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How to build a Chinese leader

By Lao Zi - posted Thursday, 5 May 2011

Each morning, the Chinese ministry of Culture sends an email out to media outlets throughout the country, in what jaded journalists have come to call 'directives from the ministry of Truth,' an apt homage to what is arguably George Orwell's most famous work, 1984.

The emails specify what news is prohibited outright as well as what is to be 'propagandized' a word which in Chinese, doesn't have quite the same negative connotations of manipulation as it does in the West.

These directives invariably offer an insight into the workings and fears of the ruling communist party and one can learn far more from what the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) wants to hide, than from what they publicize.


One of the recent directives however, seemed rather strange. On the 17th of April the Ministry of Truth commanded that no coverage was to be given to the trial of Beijing lawyer Li Zhuang.

In 2008, Li had been involved in a high profile corruption case in Chongqing. It was alleged that he had enticed his client into providing false testimony. The case was one element of a wider crackdown on organized crime in Chongqing. Li is already in jail on similar charges relating to another client – a mafia boss who was also involved in the organized crime crackdown.

The case had attracted a lot of unwanted publicity and was widely viewed as government interference in the legal system. Unsurprisingly the government was keen to avoid any further commentary. This in itself wasn't unusual. What happened later was.

The prosecution withdrew their charges and the new charges against Li were dropped. Very quickly it was all over the media, and the Ministry of Truth had seemingly changed their tone.

The question arises – why was this case so high-profile? Why would the CCP want to interfere in a relatively minor corruption case? Why was it covered up, only to be promoted as soon as the charges were dropped?

Unless of course, Li was an obstacle in the 'propagandizing' of the next generation of China's leaders, a man that in 2010 was named by Time Magazine as one of the world's 100 most influential people – Bo Xilai.


Although the west often views China's leadership transitions with understandable suspicion, the requirements of the times choose the leader - but only after the CCP have analyzed what kind of leader will be necessary, and groomed them as such.

Corruption has always been one of the top threats on the radar of the CCP. Keep in mind that the Tiananmen square protests weren't about democratic reform except insofar as that was one possible solution to endemic corruption. In China, corruption has been the most common excuse to seek vengeance upon enemies or rivals for thousands of years and what the CCP fears most are public revolts driven by anger at widening income disparities and endemic corruption.

Thus, the next generation of China's leaders will need to have a tough attitude when it comes to corruption – or at least, be seen to have a tough attitude. They need someone who, at least in the public eye, is dynamic, a defender of justice, a champion of the poor, a savvy media operator and most importantly, tough on crime. Somebody like this is actually pretty tough to find amongst the CCP's culture of guangxi (connections) and fossilized, droning speeches.

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About the Author

Lao Zi is a semi-mythical Chinese philosopher who lived sometime between the 4th and 6th century BC. He's widely regarded as a counterweight to Confucian ideals and his work has been embraced by libertarian and anti-authoritarian movements worldwide. It's also the nom-de-plume of a former Australian journalist, currently residing in China who blogs at

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