princeling genealogy and advanced guanxixue

Normally, I am not a fan of imperial court television dramas first because the family dynamics of dog eat dog don’t appeal and also (and primarily) because I can’t keep track of all the players. Even with a scorecard, the nuances of multiple and overlapping connections between protagonists and lesser characters evade me. There are, for example, reportedly over 400 main characters in Dream of the Red Chamber. What’s more as an American, I like watching the action. However, as far as I can tell in an imperial television drama nothing of substance ever really happens — a marriage here, a conquered nation there, perhaps, but we never see it. Instead, the drama of an imperial court melodrama unfolds through charting various levels of family ties and in turn the revelation of who respects those ties, who abuses them, and who ignores what those ties mean. In other words, family protocols reveal personal ethics — national affairs are an effect thereof.

Take, for example, a brief sojourn into Bo Xilai’s family circle. I’ve already mentioned that his father was Bo Yibo and that his son, Guagua is know for his extravagant lifestyle. Bo Xilai’s second wife, Gu Kailai is a Beijing lawyer slash Princess. Gu Kailai’s father and Bo Yilai’s father-in-law, Gu Jingsheng (谷景生) was one of the key leaders in the December 9th [1935] Movement (一二九运动) to organize resistance against the Japanese invasion. Imprisoned for twelve years (from the Anti-Rightest campaign through the Cultural Revolution), Gu Jingsheng was appointed Vice Political Commissar of the Guangzhou Military Region after his rehabilitation, leading troupes in China’s brief Vietnam War, when Deng Xiaoping secured his place among PLA leaders. In 1981, Gu Jingsheng was appointed Second Secretary of Xinjiang, the first Secretary of the Xinjiang Production Brigade, and first Standing Member of the Xinjiang Provincial Politboro.  Just a few days ago, Bo Xilai’s brother-in-law, Lt. General Gu Junshan (谷俊山), Vice Minister of the People’s Liberation Army was removed from office. Speculation is that the removal is connected to the Wang Lijun fiasco and associated corruption charges.

All this to say, the Bo Xilai Wang Lijun scandal has rekindled my anthropological interest in genealogy and its obvious connection to guanxixue (关系学). And yes, it seems that Bo Xilai’s family background is more and more the story, regardless of what he or Wang Lijun may or may not have done. Meanwhile, Shenzhen announcements have begun to remind us that in 1979, when Xi Zhongxun, father of China’s future leader Xi Jinping was Guangdong’s governor, he proposed the establishment of the Shenzhen SEZ. And in that shimmering moment of imperial court Princeling drama, Deng Xiaoping is simultaneously remembered and erased from Shenzhen history, as local leaders try to position themselves and the SEZ as close to the inner party family as they can.

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