“On November 6 or 7, two American men in suits will appear on television. Even with the sound off you will be able to tell, by the expression on their faces, which of them has been elected president and which has not,” writes David Pilling:
And, on an unspecified date between now and the end of the year, an unspecified number of Chinese men in dark matching suits will applaud themselves on to the stage of the Great Hall of the People. From the order in which they appear, experienced onlookers will be able to tell who is president, who is premier and who has which of the other jobs on the Politburo’s standing committee, China’s pre-eminent ruling body. …..In the US, we know practically everything there is to know about the candidates, if you leave aside Mitt Romney’s missing tax returns. In China, we know almost nothing substantive about them, save that Bo Xilai need not apply.
The downfall of neo-Maoist Bo Xilai and his wife, Gu Kilai, “revealed a deep rift among the top echelons of the Communist party and debunked the idea that authoritarian China has managed to institutionalize an orderly succession process in the absence of democracy,” notes a leading analyst.
For many observers, “the grim theatre around Bo and his wife’s fall only underlines that the more things change in China, the more they stay the same,” writes Kerry Brown, director of the Europe China Research and Advice Network.
“In the end, this is a system predicated on unaccountable power, where at the heart of governance a few all-important individuals engage in coalition-building and mutual support to advance each other’s interests without input from public opinion,” writes Brown, formerly an associate fellow on the Asia program at Chatham House, the London-based foreign policy think tank:
The ruling Communist Party operate “a very open, transparent electoral system, all out under the sunshine,” says Deng Shengming, deputy head of its powerful organization department.
“One must assume he was talking about the view of sunshine one often gets in Beijing, through the pea-soup haze of coal dust and assorted particulates. So open is the transition process that the date of the party congress itself is still a state secret,” notes the FT’s Pillling:
The transition was blown badly off course by the detention of Mr Bo, the disgraced former party secretary of Chongqing who had openly campaigned for a slot on the standing committee. It is ironic that the only man who publicly sought office should be the one barred from seeking it. With Mr Bo purged and his wife, Gu Kailai, convicted of murder in last week’s one-day trial, there are signs that the transition is back on track. Beijing is stepping up security and cracking down on any sign of disgruntled citizens. The silencing of the powerless is a sure sign that China’s democratic process is in full swing.
“The murkiness of the transition process is in direct proportion to its importance,” Pilling suggests, and the opacity is reinforced by the party’s diligent censorship apparatus and its propaganda department’s efforts to shape political discourse.
The indispensable China Digital Times regularly publishes leaked “directives” from the Ministry of Truth:
The latest Word of the Week comes from China Digital Space’s Grass-Mud Horse Lexicon, a glossary of terms created by Chinese netizens and frequently encountered in online political discussions. These are the words of China’s online “resistance discourse,” used to mock and subvert the official language around censorship and political correctness.
The “Ministry of Truth” refers collectively to the Central Propaganda Department, the Internet Affairs Office of the State Council Information Office (SCIO) and all other subordinate bodies involved in propaganda controls.
The Central Propaganda Department ensures that media and cultural content follow the official line as mandated by the Chinese Communist Party. Below the Central Propaganda Department is the State Council Information Office (SCIO), which in turn manages the Internet Affairs Bureau, responsible for overseeing all websites that publish news. The Internet Affairs Bureau sends out specific instructions to all large news websites daily, often multiple times per day. These instructions can take several forms: they may be directives to not report a certain event, to restrict reporting to Xinhua News wires or to not “play up” a certain event.
Offering an insight into hard-liners’ efforts to combat party reformists, China Digital Times reports that:
I’d like to say a few words to the liberals. You have stirred up China, and you have manufactured its adaptability. You have helped China progress by bringing change from the bottom up, and you have become one of the key forces in China’s reform. At the same time though, you are magnifying China’s risk, and you may one day bring China past that threshold of what it’s able to endure, thereby becoming the cancer cells that will lead to the demise of China. You have become a key tool in the hands of the Americans who want to topple China. I honestly hope you will eventually become a positive force in the destiny of China.
Nevertheless, the Bo Xilai scandal has stirred things up within the party, China specialist Brown writes on Open Democracy:
Suddenly it is acceptable to say the previously unsayable – that Bo Xilai, the party secretary, was out of control and practicing his own form of illegality. It’s probably more accurate to say that one form of confusion has been replaced by another. For Bo’s treatment is about as political as it can get in the contemporary PRC. Anything touched by him has implications for the current leaders and their self-interest, in conditions where truth is but a variable. The inner circle’s key concern is to prevent any contagion from Bo’s case touching them. …..
Beyond the private tragedy, however, the saddest thing about this case is that even if the full truth were told, it is very unlikely it would be believed. In that sense, China’s communist leadership have created for themselves and for the Chinese people a prison far harder to escape from than the one in which Chongqing’s mafia were held.