This has not been one of my better China weeks. The Cycle of China Funk (Pour one out for “Talk Talk China”) buckled under the weight of Xi Jinping exultation and stringent new security measures. These measures are meant to protect National People’s Congress delegates on their way to and from the Great Hall of the People but many suspect they are just another way to suck what is left of “fun” out of Beijing.
For the record, I think the security measures are reasonable given that almost every star in the Chinese political firmament who hasn’t (yet) been incarcerated or chased into exile by General Secretary Xi Jinping is here in the city. That it is also sucking what is left of the “fun” out of Beijing I’m sure is just a nice bonus for the powers that be. A little extra taint tickle for the boys at the Ministry of State Security as they’re forced to swallow a giant wad of bullshit memoranda about security risks to the Motherland. You know, like foreign students, and beer pong, and the Chinese constitution.
While the Party proceeds to eat the apparatus of government like some unholy cross between the Ouroboros and a human centipede, and Xi Jinping steers the ship of state into uncharted waters, my Twitter Feed and (for a nanosecond) my WeChat feed were all about an eye-rolling millennial journalist. She made quite an impression, and I am sure is as I write this she is either on her way to a coal mine in the dankest part of Shanxi Province or a three-year journalism fellowship at Columbia depending on which shady government organization got to her first.
It’s been that kind of week.
The coverage of the NPC and the vote to end term limits for the title of State Chairman has set off a somewhat predictable circle jerk online. State media, including Hu Xijin, who on Twitter has vacillated wildly between “Kissing a little party ass” and “Full-fledged Coprophagia,” have of course fallen in line with the idea that the constitutional change. To the initiated, this change represents the will of the people and is essential for “ensuring the prosperity and long-term stability of the Party and the country, and enhancing China’s influence in the international arena.”
That’s fine as far as it goes. Although one suspects that if the will of the people was as important as everybody says it is there might be a little less energy spent shutting down any discussion of the proposed constitutional change, but whatever…it’s China, I get it.
On the other side of my Twitter feed are international observers breathlessly comparing Xi to every tyrant this side of Voldemort. I understand the impulse.
One reason so many folks want to put Xi in the context of a “New Mao” or “New Emperor” is that it is easier for us to understand things in terms of (reasonably familiar) past paradigms than to face the very real possibility that what is happening here is something new which we do not yet understand.
Whatever Xi Jinping plans to do, he’s not looking to Mao or the Qianlong Emperor or Vladimir Putin for inspiration. He wants to be his own demagogue, and he’s earned that right.
Xi Writes Himself into the Narrative of China’s Modern Rejuvenation
Xi is also getting ready for his close-up. I was out walking the dog yesterday in our apartment compound and saw a sign “inviting” all of the party members in the neighborhood to a showing of the slick propaganda epic “Amazing China.”
If you haven’t seen “Amazing China” because you’ve been too busy catching up on your work report readings or watching Black Panther, it’s a montage of impressive infrastructure achievements, happy folks, and wise leaders. It’s actually not too different in tone or style from a campaign ad in US elections… I mean, if the people watching “Amazing China” were allowed to vote and stuff.
If you’re drinking along with “Amazing China” at home, here’s the game: Every time a member of a non-Han nationality proclaims a love the party… drink. Every time Xi Jinping drops platitudinous prose from his latest book… drink. Every time you see a train… drink double. Trust me when I tell you there is no way if you play this game you’re making it to the end of the full-length version and I’d take even odds that most folks will be puking on themselves and proclaiming carnal love to a ficus plant by the first intermission. It’s pretty thick.
My mood has also not been helped this week by messages received from friends both inside and outside China. These are smart people I trust who used to write wise-ass things like “You’re still there, huh?” and “Last one to leave turn out the lights!” but are now more prone to writing in all CAPS LOCK shrill warnings like “ANYBODY WHO CAN GET OUT SHOULD!” and “RUN, MOTHERFUCKER, RUN!”
Yeah, maybe it’s time. Walk out into Gulou Dongdajie, pull out a Zippo, and light my visa on fire in a ritualistic orgy of righteous fury and board a plane.
Nah, it’s a new era. Or at least so I am told.
In-text photo by Jeremiah Jenne
Cover photo from “Amazing China”
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