carry the purse, gentlemen!

5198cc4ejw1e326t05m2gjMeme du jour: Even the most impressive have to carry their wife’s purse (在牛逼的爷们也得帮媳妇拎包).

Yes, it’s true. Xi Jinping carryies wife, Peng Liyuan (彭丽媛)’s purse and the Chinese internet is gleefully sharing the news. I know that many westerners-in-China have been disconcerted by the fact during a Chinese courtship, men carry their girlfriend’s purse. After marriage,  many men — especially those “caring alpha” types — carry their wife’s purse. And now Xi Jinping and Peng Liyuan have brought this bit of intimacy to the international scene.

My friends have been thrilled by Peng Liyuan’s performance as China’s First Lady. Now, they’re ecstatic that she’s reminding their menfolk about what it means to be a gentleman.

More Princeling drama: Guagua returns and possible public appearance by Bo Xilai

Yesterday, Epoch times reported that the FBI repatriated Bo Xilai and Gu Kailai’s son, Bo Guagua. Why should we care?

Before the 18th National People’s Congress opened, the Party had stripped Bo Xilai of his Party standing and his post, which is called “double removal (薄熙来双开)” and sentenced Gu Kailai to death, with a two-year probationary period. So one would think that the Congress would open and the folks at the top would get on with sentencing Bo Xilai and making official appointments. However, the 18th NPC has opened and we still don’t know what exactly is happening.

We can speculate, however, that with the repatriation of Guagua, apparently the United States has decided to help Hu Jintao and Xi Jinping do whatever it is they’re doing behind closed doors. It may be that Gu Kailai was actually poisoned, and Guagua needs to give evidence. It may also be that he knows something about his parents’ affairs. More importantly, whatever the legal reasons for dragging Guagau back home, the fact of his return seems to indicate that Hu Jintao and / or Xi Jinping have decided to break with Deng Xiaoping’s famous decision to spare Zhao Ziyang’s children from prosecution in the post Tian’anmen era.

Common wisdom holds that given the decision to deploy the military to squash the protests in 1989, Deng Xiaoping had no other option than placing Zhao Ziyang under house arrest. Nevertheless, he expressed his solidarity with his former protege by announcing that investigations into Tian’anmen would not include the children of prominent leaders. In fact, in the post-1989 era, Zhao Ziyang’s daughter, Wang Yannan (王雁南) has been active campaigning for the rehabilitation of her father and other leaders.

Deng Xiaoping’s decision to spare Zhao Ziyang’s four sons, let alone his wife and her family reflected a modern understanding of the family. Traditionally, when high-ranking officials were sentenced, the victims included “executing the nine branches of a lineage (灭门九族)”. Chinese kinship traditionally reckons lineage through the father-son relationship (agnatic descent-家族), but also distinguishes branches within the lineage through mother-daughter-and sister marriages (嫁). The nine kinship branches (九族) are:

  1. Father’s family, four kinship branches — self (kinship branches counted from eldest and other sons), married paternal aunts and cousins, married sisters and sisters’ children, married daughters and grandchildren;
  2. Mother’s family, three kinship branches — mother’s father’s family, mother’s mother’s family, and mother’s sister’s family;
  3. Wife’s family, two kinship branches — father-in-law’s family and mother-in-law’s family.

Obviously, contemporary Princeling court dramas are different from the Confucian first, second, third, and fourth wife scenarios a la Raise the Red Lantern (movie and book). This is why Bo Xilai’s first wife, Li Danyu could gossip with New York Times reporters about Bo-Gu family intrigue, while her and Bo’s eldest son Li Wangzhi can continue cattle farming. However, more colloquially, Guagua maybe be one of the implicated (株连) simply because his father has no other weakness and has yet to admit that he was wrong. After all, Gu Kailai did confess; Bo Xilai has made no public apologies or admissions of error.

