On Wen Jiabao’s Essay “再回兴义忆耀邦-Returning to Xingyi, Remembering Hu Yaobang”

21 years ago I was a student at Peking University, studying Chinese in the second semester of my junior year in college. My Chinese was not very good and I was generally quite clueless about China. The death of Hu Yaobang on April 15th initially meant nothing to me.

Yesterday, on the 21st anniversary of Hu Yaobang’s death, People’s Daily ran an essay by Premier Wen Jiabao-再回兴义忆耀邦-reminiscing about a trip he had made with then Communist Party General Secretary Hu Yaobang in 1986 to Xingyi in Guizhou Province (UPDATE3: Hu Jintao was Party Secrectary of Guizhou during Hu Yaobang’s visit). The essay appeared on the top of Page 2 of the April 15 edition of People’s Daily (screenshot of Chinese version in the paper, Chinese version on web page). Chinageeks has a good translation of the entire piece-“Returning to Xingyi, Remembering Hu Yaobang”:

Yaobang has been gone for 21 years. It might console him now to know that the poor southwest he worried constantly about has seen earth-shaking changes. He spared no effort, and used a life’s vigor to fight for the nation following the correct path of socialism with Chinese characteristics and moving forward.

Starting in October of 1985, after I was transferred to the Central Office, I worked by Yaobang’s side for two years. I experience personally his close connection with the people, his concern for the people’s suffering, his excellent way [of being an official] and his unselfishness, his open and above-board-ness, and his moral character. I witness firsthand how completely he threw himself into his work, struggling day and night for the Party’s cause and for the people’s interests. What he taught me in those years is engraved on my heart, and his constant leading by example keeps me from [allowing myself to] be lazy. The way he handled things had a huge influence on my work, studies, and life.

In January of 1987, Hu no longer held the office of the General Secretary of the Communist Party2 , and I often went to his home to visit him. On April 8th, 1989, when Yaobang was sick and there was a struggle to save him, I was always by his side. On the 15th, when he suddenly passed away, I came to the hospital as soon as possible. On December 5, 1990, I took his casket to his burial place in Gongqing, Jiangxi. After his passing, I have visited his home every year for the new (lunar) year, and it is always with a deep feeling of love that I look on his portraits in the living room there. His long gaze and firm expression always give me strength, give me encouragement, and drive me to be more diligent in my work of serving the people.

Returning to Xingyi again to reflect on the past and remember Yaobang, I have written this essay, and placed within it my cherished memories of him.

The essay caused quite a buzz in China and in the western press, with many people speculating on Premier Wen’s real motive in writing this on the anniversary of Hu Yaobang’s death. Observers have floated several theories.

Wall Street Journal article wrote that:

Jing Huang, a professor at the National University of Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, said the article signals that Mr. Wen and Chinese President Hu Jintao, who is also Communist Party chief, have “prevailed in a struggle over conservative forces and reached a new consensus” on political reform—albeit gradual reform under the party’s guidance.

Mr. Huang said, for example, that the two leaders want to institutionalize the transition of power to the next generation of top party officials late 2012, and carve out a more substantive role for the country’s legislature, which is now largely ceremonial.

“Hu Yaobang is the perfect person to highlight the importance of political reform as well as the Party’s leadership in the reform,” Mr. Huang said.

Others saw a different motive. “This has nothing to do with political reform,” said an editor at a government-run newspaper. “It’s about Wen’s reputation.”

The New York Times, in Chinese Premier Offers a Tribute to a Reformer, wrote that:

Analysts poring over that and other parts of Mr. Wen’s text were divided over their meaning. Some suggested it was an opening salvo in the political jockeying to choose China’s next generation of leaders, who will take office in 2012. Others saw in the essay a veiled jab at China’s current ruling elite, which has come under increasing fire for economic policies that, in some minds, favor the rich over average people.

The article could also be viewed as a calculated effort by China’s leadership to placate intellectuals, journalists and some retired party officials who still regard Mr. Hu as a reformist unjustly shunted aside by more risk-averse bureaucrats.

