Elections are so 20th-Century. Tea Leaf Nation is pleased to introduce its coverage of the 2012 Leadership S-election in China, which will take place in the second half of 2012. Move over President Obama, the S-election of the members of the Standing Committee of the Chinese Communist Party’s Politburo is where true political drama takes place in the 21st Century.
You say all the Chinese leaders look exactly the same? You are not alone. No one can tell them apart. Even the New York Times published the wrong photo of a leader to whom they devoted an entire article.
You say you can’t remember these men’s names? We will try to assign nicknames to each of the main characters — if nicknames are good enough for former U.S. President “Dubya,” they are good enough for us.
You say you don’t know what the StanComm of the Politburo does? Well, it pretty much runs China.
For addicts of Huffpo and Politico, political life in China may seem like a serene pond in a Suzhou garden by comparison. No rancorous debates. No attack ads. No hanging chads. No ballots. No problem.
Beneath that calm, harmonious surface however lies a hidden world of power politics and intrigue. Average Chinese people may not get to vote, but they are still interested in gossiping about the men who will govern them for the next ten years. When the last S-election happened in 2002, Mark Zuckerberg still lived in a Harvard dorm and Netscape was still around; but this time around, the gift of social media has been unwrapped for the Chinese people, and they are using it.
On China’s homegrown versions of Twitter, netizens are talking politics. The names of current leaders and several top candidates for the StanComm are not searchable on the microblogging platforms, but with the help of some coded search terms, there are plenty of tea leaves to be read.
In the S-election 2012 coverage, Tea Leaf Nation aims to bring you netizens’ comments directly from the microblogs on China’s future leaders. Without further ado, here are the three most talked-about contenders in S-election 2012, along with some coded references that netizens usually use (searches for these particular terms have not yet been banned by censors).
The Heir Apparent – Vice President Xi Jinping is a “princeling” whose father had the privilege of both fighting alongside, and being purged by, Mao. He inherited military ties from his father and worked in the military for a few years in the early 1980’s before minting his own credentials as a governor of wealthy coastal provinces Fujian and Zhejiang. Popular coded reference: 习总 (CEO Xi)
The Red Prince – Governor Bo Xilai of Chongqing Municipality is also a princeling and has been pegged as a rising star ever since his days as the Minister of Commerce. A shrewd opportunist and ironfisted executive, Bo initiated the “Sing Red” campaign in Chongqing that brought back memories of the Cultural Revolution to many. Popular coded reference: 薄督 (Governor Bo) or 不厚书记 (Secretary Bu Hou)
The New Hope – Governor Wang Yang of Guangdong Province has repeatedly made gestures that appeal to liberals. Rightly or not, many are hanging their hopes for further political reforms on him. Wang is not a princeling, but the word on the street is that current President Hu and Premier Wen have got his back. Popular coded reference: 汪督 (Governor Wang)
Please stay tuned for our next installment: The Inscrutable Heir Apparent.