Speculation du jour, if Princelings benefit from family connections, perhaps they can also be used against each other, especially against those like Bo Xilai, who might not otherwise bend. Bo Xilai will be sentenced in Guizhou, Guiyang. So to speculate even further, weibo has it, that on Monday, Oct 15, Bo Xilai will appear publicly in Guizhou, and inquiring minds want to know: how is this appearance connected to his younger son’s return?

guagua has vanished, but his older half-brother splashes across the chinese media

At this point in As Chongqing Turns, Guagua has vanished, but intrepid journalists have reported that his famously low key older half-brother, Li Wangzhi (李望知 Brandon Li) is in business with a Japanese chain selling high quality black angus steaks. More to the gossipy point of our story, Li Wangzhi gave his investment company a snarky classical name and his mother, Bo Xilai’s first wife, Li Danyu is throwing operatic slurs!

Flashback: In the rough and tumble years of the Cultural Revolution, the Bo family was out in the political cold with the rest of the 8 elders. Nevertheless, their children were intermarrying, consolidating alliances, and falling in and out of bad romance.

In 1976, Bo Xilai married Li Danyu (李丹宇), the princess daughter of the high-ranking cadre, Li Xuefeng (李雪峰), who in 1960 became the first political commissar of the Beijing Military Region and subsequently took control of the Beijing party organization after the purge of Peng Zhen in 1966. His political star fell when he supported Chen Boda during the 1971 Lushan Conference named him a Lin Biao supporter. In 1976, when his daughter married Bo Xilai, Li Xuefeng still faced another 3 years of  internal exile in Anhui province and would not be rehabilitated until 1982.

Bo Xilai was working as a manual laborer at the Bejing Number 5 Machine Repair Factory when he and Li Danyu married and had a son, Bo Wangzhi. In 1978, the college entrance exam system was re-instated and Bo Xilai was admitted to the Law Department of Beijing University where he met Gu Kailai. Princeling preferences for marrying within red circles being what they were, there were no degrees of separation between the young lovers — Li Danyu’s older brother was married to Gu Kailai’s third older sister, making Bo Xilai and Gu Kailai in-laws by marriage.

Even as Bo Xilai and Gu Kailai’s romance escalated, Li Danyu publicly accused her husband of being Chen Shimei (陈世美), the infamous adulterer from the eponymous Beijing opera. Li Danyu also tried to have Gu Kailai convicted on the “Destroying a Military Marriage” law. Nevertheless, Bo and Gu persevered and were married in 1984, when (it is said), the scorned ex-wife’s father was instrumental in having the couple run out of Beijing to Jin County, Dalian, where Bo Xilai’s political career began a Vice Secretary. Indeed, until 2003 when Li Xuefeng died and his influence over the Beijing political apparatus finally ended, Bo Xilai was unable to find a political position in the capital.

After her divorce from Bo Xilai, Li Danyu had their son change his surname from Bo to Li. Over the years, Li Danyu made sure that everyone knew of Bo and Gu’s lack of virtue, making sure that the story followed Bo wherever he was assigned.

Flash forward: Li Wangzhi grew up, graduated from Beijing University’s School of Law in 1996 and went on for a Master’s in Finance from Columbia in 2001. On returning to Beijing, Li Wangzhi set up a company called Chong’er Investment Consulting Ltd (重耳投资咨询有限公司). Inquiring minds want to know — what’s the story?

During the Spring and Autumn period, Chong’er (重耳) was the given name of Duke Jin Wen, son of Duke Jin Xian. Duke Jin Xian’s concubine, Li Pei had a child, Chong’er’s younger half-brother, Xi Qi. In order to secure Xi Qi’s future, Li Pei hatched a plot to kill Chong’er, who fled for his life. But in a what goes around comes around moment, Li Pei and Xi Qi died in court infighting and Chong’er triumphantly returned to take power.

Today, as Guagua hides and his parents remain hidden, Li Wangzhi moves forward (under the pseudonym Li Xiaobai) with his beef export business, which supplies Japanese steak aficionados with tasty, massaged Snow Dragon black angus steaks at $US 600 a kilo from ranches in — yes, its true — Dalian (雪龙黑牛股份公司).

three class theory: speculating on the scale and possibility of reforming china

A while back I heard a princeling turned Shenzhen nouveau riche (and they do surface every now and again, entrepreneurs in their late 50s and 60s, who came to the SEZ to live well below the national political radar, but nevertheless take advantage of their status to reap economic benefits in the city that launched Reform) half-mockingly challenge a lunch table of intellectuals, saying:

China has three classes — high ranking officials (高干), national intellectuals (高知), and peasants (农民). Officials need help governing and are good to those who help them, but that’s not the important issue. The real question is: do you really want to share power with peasants?

