Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Friday, March 18, 2016

Analysis of Chinese politics

Yesterday's blog post featured The Guardian (UK) article about some resistance to political censorship in China. Today, Chris Buckley, writing in The New York Times offers more details and more analysis.

Tempest in a teapot? China is a huge teapot and this is a little tempest, but we won't know much until much later.

Chinese Tycoon Criticizes Leader, and Wins Surprising Support
When a sharp-tongued real estate tycoon publicly derided President Xi Jinping’s demand for unstinting loyalty to the Communist Party from the Chinese news media, the party’s response was predictably swift and harsh.

Ren Zhiqiang
His microblogs, which had tens of millions of followers, were erased overnight. Party websites unleashed an onslaught, calling the tycoon, Ren Zhiqiang, a capitalist traitor in language reminiscent of the Mao-era purges. The authorities vowed further punishment.

What happened next, however, was a startling departure from the standard script.

Journalists, scholars and party insiders came forward to defend Mr. Ren. A professor at the party’s top academy spoke up. A prominent magazine rebuked censors. A letter supporting him signed by a staff member at the state news agency spread online. A party newspaper warned about the risks of crushing all dissent.

The unexpected backlash sent a shiver through the political landscape here, exposing deepening unease about the adulatory promotion of Mr. Xi and his demands for unquestioning public obedience…

Until these remarks, Mr. Ren, 65, had seemed to be at least partly protected by his elite status in the Communist Party as… a friend of the party’s powerful anticorruption chief, Wang Qishan… Mr. Wang was Mr. Ren’s political instructor in junior high school…

Several of Ren's defenders said the episode had crystallized their fears that the exaltation of Mr. Xi and severe treatment of even mild dissent threatened to curtail the already limited room for debate. Some said that Mr. Ren’s vilification carried worrisome echoes of the “mass criticism” of the decade-long Cultural Revolution, which began in 1966...

The controversy does not suggest that Mr. Xi’s control is in danger; he remains powerful and popular with many Chinese people, who have welcomed his drive against graft…

Mr. Ren’s connection with Mr. Wang has kindled speculation that the case is a sign of a higher-level power play. Was Mr. Wang sending a signal to Mr. Xi? Could the cracks of dissent exposed by Mr. Ren point to more destabilizing internal rifts?

No one outside the party’s inner circle knows, but if officials have held back from punishing Mr. Ren, his connections may explain why…

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