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Hu Jintao’s National Day Awkwardness

Posted by on 2009/10/09. Filed under Opinions. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

By Liang Jing
Oct 9, 2009 – 8:00:26 AM

Liang Jing, Awkward Hu Jintao and Embarrassed Chinese Elite*

On 1 October, I watched the 60th anniversary of Beijing’s “National Day” on the Phoenix network with mixed feelings. I found my sorrow and embarrassment for China most difficult to repress. How could the sacrifices of its loftiest idealists and the suffering of its people for over a century be turned into such an “absurd China”? [1]

We’ve long been used to Jiang Zemin being gauche, but what about Hu Jintao? From his tense expression, I seemed to sense a trace of awkwardness, but I couldn’t be sure. Hu’s great talent is not allowing others to guess the thoughts and feelings that go on behind his poker face. I did, however, feel the awkwardness of Phoenix’s TV’s “elite” host when reporting the ceremony. Phoenix hosts are a special status elite group in China today. While enjoying freedom of information and contacts in Hong Kong, they also enjoy more relaxed discursive rights and freedom of speech in the PRC than have the elite there.

It now appears that when Liu Changle founded the “amphibious” Phoenix TV under the protection of Zeng Qinghong, it was not for the sole purpose of personal power and wealth — there was some good intention as well, namely to expand freedom of information in the PRC. Phoenix’s media people have been struggling on the “cusp” of two value systems, sometimes winning acclaim from both sides, and sometimes not gaining the favour of either, and sometimes even offending the top Party leaders. [2]

Most worthy of praise for Phoenix Satellite TV is its attempt to introduce an objective and rational view of history to Chinese people. This is a prerequisite for the reconstruction of Chinese political culture. The relaxation of cross-strait relations is, fortunately, quite beneficial for this. On the Phoenix channel I saw a lot of interviews with eyewitnesses of the civil war, deepening my understanding of Chinese history with a number of previously unknown facts.

In the PRC, watching Phoenix TV is a privilege. Apart from residents of Shenzhen and the Pearl River Delta region in Guangdong, in most provinces, only senior cadres have any chance of accessing it. Even in Guangdong, the Government has technological means of cutting off content unfavorable to officialdom at any time. Guangdong people have long taken such low tricks for granted.

It’s said that Jiang Zemin happened to see Wang Kang offer criticisms of the October Revolution on Phoenix TV. He was overcome with rage, and Wang Kang henceforth disappeared from the Phoenix. The host Zeng Zimo, escaped calamity with the protection of Liu Changle.

The Beijing National Day ceremony held on an unprecedented scale, I feel Phoenix had some background ensuring that they would get the broadcasting rights. So I switched it on to look, and sure enough… But I was not to know that before this festival, Mr Liu Changle would have be directly threatened by Hu Jintao, or that Phoenix had narrowly escaped disaster.

According to an exclusive story released by Boxun News on 4 October, even before the Fourth Plenary Session, “Hu Jintao wanted China-funded media leaders in Hong Kong and Macao to rush to Beijing to conduct one on one conversations. According to a top executives who directs Phoenix TV news, when President Hu Jintao met with Liu Changle, the president of Phoenix Satellite TV, he lost control. Raising his voice he said, “If you keep on like this (incapable of self-restraint –reporter’s note), he could simply close down. Liu Changle was frightened, and on his return began to tighten the space for speech. ”

The story went on, “President Hu Jintao met with many other responsible person in the media in Hong Kong and Macao media apart from Liu Changle: media associated with PRC funding aside, he even met with bosses of Hong Kong-owned media. “Met with” here means, in fact, “lectured.” Some executives who previously had met and felt some kind of bond with Hu, found him strange. Hu appeared to be very impatient, indeed quite agitated. Not only did he behave ungraciously, he was abnormal.” [2]

While I can’t verify the authenticity of this story, I had the same feeling about “1 October.” I found on that day that TV hosts who in the past had been smooth talkers were not only choosing their words carefully, but were despite their embarrassment incessantly currying favor with the Party bigwigs.

If true, the Boxun story is clearly extremely rich in implications, it not only shows that Hu is facing a severe political crisis, and also that he himself has began to see his embarrassment on the historical stage.

Future historians will tell their students of the unprecedented ignorance of and indifference to history of the first Chinese ruler to come to power in the twenty-first century. Despite the Internet age, Hu Jintao only accesses information from CCP-controlled channels. This deliberately screened and processed information maintains his distorted view of the world, as well as his self-confidence. After seven years of running the country with empty rhetoric, however, Hu Jintao realises the great risk of people seeing through this “Emperor’s New Clothes” in which he plays the lead. Hu can rely on the Central Propaganda Department to “fix” things with the domestic media, but with the Hong Kong media, he seems to believe that only going to glare and rage at them in person can have any effect.

For Hu Jintao, usually so restrained, to have to brusquely force the Hong Kong and Macao media to create peaceful scenes couldn’t but be embarrassing. With their master behaving so abusively, those of China’s elite who grasp modern ideas of civilisation but who have to sing the praises of President Hu Jintao for their supper, were naturally embarrassed. Living in the media world of the twenty-first century, how can Chinese people with any conscience at all not be embarrassed to see such an absurd motherland!


* Liang Jing, “Gan‘gade Hu Jintao yu gan’gade Zhongguo jingying” [An embarrassing Hu Jintao and an embarrassed Chinese elite], Xin shiji xinwen wang, 7 October 2009 [www.newcenturynews.com/Article/gd/200910/20091007131053.html).].

[1] Hu Ping, “Huangdan Zhongguo” [Absurd China], Xin shiji xinwen wang, 1 October 2009

[2] On Liu Changle, see Philip P. Pan, “Making Waves, Carefully, on the Air in China,” Washington Post, 19 September 2005 [here]. [Translator’s note]

[3] “Dujia: Hu Jintao wei shenme dui Fenghuang weishi Liu Changle fahuo?” [Exclusive: Why was Hu furious with Phoenix TV’s Liu Changle?], Boxun, 4 October 2009

translated by David Kelly
China Research Centre
University of Technology Sydney

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