“This is an attempt to co-opt those elements of the party and the party leadership who may be discontented with the pace of political reform,” said David Shambaugh, a George Washington University scholar who has written extensively on Chinese politics. “It is not a shot across the bow at anybody.”

Zhan Jiang, a journalism professor at Beijing Foreign Studies University, said that by paying tribute to the well-liked Mr. Hu, the party might hope to enhance its image and “derive some moral resources for itself.”

In a post on the Wall Street Journal’s excellent China Real Time Report Blog, Russell Leigh Moses, a Beijing-based analyst and professor, was less sure of what this essay may or may not actually mean:

So, is Premier Wen speaking for himself, or is he leading a reformist charge?  Against whom?  Is this simply nostalgia in the period before Wen passes from the political scene, or is this an attempt to kick-start support from a society that has been sometimes reluctant to support the newly indigent, those left behind by economic success?  Who precisely does Premier Wen represent when he runs such risks?  Is he trying an end-run around the bureaucracy and hardliners bent on deflecting political reform, or is this the sign of a turn in the road toward the sort of transformation in governance that some have been urging?

What makes Wen’s essay and the accompanying rumbles of support for Hu Yaobang extraordinary is that just when some thought that the leadership here had settled itself, the political ground is showing the sorts of cracks that typically portend something is about to break. How much of an earthquake this is for the succession process here in Beijing is still unclear, but the aftershocks need to be monitored very closely.

UPDATE2: Northwestern University Professor Victor Shih offered his thoughts on his blog:

The issue is why the need to send such an emotional signal.

One possibility is that Hu Jintao is trying to send a strong signal of the CYL’s [Communist Youth League] power in the run-up to the 18th Party Congress. But if that were the case, why not just write such an article himself. I am sure Hu can conjure up many emotional anecdotes of his former mentor.

Finally, we come to the hypothesis that Wen Jiabao himself is in deep trouble and may be under threat of being removed. I find this possibility the most reasonable. In essence, Wen may feel that he is under direct threat of being removed or may implement a policy which puts him in danger of being removed. As either a last ditch effort or an insurance policy, he writes this article to rally HYB [Hu Yaobang] sympathizers on his side in case his enemies move to remove him from power.

In particular, I was struck by the paragraph on Hu YB’s insistence of working despite being ill. We know of course that “illness” has historically been used to sideline or remove top officials in China (Chen Yun, Li Peng…etc.). It seems that Wen is saying through that passage that “as a loyal student of HYB, I would never let illness stop me, so you shouldn’t believe people if they say I am stepping down due to illness.” All this may be related to the possible implementation of the property tax, which may indeed place Wen under the threat of removal by powerful interests.

So what does Wen Jiabao’s public reminiscence mean? I don’t know, but in good China pundit tradition that will not stop me from postulating the following:

1. Wen Jiabao always felt genuine affection, respect and loyalty for Hu Yaobang and is writing from his heart;

2. Wen’s essay is a salvo in the continued jockeying for the makeup of the new leadership at the 18th Party Congress in 2012. Cheng Li, one of the most respected scholars of Chinese politics, has delineated two main factions–the Populists, with officials who rose through the Communist Youth League at its core, and the Elitists:

The Populist Coalition is currently led by President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao. At the core of this faction are the Tuanpai: those leaders who moved up through the Chinese Communist Youth League (Hu Jintao’s power base). This faction (the Red Team) also includes party functionaries (among them, the new left intellectuals) and rural leaders, especially those from China’s inland provinces (we call them China’s Red States).

The Elitist Coalition includes the ‘princelings’ (children of high ranking officials), the ‘Shanghai Mafia’, entrepreneurs and capitalists, returnee’s (foreign educated Chinese nationals, or what the Chinese call the ‘sea turtles’), and urban leaders from China’s coastal region (China’s Blue Team).

(UPDATE1: I have been reminded in the comments that I forgot to caveat the mention of this factional model for elite Chinese politics. I don’t think it is nearly this clean, but it is the best framework I have seen.)

