach has seen a near quadrupling of per-capita income in China, but little in the way of political reform.

“Without stability, nothing could be done, and even the achievements already made could be lost.” –Speech on the CCP’s 90th anniversary, July, 2011

Earlier this year, Hu’s comparatively liberal faction of the Communist Party seemingly won a victory with the fall of left-wing icon Bo Xilai. Hu has tended to keep Mao Zedong’s legacy and the more socialist tendencies of the Party at arm’s length. But he still pays homage to the ideology that the communist government was founded on.

“We never take Marxism as an empty, rigid, and stereotyped dogma.” –Speech on the CCP’s 90th anniversary, July, 2011

However, “Socialism with Chinese Characteristics” – perhaps more accurately known as authoritarian capitalism – has seen major side-effects come along with economic growth. Foremost among them is official corruption. Under a system that bars deep scrutiny of leaders through media or free speech, Hu has repeatedly pleaded with party members to keep themselves clean.

“Leading cadres at all levels should always maintain a spirit of moral character and be aware of the temptations of power, money and beautiful women.” April, 2010 in keynote speech wrapping up campaign aimed at educating officials.

Reigning in the excesses of economic development was the theme of Hu’s signature “Harmonious Society” socio-economic doctrine, which aimed to make Chinese society more balanced and just. However, wealth inequality has soared under Hu to its highest levels in PRC history.

“Without a common ideological aspiration or high moral standard, a harmonious society will be a mansion built on sand.” -Speech to high-level party members June, 2005

Another worry of the Hu administration has been that foreign culture and ideology may be usurping the domestic agenda. On several occasions he’s called for China to promote its own values and push for greater soft power at home and abroad through “cultural reform.” Earlier this year he wrote a strongly-worded essay on the issue, which was critically received by many foreign observers.

“Hostile international powers are strengthening their efforts to westernize and divide us. We must be aware of the seriousness and complexity of the struggles and take powerful measures to prevent and deal with them.”– January, 2012 – in the Communist Party’s magazine, Seeking the Truth

When speaking to foreign audiences though, Hu is always careful to downplay the threat of China’s rise and stresses that the nation is only interested in “peaceful development.”

“China’s development will neither obstruct nor threaten anyone but will only be conducive to world peace, stability and prosperity.” – November, 2005 to Vietnamese National Assembly

As the commander-in-chief of the world’s largest military, Hu has increased China’s defense budget by double-digits nearly every year he’s been in charge. Some have speculated that this is simply to keep the guardians of China’s authoritarian rule happy. Others have worried this may be part of a greater effort to exert military influence in Asia and enforce claims over long-disputed territories.

“[The navy should] accelerate its transformation and modernization in a sturdy way, and make extended preparations for military combat in order to make greater contributions to safeguard national security and world peace” –December, 2011 in speech to  Central Military Commission

For the entirety of PRC history, the most significant territorial conflict for China has been Taiwan. When the pro-mainland KMT candidate Ma Ying-jeou became president of the island, Hu redirected cross-straits relations from a course of tense provocation to one of engagement. Much to the consternation of hawks within the Communist Party and army, Hu opened more economic and people-to-people exchanges with Taiwan. The move tacitly took a military-enforced re-unification off the table for the foreseeable future.

“I sincerely hope that our two parties (KMT and CCP) can work together to continue to promote the peaceful and steady development of cross-strait relations, and make efforts for the bright future of the Chinese nation,” –Congratulatory remarks to Ma Ying-jeou on his election as chairman of the Kuomintang , July, 2005.

Beyond his professional life, little is known about Hu as a person. His image is meticulously crafted as a tireless servant of the people who devotes his life to conducting field inspections, speaking with peasants and meeting with foreign diplomats. A leaked US embassy cable from 2009 opened a window into the choreographed world of Hu by recounting how a seemingly spontaneous chat with a rural farmer was actually planned days in advance – with the farmer being told not to shave so as to appear more rustic. Under a heavily controlled media, going off-script is rare and details about leaders’ personal lives are scant. A journalist was once even fired for revealing that Hu is diabetic.

“We must adhere to the principle of party spirit in journalism, holding firmly to correct guidance of public opinion” –June, 2008 in speech dealing with news media

However, in 2011, one on-camera encounter was received a bit differently than planned. A recipient of subsidized housing told Hu that she paid only 77 yuan each month for her two bedroom home in Beijing – a city where rapid inflation sees even the humblest of homes now fetching thousands of yuan in rent. Hu replied by saying:

 “77 yuan each month – are you able to cope with the rent?”