That smug question provoked self-conscious chortles because most at the table were low-level national intellectuals, not peasants, no, but certainly ecclesiastes, who Gramsci defined as the category of intellectuals “who for a long time…held a monopoly of a number of important services: religious ideology, that is the philosophy and science of the age, together with schools, education, morality, justice, charity, good works, etc. The category of ecclesiastes can be considered the category of intellectuals organically bound to the landed aristocracy.”

The a-ha moment in “three class theory” is the emphasis on political, rather than economic power. Take a look at Chinese society and what becomes obvious is that high-ranking officials are, by and large, China’s property-owning class and national intellectuals are, by and large, members of the bourgeoisie. Within each of these classes, of course, exist various opportunities to confirm and strengthen social status, as well as opportunities to transfer and exchange socially valued goods, including money, but also including housing, medical care, and other social benefits. In contrast, peasants are those organically tied to the land, with all that the status has historically entailed: providing quota grain under Maoist collectivism to fund socialist urbanization, and presently being excluded from China’s urban boom except as members of the proletariat. The point, of course, is that in Chinese society economic opportunity is a function of political and social status, rather than the reverse.

The status of peasants and their ties to land are at the center of Shenzhen’s development.On the one hand, as rural areas urbanize, the question of land comes to the fore and in it we see how officials and intellectuals cooperate to expropriate land and justify its expropriation. In this scenario, the class struggle is over the terms of proletarianization and the creation of what are called “peasant workers (农民工)”. On the other hand, to the extent that villages retain control of their land and pursue capitalist projects, we see the stability of the three class system as local systems reproduce this hierarchy, producing “local emperors (土皇帝)”.  In this parallel scenario, the struggle is over the extent to which local emperors and local intellectuals might launch themselves into national politics. Obviously, although both historical trajectories transform individual lives, it is also clear that these changes are not bringing about a more just society, but rather using previous injustices to make and legitimate power grabs and the concomitant distribution of the spoils.

As China enters its fourth decade of reform, Gramsci’s call for intellectuals to theorize and provide alternatives to the present situation still haunts us. The fact that US and Chinese leaders continue to cosy up to one another and that US and Chinese intellectuals find so much in common makes salient the compatibility of US neoliberal ideologies and Chinese ideologies of socialist exceptionalism. However, this ideological compatibility has blinded many of us to a simple truth; the quality of life for Chinese nongmin remains the standard for evaluating the scale, possibility, and social forms of Reform and Opening, not the cross-cultural comfort level of high-ranking officials and national intellectuals, whatever their passport status may be.

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.

party melodrama as prelude to the 18th national people’s congress

Shenzhen friends have been speculating about the political-economic shifts we will see as a result of the 18th National People’s Congress. The latest scandal involves Politboro Standing Committee hopeful Bo Xilai (薄熙来) and his henchman slash vice Mayor slash Chief of Police, Wang Lijun (王立军).

The scandal and source of gossip: Wang Lijun visited the US Consulate. The Chongqing military policy surrounded the Consulate, demanding the US to handover Wang Lijun. Beijing sent Qiu Jin, vice Minister of National Security. 24 hours after entering, Wang Lijun “willingly” left the US consulate with Qiu Jin. Subsequently, Bo Xilai went to Kunming for unknown reasons.

I have been trying to understand what’s at stake, why the fallout, and how to read between the lines. This is what I’ve gathered; some of the gossip may even be reliable.

The dramatic background of the Bo Xilai scandal is the fight to become a member of the Politboro Standing Committee, which is a recognized springboard for becoming President and Premier, positions one and two in China. Bo Xilai is one of the more prominent and/or notorious members of China’s Princeling Party (太子党), the generation of Party leaders who have come to power because of their powerful parents. Bo Xilai’s father, Bo Yibo was one of the “eight immortals” of the Deng era Communist Party. The Princelings are in the news because China’s next leader Xi Jinping, son of Communist veteran, Xi Zhongxun is also a Princeling.

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