It is worth remembering that Hu Yaobang was the first head of China’s Communist Youth League, leading it as First Secretary from 1957-1978. Hu Yaobang’s family (along with the families of many of the 1st and 2nd generation leaders) is still quite powerful, more than most Western observers tend to realize;

3. Wen, in paying “homage” to Hu Yaobang, is trying to cement not only his legacy and reputation but also solidify power and influence for himself after he officially retires, in large part by winning leadership positions for his “proteges”;

4. Wen Jiabao and Hu Jintao, whose early career was also aided by Hu Yaobang, understand better than anyone that China’s current state of development is out of balance. I don’t mean in the “exports vs. consumption” way that features in the RMB revaluation debate. I mean that development is far too corrupt and far too skewed towards state-owned enterprises, real estate, urban areas and elites, at the expense of the masses and rural citizens. Hu and Wen understand that without a rebalancing of development priorities and a meaningful reduction in some of the more egregious corruption there could be significant risks to the stability of the government. Harkening back to Hu Yaobang may be a signal that more substantive and muscular policies are coming that will lead China to act a bit more like a Socialist country. UPDATE4: In what may be a concrete example of this supposition, On April 17 the State Council issued new policies designed to cool off the real estate market.

I was totally clueless when I first lived in China 21 years ago. I am still mostly clueless, especially about subjects like elite Chinese politics, but I take solace in the fact that, given the nature of the political system here, most Chinese are just guessing too.

What do you think? Please tell me what you think in the comments.

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28 thoughts on “On Wen Jiabao’s Essay “再回兴义忆耀邦-Returning to Xingyi, Remembering Hu Yaobang”

  1. Great post Bill. The temptation to divide factions along the populist/CYL- vs. princelings is natural, but we should remember that it’s by no means stark. It’s a convenient way to conceptualize it but it doesn’t correspond with reality, at least not according to many people I’ve spoken to here. Still, I’m sure the CYL connections and the old patronage ties play into this somehow.

    One thing I’d add is that Wen Jiabao, more than almost any other Chinese leader in recent memory, seems to be very concerned with how he’ll be remembered in history. I doubt as premier he labors under the illusion that he’s going to wield substantial power after he’s no longer in office; Zhu Rongji certainly didn’t. I think he’s playing to history a bit with this. He wants to be remembered as a man of the people, and he’s worked pretty hard to cultivate that image — not to suggest it’s less than genuine or heartfelt.

    Most people who’ve commented on this don’t seem to believe it has anything to do with ZZY or TAM, but interestingly, when I asked my wife (a Beijinger) what she thought of Wen’s essay, the very fact that I (and presumably other western China-watcher types) had noticed it made her launch into this speech about how westerners always assume everything has to do with TAM. I pointed out that I hadn’t even mentioned that and she lept immediately to the conclusion herself, which suggests it’s not just westerners who might draw the connection.

    • Thanks Kaiser, great points. I guess I should have been clearer; I also
      don’t 100% buy into the cleanly delineated 2 faction model, but I think it
      has as much or more merit than other frameworks for trying to analyze elite
      Chinese politics. I updated the post to reflect your point.

      Interesting about your wife. I wonder her parents think. They probably have
      a stronger impression of Hu Yaobang.

    • I tend to think of the CYL/Princeling division as being sort of like the idea of qi meridians: it’s not accurate, but it seems to work well enough to produce results much of the time.

      Interesting that your wife assumed it was about TAM: looking on Twitter, it seems like most of the foreigners I follow hadn’t made any such assumption; mostly we seem to have read it as having to do with successional politics.

  2. Great post Bill. The temptation to divide factions along the populist/CYL- vs. princelings is natural, but we should remember that it's by no means stark. It's a convenient way to conceptualize it but it doesn't correspond with reality, at least not according to many people I've spoken to here. Still, I'm sure the CYL connections and the old patronage ties play into this somehow.

    One thing I'd add is that Wen Jiabao, more than almost any other Chinese leader in recent memory, seems to be very concerned with how he'll be remembered in history. I doubt as premier he labors under the illusion that he's going to wield substantial power after he's no longer in office; Zhu Rongji certainly didn't. I think he's playing to history a bit with this. He wants to be remembered as a man of the people, and he's worked pretty hard to cultivate that image — not to suggest it's less than genuine or heartfelt.