Skeptical audiences mocked the obviously-scripted conversation, asking where they too could find such unbelievably cheap housing.

Perhaps the closest Hu ever came to making an actual gaffe though was in 2010 when a Japanese elementary school student asked why Hu wanted to become chairman. His answer raised eyebrows with those familiar with China’s power structure:

“Let me tell you. I have never wanted to become chairman. All the people of China chose me to be the chairman, so I could not afford to let them down.”

This week President Hu Jintao touched millions of his compatriots by pulling a sticker off his shoe. At a G-20 photo-op, he and all the world leaders had a small sticker of their national flag on the floor marking where they should stand. As they were leaving, the Chinese flag sticker got stuck to Hu’s shoe, so he bent down to pick it up. The story reported in the Chinese blogosphere and media, however, was that Hu so revered the Chinese flag that he felt compelled to respectfully and gingerly bend down to save it as the other world leaders coldly discarded theirs.

“I am deeply touched and proud of being a Chinese,” People’s Daily reported one netizen saying about Hu’s bending over two feet to the ground, as China’s first female astronaut continued orbiting hundreds of miles overhead unnoticed.

The fawning over this incident reminded me of this lesson that Chinese children are taught in school. Perhaps there’s a connection:

In 1990, UNICEF invited Beijing middle school students to visit the Netherlands in order to participate in “Children of the World for Peace” activities. Liang Fan flew to the Netherlands to represent Chinese children. She stayed in a comfortable hotel and met many little brothers and sisters from all around the world. It was a very happy time!

As the activities began, banners of more than 50 countries were raised in front of the hotel.  Liang Fan looked for the Chinese flag, but couldn’t find it. So Liang Fan immediately went to the organizer and solemnly demanded, “The Chinese national flag must be raised since I’m here representing China.”

Later, it was almost lunch time and the Chinese flag still hadn’t been raised yet. So Liang Fan brought the organizer to the table, pointed at the pink tablecloth, and said, “If you cannot find a Chinese national flag, it’s ok. I am going to paint this red and make it into a flag!” Liang Fan’s patriotism touched the organizer deeply and the news spread quickly, which caught the organizing committee’s attention. They ordered somebody to find a national flag for the People’s Republic of China and raise it in front of the hotel. Liang Fan was admired by representatives from the other countries who praised her as a qualified representative of the People’s Republic of China.

What can we learn from this?

After Forbes Magazine named Chinese President Hu Jintao the most powerful person in the world this week, a China Daily article had some guesses as to why Forbes chose to unseat Barack Obama as the reigning number one in favor of Hu:

“Forbes magazine has named President Hu Jintao as the world’s most powerful person, a move that analysts say shows global acknowledgement of China’s contribution to the world’s economic recovery.”

“China’s peaceful rise on the world stage is also likely to have been a decisive factor.”

“Another significant factor in Hu’s ranking was China’s stable social development and its ability to overcome natural disasters in recent years. The effective measures taken by the government also earned credits for Hu.”

“Analysts said China’s burgeoning economy might have tipped the scales in Hu’s favor. They noted that China’s remarkable contribution to the world’s economy helped it gain a strong international reputation.”

During all these analysts’ analyses, it seems they forgot to analyze what Forbes Magazine itself actually said regarding why they awarded the number one spot to Hu:

“Unlike Western counterparts, Hu can divert rivers, build cities, jail dissidents and censor Internet without meddling from pesky bureaucrats, courts.”

The Chinese media’s coverage of the Forbes list marks a noticeable contrast from the coverage over the past few weeks of the Nobel Peace Prize when everyone involved from Liu Xiaobo himself, to the Nobel Committee, to the entire country of Norway were directly
attacked. The approach to the Forbes list shows the more traditional propaganda department approach: spin and repress.

Spin the event into something flattering to China while quoting some unnamed “analysts” or “experts”, then repress any information that disproves their assertions. Even with the internet, stories like this are usually easy to apply this approach to. Patriots and nationalists within China are all too willing to accept the new harmonious version of the story which casts China in a superior world position. They have no desire to see conflicting information, so unlike with the Nobel Prize, they won’t bother to seek it out.