China’s dictator, Xi Jinpig is supposedly cleaning house. He is jailing communist thieves, as long as they are not his daughter, brother-in-law or sister. Oh yeah, he ignores Grandtheft Wne’s tribe and Hu Jintao’s one – mistake alone too.
This article shows how Beijing is really only attacking the low class and new generation reds.
By September 2014, some forty-eight high-level Communist Party cadres, military officials and party-state bureaucrats (that is, those ranked at deputy provincial level/ ministry level and higher 副省、副部、副军级以上干部) had been swept up in the vaunted Xi Jinping-Wang Qishan post-Eighteenth Party Congress anti-corruption campaign. By that time, the highest-level targets of the purge were the Hu-Wen-era Party Politburo member Zhou Yongkang and the PLA general Xu Caihou.
It is noteworthy that all forty-eight ‘Tigers’ 老虎, that is high-level corrupt officials, are reportedly from ‘commoner’ 平民 families. Indeed most are from peasant or similarly humble origins; none are easily identified as being members of what is known as the ‘Red Second Generation’ 红二代, that is, the children of the founding Communist Party fathers and mothers of the Yan’an era and early People’s Republic or, indeed, ‘Bureaucrat Second Generation’ 官二代, that is, the children of members of the first generation of representatives/ bureaucrats selected to join the inaugural convocations of the National People’s Congress or the National People’s Political Consultative Committee, both founded in 1954 (in the Mao era a high-level cadre was above Rank Thirteen in the Twenty-four Rank Cadre System 二十四级干部制).
It goes with saying that, in the murky corridors of Communist power, an impressive number of party gentry progeny, or the offspring of the Mao-era nomenclatura, have been implicated in corrupt practices, but word has it that, like the well-connected elites of other climes, they’ve enjoyed a ‘soft landing’: being discretely relocated, shunted into delicate retirement or quietly ‘redeployed’. It’s all very comfy; and it’s all very business as usual.
What has been extraordinary about the Xi-Wang anti-corruption purge is not so much its style or extent, but the fact that after nearly two years, members of the privileged families of the party-state have gone on the record to observe why they are above the grimy business of corruption. Members of this group have been of interest to The China Story Project for some years. I first wrote about them in an article for the June 2011 issue of China Heritage Quarterly titled ‘The Children of Yan’an: New Words of Warning to a Prosperous Age 盛世新危言‘, and again in ‘Red Eclipse’, the conclusion to our 2012 China Story Yearbook: Red Rising, Red Eclipse.
They feature once more in our upcoming China Story Yearbook 2014: Shared Destiny 共同命运.
Over the years many observers have blithely dismissed these seemingly Maoist remnants and treated them, at best, as marginal figures, often deriding them as has-beens. But in the closed system of China, these seemingly defunct members of the ageing party gentry, their fellows and their families should not be underestimated. The fury that their hauteur and unthinking air of superiority generates within the unconnected party-state bureaucracy and aspirational classes should also not be overlooked.
I would point out that, having known the first commentator quoted below, Ye Xiangzhen/Ling Zi, for over thirty years, I feel compelled to observe that she was an active member of the notorious Red Guard group known as the Capital Middle-school Red Guard Joint Action Committee 首都中学红卫兵联合行动委员会, the membership of which was strictly limited to the children of party cadres and leaders. It was a group that aimed to protect several older cadres while mercilessly sacrificing others and pursuing an agenda that would see them, the true Red Successors of Chairman Mao’s enterprise take power without delay. Later described as the ‘Emperor’s Faction’ 保皇派 (a term dating from the late-Qing period, previously used to describe those who would protect the royal house in the face of radical constitutional reform), they did not hesitate to employ class struggle in their favour (the most famous slogan that encapsulated their worldview was: ‘Dad a hero, son a stalwart; dad a reactionary, son a bastard, it’s basically the pattern’ 老子英雄儿好汉；父亲反动儿混蛋,基本如此). In this context it is worth revisiting the prescient writings of the tragic high-school student Yu Luoke 遇罗克, in particular his 1966 essay ‘On Family Background’ 出身论.
In the factional mêlée that followed, the Joint Action Committee was sidelined and other revolutionary successors (later denounced as those who were ‘helicoptered’ into power) found a place in Mao’s jerry-built party-state structures known as Revolutionary Committees. Nonetheless, members of this group continue to see reality through the prism of class/caste struggle and the long-delayed rightful inheritance of their revolutionary legacy. They began to inherit in the 1980s (Bo Xilai was a prominent and very public winner in this regard in the years up to the Eighteenth Party Congress). Now they occasionally step into the spotlight, providing us with a rare glimpse into the worldview of this secretive cabal.
Of course, Xiangzhen can speak of the simple-living older cadres. Having visited Ye Jianying’s Houhai city-block size mansion in the 1980s (see the illustration below), I understand just the kind of unthinking ‘frugality’ from which her class habitus springs. It should also be noted that she enjoyed two careers: that of a film-maker who somehow got to make the first independent film of the 1980s, ‘In the Wild’ 原野; and, that of a doctor. Her 1985 film, ‘Three Darlings Cause an Uproar in Shenzhen’ 三宝闹深圳, was a crude commercial affirmation of the Special Economic Zone championed by Xi Zhongxun, Xi Jinping’s father, a zone next to Guangdong province, the homeland of the Ye family. Shortly thereafter, Ye Xiangzhen took up residence in Hong Kong long before Mainlanders flooded the former British colony and, following a dalliance with Qigong Masters, she became enamoured of Buddhist and Confucian mummery, again, before such things infected her caste as a whole. No wonder there is no political tax on hereditary Communist cultural capital.
For a further insight into the Ye family’s humble circumstances, readers might enjoy the opening episodes of the forty-eight-part commemorative/hagiographic TV series ‘Deng Xiaoping in the Era of Transition’ 历史转折中的邓小平 (directed by the celebrated Fifth Generation film-maker, Wu Ziniu 吴子牛) released in August 2014. For a time, the yet-to-be-rehabilitated Deng takes refuge in Ye Jianying’s communist-palatial retreat at Yuquan Shan 玉泉山, the Central Committee redoubt in the northwest of Beijing located between the Summer Palace and the Fragrant Hills. The series offers us a rare glimpse of the Ye country residence. I should emphasise that such lofty accommodation has nothing to do with corruption. Its allocation is well within the party norms of ‘the requirements of revolutionary work’ 革命工作需要. Few could quibble about that; here my contrastive Tigers are caught in the dialectical symmetry of their economic base and their ideological superstructure.