Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Rumors about what goes on behind closed doors

When the best political analysis comes from people seemingly best able to interpret muffled sounds from "the next room," rumors spread rapidly. And, in a closed system, no one will officially deny them.

This analysis is by Damian Grammaticas writing on the BBC web site.

Damaging coup rumours ricochet across China
Have you heard? There's been a coup in China! Tanks have been spotted on the streets of Beijing and other cities! Shots were fired near the Communist Party's leadership compound!

OK, before you get too agitated, there is no coup. To be more exact, as far as we know there has been no attempted coup.

To be completely correct we should say we do not know what's going on. The fact is there is no evidence of a coup. But it is a subject that has obsessed many in China this week…

Many people seemed to believe something was happening, though. The thing that is fascinating is how much traction the talk gained, how far it spread, and what it suggests about China today.

What is most important is that these are not normal times in China. The political atmosphere is tense, full of talk about infighting, purges and power-struggles at the top as China's Communist Party prepares for its once-in-a-decade leadership shuffle later this year.

The Communist Party likes to portray itself as unified, in control - a competent, managerial outfit guiding China towards renewed greatness. It had wanted to show it can handle a leadership change within its ranks smoothly, but now that looks to be far from the case.

The reality of the past few weeks has been that China has been gripped by some of the most extraordinary political events in years, and they indicate significant political tensions beneath the surface…

The rumours focus on two camps battling for positions. On the one side are President Hu Jintao, Premier Wen Jiabao and supporters who have risen mainly from the Communist Youth League.

On the other side are the Shanghai faction and the "princelings" including Xi Jinping, the man expected to be the next leader of the party, whose father was a hero of the Communist revolution.

The patron of the Shanghai faction is former President Jiang Zemin. The two factions are generally thought to rotate power between them, but that may be under strain…

The problem for China's Communist Party is that it has no effective way of refuting such talk. There are no official spokesmen who will go on the record, no sources briefing the media on the background. Did it happen? Nobody knows. So the rumours swirl.

It is hardly surprising that there are splits and power struggles. They happen in every organisation, not just political parties. Those who reach the very top of the Communist Party of China can control vast resources, patronage, power and access to wealth. The idea that the party can be different and avoid such cliques and factional fights seems unrealistic.

But the Communist Party still attempts to control and divide up power in the same, secretive way it has for years. Meanwhile Chinese society has been changing fast around it. The party's very success managing China's economic growth means the country today is no longer the poor, agrarian society of Chairman Mao's day…

The official media, often waiting for political guidance, can be slow and unresponsive. Many in China are now so cynical about the level of censorship that they will not believe what comes from the party's mouthpieces even if it is true. Instead they will give credence to half-truths or fabrications on the web. That is corrosive for the party's authority.

For China's Communist elite, obsessed by projecting an image of unity and stability, this is a serious problem.

The party wants to manage the coming transfer of power smoothly. But keeping things secret and keeping people's trust is not easy to achieve at the same time.

And China doesn't look quite so stable when power struggles are being fought in the dark and talk of a coup can spread so fast.

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At 12:56 PM, Blogger Ken Wedding said...

Melody Dickison pointed out a similar article:

In China, the bats of rumor take wing

"China is now possibly, apparently, invisibly in the midst of political turmoil at the highest levels...

"Of course, as several foreign correspondents have rightly remarked today, it’s impossible to say anything with certainty about what’s happening — and difficult, in fact, to say much of anything at all...

"Politics at the top in China, and in fact at every level, is still beyond scrutiny, three decades after Deng Xiaoping urged the need for political reform to avoid the kind of destabilizing fractures that could erupt into events like the Cultural Revolution.

"The very fact that the rumors and curiosities this week have been 'harmonized' rather than contradicted with facts will naturally lead many people to believe them, or believe at the very least that they are half-truths pointing to the same fundamental conclusion: that all is not well in Zhongnanhai..."

At 8:34 AM, Blogger Ken Wedding said...

China Clamps Down on Social Networking Over Online Rumors

"China started a sweeping crackdown of its vibrant social-networking scene over the weekend, detaining six people, closing 16 sites and shutting off the comment function for two gigantic microblogs.

"The campaign, which was announced late Friday and put in place in stages through Saturday, was directly linked to the political instability that has gripped China since one of its most charismatic politicians, Bo Xilai, lost his post in mid-March. That spurred rumors of a coup, which the government-run Xinhua news agency cited as the reason for the measures…

"The reports… stemmed from disagreement among senior leaders over whether to remove Mr. Bo, who is being investigated over accusations of corruption and abuse of power. One of his backers, the senior leader Zhou Yongkang, was said to be behind the planned coup, although most Chinese analysts have discounted this as a fabrication…"


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