    Most people who've commented on this don't seem to believe it has anything to do with ZZY or TAM, but interestingly, when I asked my wife (a Beijinger) what she thought of Wen's essay, the very fact that I (and presumably other western China-watcher types) had noticed it made her launch into this speech about how westerners always assume everything has to do with TAM. I pointed out that I hadn't even mentioned that and she lept immediately to the conclusion herself, which suggests it's not just westerners who might draw the connection.

  3. Thanks Kaiser, great points. I guess I should have been clearer; I also
    don't 100% buy into the cleanly delineated 2 faction model, but I think it
    has as much or more merit than other frameworks for trying to analyze elite
    Chinese politics. I updated the post to reflect your point.

    Interesting about your wife. I wonder her parents think. They probably have
    a stronger impression of Hu Yaobang.

  4. It’s a terrific post and reading the translation I was genuinely moved. What stuck out for me was the narrative of leading by listening. There will probably be many motives for the piece but more than anything I felt an authentic and sentimental affection for a man who clearly knew that only good can come from listening to the lowest tiers of society. However, listening to recent podcasts of you guys there’s an awful lot of history I’m completely unaware of. Though this hypertext journey raised my game a fair bit.

  5. It's a terrific post and reading the translation I was genuinely moved. What stuck out for me was the narrative of leading by listening. There will probably be many motives for the piece but more than anything I felt an authentic and sentimental affection for a man who clearly knew that only good can come from listening to the lowest tiers of society. However, listening to recent podcasts of you guys there's an awful lot of history I'm completely unaware of. Though this hypertext journey raised my game a fair bit.

  6. I tend to think of the CYL/Princeling division as being sort of like the idea of qi meridians: it's not accurate, but it seems to work well enough to produce results much of the time.

    Interesting that your wife assumed it was about TAM: looking on Twitter, it seems like most of the foreigners I follow hadn't made any such assumption; mostly we seem to have read it as having to do with successional politics.

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  11. I don’t see so much a division between the the China Youth faction ?? and the elitists, so much as a division between genuine social liberalization and the modern crony socialism. Those within the party who advocated genuine liberalization and opening up, and the separation of the party and state apparatus were shunted aside after 1989. This group was led by HYB and ZZY. In the years following, Deng Xiaoping advocated continued economic development while keeping a tight hold on politics which has continued to the present day.

    As the internal contradictions of this policy have built up, leading to corruption, a growing wealth gap, power factions, and ever more powerful SOEs, the inherent weaknesses of this system are there for anyone with eyes to see. Because the system is wobbly, more and more money has been allocated to the security system to keep the society harmonious. This includes the GFW and online security. While the US has its military industrial complex which takes up so much of the federal budget, China now has its security industrial complex which will take up more and more of Beijing’s budget.

    I believe that there are many liberals in the government and in Chinese society who are now biding their time, because they realize that the current system must change soon in order to keep pace with the rapid changes which are rippling through Chinese society. Treating every issue as a security issue is unsustainable, the real issues need to be fairly resolved, in the same way that the US continuously fighting and losing foreign wars has not worked for the US, even though that has been advocated by the military industrial complex profiteers. As the Chinese would say, current Chinese policy remedies treat only the symptoms but not the real causes (?????)?

    I am sure that Wen Jiabao is aware of this, and he wanted to signal to the liberals his awareness and sympathy for their policies and point of view. It’s his way of saying: “We are now in the darkest period of the night which comes before the dawn. Hold strong, don’t give up. We will get there. Just think of what Hu Yaobang went through. The road is not straight, but there will be a free, fair, open and just China someday.”

    FYI, it is worth pointing out that WJB once served as ZZY’s secretary until the summer of 1989.

