China: Shoot him and take him out

Posted in China , Asia | 09-Sep-04 | Author: Tian Jing and Wang Chu| Source: Asia Times

There is a precious photograph, a snapshot of the seconds when paramount leader and reformer Deng Xiaoping shook hands with Hu Jintao during the 14th Chinese Communist Party (CCP) National Congress on an unspecified day in October 1992. But it was not until Deng's birth centennial celebration a couple of weeks ago that the picture finally made its premier, after 12 years of secrecy. The problem: the photo was doctored to highlight the two men - and virtually remove Hu's rival Jiang Zemin from the background.

The idea apparently was that Deng's luster would rub off on now-President Hu and aid him in the struggle in which some say he is the underdog. It also demonstrates the length to which beleaguered reformist Hu and his supporters will go in an effort to tip the balance in the power struggle with China's former president, now its powerful military chief, Jiang Zemin. At the CCP plenum around September 15, the battle may well be decided, and some observers say Jiang already is the winner.

Yet the photo - clearly doctored - still remains something of an enigma, for it has been made over again and again, as illustrated in the following comparison by Asia Times Online.

Careful optics analysis shows that the photo published on August 19 in Oriental Outlook, an official journal, should be the original (see picture 1): then president Deng Xiaoping, supported by his youngest daughter Deng Rong, came forward, shaking Hu Jintao warmly by the hand. Behind them stood some members of the 13th CCP Central Politburo and its standing committee, among them Jiang Zemin, and several senior representatives at the 14th CCP National Congress.

That historic moment implies that Deng as the supreme leader at the time had intended to appoint Hu to succeed Jiang Zemin as China's president. Now locked in a grueling power tussle with the reform-minded Hu, Jiang - now the powerful conservative commander-in-chief and a master of backroom politics, was only part of the background for Hu's sparkling emergence in this genuine photograph.

However, the original has gained much less coverage than the modified version released by the official mouthpiece, Xinhua News Agency, two weeks earlier (see picture 2), in which the Politburo and the Communist Party Congress lined up in the background is replaced by a group of less important figures whose images are blurred. The unskilled makeover trick can be spotted without much difficulty, in view of the asymmetry between the light in the background and that in the front.

Still, another clipped positive donated by Hu himself is on display in the grand exhibition in commemoration of Deng Xiaoping (see picture 3). But the entire background is completely erased, perhaps to avoid the trouble of adding irrelevant background images.

Wen Wei Po, a daily newspaper based in Hong Kong, described the cropped and edited version as a duo picture of Deng and Hu in its report of the exhibition on August 11. In their rummaging for the picture, Deng's family could not find this photo, but finally picked it out of Hu's personal collection, said Deng Nan, the second-born daughter of Deng Xiaoping.

It can be presumed that when Hu Jintao was asking for the picture taken with Deng Xiaoping after the closing of the 14th CCP National Congress, some authorities ordered the background removed and the picture was handed over to Hu in such a hurry that no other background was substituted. It is ridiculous that Hu, already a member of the Politburo's Standing Committee at the time, would not have a genuine photo of his own. Even more so that Xinhua News Agency and Oriental Outlook have published two different versions of the same picture - with different political context and weight.

In China, photo makeover often has served a particular political purpose. During the decade-long Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution launched in 1966 by the country's founding father Mao Zedong, whichever leader stepped down - or was purged - would be omitted from propaganda photographs. But today,Jiang has managed to hold on with his military claws as powerful chairman of the CCP Central Military Commission, China's commander-in-chief. Besides, many ex-Politburo or ex-CCP Congress members now enjoy a secluded life, while still having a say in political affairs. Then what does it mean by leaving these heavyweights - in the background but definitely in the picture in 1992 - out of the recently published picture? The answer may be worth more than a thousand words.

Jiang opposes separation of power
On one side of the power struggle is Hu, also the chairman of the CCP. He has been pushing hard for more democracy inside the party and better governance by the ruling party. But the reform road will be long and winding, for Hu is confronted with stubborn resistance and pressure from his predecessor Jiang.

In early 2004, China Newsweek (Xin Wen Zhou Kan), an influential official mouthpiece of mainland China, published a commentary calling for power division or separation within the CCP so as to rebuild democracy and discipline. Authored by Wang Guixiu, a well-regarded professor in the CCP's Central Party School where senior communist leaders are further educated and groomed, the comment to some extent spoke for Hu himself, who holds the position of principal of the Central Party School.

In brief, the proposal of "power division" calls for the standing committee of the CCP National Congress to hold policy-making power, while the much larger congress is adjourned; it calls for executive committee to be elected by the whole congress to carry out the policies set forth and for a supervision committee to be elected by the whole congress to oversee the executive committee. In this way, policy-making, execution and supervision are independent from and also subject to each other in something like a system of checks and balances.

However, the comment on political reform was followed by a conservative backlash. At a symposium on August 21 to study the theories of the Deng Xiaoping, Li Changchun of the CCP Central Politburo issued a warning against the alleged conspiracy of Westernization and "splittism" by a few hostile Western countries, meanwhile calling for unswerving faith in the communist political ideology.

In South China's Guangdong province, chief CCP officers convened on August 23 to deliberate how to improve the CCP's administration, a major concern of the reformist Hu. But the convention also concluded that the province was being challenged by a wave of Westernization and splittism, apparently the sentiments of Jiang.

Four weeks ago, the PLA Daily, a mouthpiece of the People's Liberation Army, pointed out that the "Three Represents" theory contrived by Jiang must dominate political indoctrination in the army to defeat Westernization and splittism. The report emphasized that the CCP's absolute command of the troops should be based on the steadfast belief in the "Three Represents", meaning the CCP represents the requirement to develop advanced productive forces, an orientation towards advanced culture, and the fundamental interests of the overwhelming majority of the people in China.

Nebulous though they are, these remarks echo the address of Jiang at the 16th CCP National Congress, and appear indirectly to criticize Hu's quasi-democratic separation of party powers as a move of Westernization or splittism. The August volume of Journalistic Front, a governmental journal, trumpeted an essay by the propaganda officer of central China's Hebei province, claiming that news broadcasting and party propaganda work must be guided by the "Three Represents" theory so as to screen and resist erroneous ideology, crushing the foreign plot to Westernize and split China.

The warning against Westernization and splittism, a cliche, was once frequently chanted after the democracy movement was violently crushed in Tiananmen Square in June 1989. But the cliche seems to be have been almost forgotten, only used to attack the independence-minded separatists in the autonomous Xinjiang and Tibet regions, since Deng Xiaoping paid an inspection tour around South China in 1992. Therefore, the recent reactivation of the two big words has touched the nerves and political antennae of many China observers.

When meeting with military representatives in late July, Jiang delivered a "truth" talk that stressed telling the truth and being pragmatic in learning his "Three Represents" theory. Observers believe that Jiang was attempting to make himself the champion of the "Three Represents" theory, now written into the country's constitution, and to magnify his influence in the political arena. But this trick may be outmoded, for Lin Biao, commander-in-chief back in the 1960s, successfully made himself a champion of "Mao Zedong Thought", but still failed in his subsequent assassination and usurpation plot.