China Ink

It’s Party time

A series of celebrations last week for the anniversary of the founding of the Communist Party of China: how did the media report it?

90 years young?

Ninety years old but the Party is “still brimming with youthful vigour”, celebrated the China Daily. With the trust of 1.3 billion people behind it, it was “securely, assuredly and adroitly at the helm of the country”.

Very true, agreed sister media outlet Xinhua, which was also keen to point out that the Party’s story has “long drawn attention and admiration from worldwide”. More, in fact: “the Party’s success is a historical phenomenon that revitalises China, benefits the world and enriches human history”.

“Ain’t No Party Like the Communist Party,” was the headline in Foreign Policy magazine, in a report on how the leadership had pushed the celebratory boat out for the commemoration of the founding event in Shanghai in 1921. There were concerts, exhibitions of revolutionary art, sporting competitions and political gatherings. Two handwritten letters from Karl Marx were also purchased to mark the special day.

An unbreakable bond with the people?

Key to the Party’s success was its relationship with the masses, Li Jingtian, executive vice president of the Central Committee’s Party School, wrote in the People’s Daily. This “fundamental guarantee to lead the people to victory in revolution, construction and reform” was the foundation of its authority, Li thought.

And it is still growing, reported the Global Times, having picked up 3 million new members this year. Just 32,000 members handed back their badge in the same period, and most of those were expelled (to maintain “advancement and purity” in the ranks, a spokesman told the newspaper).

There’s no doubting the Party’s longevity, agreed the Financial Times. And with more than 80 million members, it is the world’s largest political organisation. But its claim to be at the vanguard of the working class (the opening sentence in its manifesto) looks more dubious, with only 9% of its members classified as ‘workers’. The massive majority are government officials, businessmen, professionals, college graduates and military officers. So forget Marxism-Leninism: the Party is better described as the world’s largest chamber of commerce, the FT writes.

A few mistakes, but generally effective?

There has been the occasional error, the state media admitted. Hu Jintao himself alluded to “severe setbacks” like the “Great Starvation” of 1959-62, as well as the Cultural Revolution of 1966-76. He also made clear that he was “soberly aware” of the “gravity and danger” of corruption.

“Ask anyone on the street why he or she is by and large comfortable with the country’s political status quo, and one will hear words of praise,” the China Daily soothed, pointing to the handling of natural disasters, and the international financial crisis. “This is how ordinary Chinese people gauge the competence of their leadership.”

It was no major surprise, thought the Guardian, that last week’s political celebrations coincided with the unveiling of three mega-projects: the world’s longest sea bridge (16 miles, see photo, back page); the longest gas pipeline (5,400 miles); and the new high-speed railway link between Beijing and Shanghai.

But David Shambaugh, a China scholar, offered a different perspective in the New York Times, wondering if the Party wasn’t a bit like many 90 year-olds elsewhere. By that he meant: “increasingly infirm, fearful, experimenting with ways to prolong life, but overwhelmed by the complexities of managing it.”

“Ain’t No Party Like the Communist Party,” was the headline in Foreign Policy magazine, in a report on how the leadership had pushed the celebratory boat out for the commemoration of the founding event in Shanghai in 1921. There were concerts, exhibitions of revolutionary art, sporting competitions and political gatherings. Two handwritten letters from Karl Marx were also purchased to mark the special day.
There’s no doubting the Party’s longevity, agreed the Financial Times. And with more than 80 million members, it is the world’s largest political organisation. But its claim to be at the vanguard of the working class (the opening sentence in its manifesto) looks more dubious, with only 9% of its members classified as ‘workers’. The massive majority are government officials, businessmen, professionals, college graduates and military officers. So forget Marxism-Leninism: the Party is better described as the world’s largest chamber of commerce, the FT writes.
It was no major surprise, thought the Guardian, that last week’s political celebrations coincided with the unveiling of three mega-projects: the world’s longest sea bridge (16 miles, see photo, back page); the longest gas pipeline (5,400 miles); and the new high-speed railway link between Beijing and Shanghai.
But David Shambaugh, a China scholar, offered a different perspective in the New York Times, wondering if the Party wasn’t a bit like many 90 year-olds elsewhere. By that he meant: “increasingly infirm, fearful, experimenting with ways to prolong life, but overwhelmed by the complexities of managing it.” n

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