      • According to this article, it is near 514B yuan annually, and is getting close to the size of the Chinese defense budget. US federal budget is heavily burdened by defense budget; if you figure in that China has a growing defense budget PLUS a huge internal security budget which goes on top of it to keep the society harmonious, then you don’t need to be a genius to read the writing on the wall and say that this is an unsustainable situation.

        http://www.eastasiaforum.org/2010/05/23/costs-of-maintaining-stability-in-china/

        • Thanks. I poked around and couldn’t find detailed figure breakdowns, but it would be interesting to see:

          1) What is included in the “internal security” figure (online, Police, etc.), and what the breakdown of expenditures is. If the

          2) How it compares to the US or other countries as a percentage of government expenditures. In the US, local, state and federal expenditures would all need to be included.

          • You won’t be able to get finer levels of detail; most likely they are classified as state secrets. You must be joking if you think you can poke around in China’s budget and get that level of information; they are routinely classified as state secrets. That’s the kind of stuff people routinely get invited for a cup of tea by the MSP for doing.

            My advice: don’t ask those questions now. And don’t post those kinds of questions online in any language. Get the drift?

            FYI, the US routinely does budget nonsense too. Give you an example: the budget for maintaining the US’s nuclear warheads are under the Department of Energy budget, not Department of Defense budget. Makes you wonder where the Air Force hid the budget for that new unmanned space shuttle circling around the earth now.

          • Thanks for the advice. I wasn’t joking, but I also wasn’t poking around in China’s budget. I actually just looked at the report you linked to to see if there was any more detail.

            I guess what I meant was that saying that China’s internal security budget is nearly as large as its military budget sounds ominous, but if “internal security” includes things like traffic cops, or even just regular policemen… it starts to sound less ominous.

            I agree with you that the US does budget nonsense, too. That’s part of why I think a comparison of these figures as a percentage of GDP or overall government spending would be interesting, even without the finer detail. You’re right that both situations are probably not sustainable.

            Hopefully wondering about this won’t get me invited to tea. Even though I like tea…

            Relating this to the original post, I think what you’ve done is to modify Bill’s postulate #2 and relate it to #4, which is an important connection to make. To relate your comment to Kaiser’s earlier comment, I wonder if the division between those who push for genuine social liberalization and modern crony socialism is always clear. Participants in modern crony socialism may recognize the need for social liberalization, and those who push for genuine social liberalization may also participate in the crony socialism.

          • In times like this in China, one is better served by keeping one’s eyes and ears open, and saying very little or nothing.

            When one does speak, make sure you’re speaking to the right audience. Which is what WJB was doing. As for the role of foreigners like us, I believe that we can do more harm to the forces we sympathize with by speaking too openly and sharing our thoughts and showing our leanings. Chinese society is given to occasional bouts of xenophobia, and although it’s not likely now, it’s always better to act with prudence.

            The more one knows, the more important the prudence.

            ???? as the saying goes.

            As for your analytical approach, you are trying to apply too much cold analysis to what is in fact a highly political, sensitive and opaque process, and are trying to quantify that which is ultimately unquantifiable. This is a very western trait, and is what lead to our recent and continuing problems on Wall Street.

            Give you an example: you talk about comparing US and China budgets as if they were categorized according to generally accepted accounting principles. They are not. They are categorized according to the interests of ministries, political factions, lobbying interests and individuals, not accounting and budgetary principles. This is true in every government.

            For this reason, while a budget item to budget item analysis may give you a certain degree of what you believe to be insight, it’s far more likely that it’s a useless insight simply because the axioms on which you base your analysis are fundamentally flawed. This is the fundamental problem caused when quantitative analysis is allowed to overrule common sense.

    • I thought it would be interesting to read this article and my comment again following the recent purge of Bo Xilai. 

      For a long time, Wen Jiabao was held up to mockery, seen as someone who was ineffective against corruption in the party, and in his calls for political reform. By hearkening back to the Cultural Revolution and singing of red songs, and the overly ostentatious spending of Bo Guagua, his son, plus the widespread abuses which occurred under him and Wang Lijun, Bo Xilai made himself a target. Furthermore, he was outspoken about his plans to join the standing committee, which is something you simply don’t do in China. 

      Bo Xilai drew a target on himself for those who advocated reform, but were pushed to the sidelines. 

      Now in the period following the Bo’s downfall, we are hearing more allegations about how Bo acted outside the legal and party framework to achieve his own ends. The goal is to frame Bo Xilai as a Mao Zedong wannabe, who if he came to power, would have been willing to plunge China into a period of chaos in his quest to grab and to hold onto power. 

      Now, Wen’s wider agenda is to push for meaningful political reforms which he feels have been sidelined during the Hu presidency in the short term, and since Tiananmen in the long-term. 

      I believe that agenda items will be to push for separation of the party and state, which both Hu Yaobang and Zhao Ziyang wanted to do, but were blocked by Deng Xiaoping and Bo Yibo. Furthermore, I believe that Wen wanted to do more in terms of reform during the Hu presidency. During his press conference at the end of the lianghui in March 2012, he made repeated references to “failures”. My guess is that many attempts at reform were made, but were blocked by Jiang Zemin and his supporters.  (Jiang Zemin became president in 1993, and directly benefited from the house arrest of Zhao Ziyang and rose to high position in Beijing on the instruction of Deng Xiaoping. As someone who directly benefited from the Tiananmen crackdown, he would naturally oppose any rehabilitation of Zhao Ziyang, Hu Yaobang, or any change in the official position on what happened in Tiananmen.)

      Furthermore, Jiang Zemin continued to involve himself in state affairs and appointments long after his retirement in 2003. During the 60 anniversary National Day military parade on Oct. 1, 2009, there were actually more camera closeups on Jiang Zemin than on Hu Jintao! In the face of all this, the party apparatus was helpless to rid itself of Jiang Zemin’s continued influence and interference in party reform.

      One uncorroborated story is that before he died in January 2007, Bo Yibo asked Jiang Zemin to help his son Bo Xilai eventually rise to the position of president or premier. Jiang Zemin agreed to help him. All this was done in spite of the fact that Bo Xilai publicly denounced his own father, and even publicly beat him during the Cultural Revolution, and that his mother was either murdered or committed suicide. For many Chinese intellectuals, Bo’s use of Red songs, and hearkening back to political movements seems like an overly cynical move which revealed that he would stop at no ends to achieve his own political goals. This is why the revelations about Bo Xilai are so important; the more comes out, the less likely he will be rehabilitated. 

      If the story about Jiang Zemin agreeing to support Bo Xilai are true, then his purge is also a proxy fight against Jiang Zemin’s influence over party policy. There have been rumors that Jiang Zemin, when presented with some evidence about Bo, agreed to his purge. But still, it shows that his political judgment is off, and his judgement won’t be accepted without question in the future. 

      Of course, this is good for the incoming president and premier, Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang, because they will be able to operate with much more of a free hand than Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao. Obviously Wen Jiabao hopes that they will go ahead and make party and political reforms which are, in his mind, much overdue.

  12. I don't see so much a division between the the China Youth faction ?? and the elitists, so much as a division between genuine social liberalization and the modern crony socialism. Those within the party who advocated genuine liberalization and opening up, and the separation of the party and state apparatus were shunted aside after 1989. This group was led by HYB and ZZY. In the years following, Deng Xiaoping advocated continued economic development while keeping a tight hold on politics which has continued to the present day.

    As the internal contradictions of this policy have built up, leading to corruption, a growing wealth gap, power factions, and ever more powerful SOEs, the inherent weaknesses of this system are there for anyone with eyes to see. Because the system is wobbly, more and more money has been allocated to the security system to keep the society harmonious. This includes the GFW and online security. While the US has its military industrial complex which takes up so much of the federal budget, China now has its security industrial complex which will take up more and more of Beijing's budget.

    I believe that there are many liberals in the government and in Chinese society who are now biding their time, because they realize that the current system must change soon in order to keep pace with the rapid changes which are rippling through Chinese society. Treating every issue as a security issue is unsustainable, the real issues need to be fairly resolved, in the same way that the US continuously fighting and losing foreign wars has not worked for the US, even though that has been advocated by the military industrial complex profiteers. As the Chinese would say, current Chinese policy remedies treat only the symptoms but not the real causes (?????)?

    I am sure that Wen Jiabao is aware of this, and he wanted to signal to the liberals his awareness and sympathy for their policies and point of view. It's his way of saying: “We are now in the darkest period of the night which comes before the dawn. Hold strong, don't give up. We will get there. Just think of what Hu Yaobang went through. The road is not straight, but there will be a free, fair, open and just China someday.”

    FYI, it is worth pointing out that WJB once served as ZZY's secretary until the summer of 1989.

  13. According to this article, it is near 514B yuan annually, and is getting close to the size of the Chinese defense budget. US federal budget is heavily burdened by defense budget; if you figure in that China has a growing defense budget PLUS a huge internal security budget which goes on top of it to keep the society harmonious, then you don't need to be a genius to read the writing on the wall and say that this is an unsustainable situation.

    http://www.eastasiaforum.org/2010/05/23/costs-o

  14. Thanks. I poked around and couldn't find detailed figure breakdowns, but it would be interesting to see:

    1) What is included in the “internal security” figure (online, Police, etc.), and what the breakdown of expenditures is. If the

    2) How it compares to the US or other countries as a percentage of government expenditures. In the US, local, state and federal expenditures would all need to be included.

  15. You won't be able to get finer levels of detail; most likely they are classified as state secrets. You must be joking if you think you can poke around in China's budget and get that level of information; they are routinely classified as state secrets. That's the kind of stuff people routinely get invited for a cup of tea by the MSP for doing.

    My advice: don't ask those questions now. And don't post those kinds of questions online in any language. Get the drift?

    FYI, the US routinely does budget nonsense too. Give you an example: the budget for maintaining the US's nuclear warheads are under the Department of Energy budget, not Department of Defense budget. Makes you wonder where the Air Force hid the budget for that new unmanned space shuttle circling around the earth now.

  16. Thanks for the advice. I wasn't joking, but I also wasn't poking around in China's budget. I actually just looked at the report you linked to to see if there was any more detail.

    I guess what I meant was that saying that China's internal security budget is nearly as large as its military budget sounds ominous, but if “internal security” includes things like traffic cops, or even just regular policemen… it starts to sound less ominous.

    I agree with you that the US does budget nonsense, too. That's part of why I think a comparison of these figures as a percentage of GDP or overall government spending would be interesting, even without the finer detail. You're right that both situations are probably not sustainable.

    Hopefully wondering about this won't get me invited to tea. Even though I like tea…

    Relating this to the original post, I think what you've done is to modify Bill's postulate #2 and relate it to #4, which is an important connection to make. To relate your comment to Kaiser's earlier comment, I wonder if the division between those who push for genuine social liberalization and modern crony socialism is always clear. Participants in modern crony socialism may recognize the need for social liberalization, and those who push for genuine social liberalization may also participate in the crony socialism.

  17. In times like this in China, one is better served by keeping one's eyes and ears open, and saying very little or nothing.

    When one does speak, make sure you're speaking to the right audience. Which is what WJB was doing. As for the role of foreigners like us, I believe that we can do more harm to the forces we sympathize with by speaking too openly and sharing our thoughts and showing our leanings. Chinese society is given to occasional bouts of xenophobia, and although it's not likely now, it's always better to act with prudence.

    The more one knows, the more important the prudence.

    ???? as the saying goes.

    As for your analytical approach, you are trying to apply too much cold analysis to what is in fact a highly political, sensitive and opaque process, and are trying to quantify that which is ultimately unquantifiable. This is a very western trait, and is what lead to our recent and continuing problems on Wall Street.

    Give you an example: you talk about comparing US and China budgets as if they were categorized according to generally accepted accounting principles. They are not. They are categorized according to the interests of ministries, political factions, lobbying interests and individuals, not accounting and budgetary principles. This is true in every government.

    For this reason, while a budget item to budget item analysis may give you a certain degree of what you believe to be insight, it's far more likely that it's a useless insight simply because the axioms on which you base your analysis are fundamentally flawed. This is the fundamental problem caused when quantitative analysis is allowed to overrule common sense.

  18. 2011: For China, It’s The Year Of Living Dangerously - Paul Denlinger - China At The Crossroads - Forbes

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