... and other secrets from my man inside the Chinese politburo!
It’s a big week full of enormous events, readers. Top of the list, of course, comes a Tuesday of tough decision making which, in the modern age, is vitally important to the wellbeing of not just one but many countries.
Yes, tomorrow it’s Melbourne Cup day – Australia’s national day. It’s where part of the country gets an official holiday to watch a three-minute horse race. The rest of the country just takes the day off. If you’re reading this on Monday daytime in the US, know that in the dead of night on the under-bit of the world, millions of Australian men, women and children are performing their annual Mecca-like pilgrimage to a racing details page in a solemn bid to determine the winner.
And then on Tuesday people will bet money on the race, provided of course they belong to the eligible age bracket. This has been taken from the one they use on many board games - 0 to 99. And we don’t just bet, we bet many millions of dollars on this one race - $US150 million last year. This shows again how we proud Australians, like our kangaroo and emu, simply don’t know how to take a backward step, regardless of global financial meltdowns, Greek basket cases and the like.
Also on Tuesday comes an event which, by contrast, fails to attract much devotion from its country’s populace – the US election. Unlike the Melbourne Cup, whilst it’s held on a weekday, nobody gets the day off to vote. Thus voter turnout on a good year is usually counted as the unemployed, the elderly, and the nerdy.
If they’re ever going to make this struggling American institution popular, they’ll need to follow the Melbourne Cup’s lead. They should add a party element. By giving everyone the day off. To party.
|Here's what it's all about. It's called "the race that stops a|
nation". The standard joke is that the government does
a pretty good job of it too. Winners of the Cup often
become folk heroes.
|They're certainly more popular than this guy.|
Who wasn't as popular as this guy ...
|Lee DeWyze, season nine winner of|
American Idol. More people vote for Idol
than turn out for the US presidential
election. And it doesn't make things any
better that this winner's name at least
sounded like "Wise Leader".
On Thursday begins one of the biggest of all big things right here at Beijing’s Great Hall of the People: Yes, it’s what we’ve all been waiting for – the 18th Communist Party Congress!
This is China’s equivalent of the US election in that every so often new leadership is installed. Only in China, the congress happens every five years, which makes it 25 per cent more important than US elections. This selection process happens when the 2,270 Congress delegates vote on the candidates.
This actually entails them merely approving what’s already been decided behind closed doors by party inner sanctoids. So it’s not exactly watching democracy at work. But seeing 2,270 raise their right arm at the same time still looks impressive.
Afterwards, the media is left to work out what happened when the leaders are presented at a photo shoot. Trained journalists have to watch to see in which order the top leaders walk into the room to work out how all these party heavies fared. How others got on is deduced by observing where they sit at a meeting table, and whether, at the state banquet, they get the chicken or the lobster. Of course the government could just put out a statement announcing things, but where’s the Chinese mysticism in that?
How important is it? You only have to judge by the level of paranoia of the Chinese authorities for your answer. And last week, the government put the level at varying between “high” and “insane”.
They might not have used those exact words. But their actions betrayed them. Thankfully, the Tiger Father has a spy on the Politburo Standing Committee, who I will identify only by his given name of Jinping. He kindly leaked us this transcript of a key planning meeting between four party officials leading up to the Congress.
(*Ed’s note: Dialogue may have been altered to protect sources, but the rules are true. They’re happening. You in the outside world, with your balloons and your knives, have to believe us!)
BOSS: Comrades, one of our big five-yearly meetings is coming up – our first one in five years. Much has happened in that time. The rest of the world has fallen apart, especially our friends in America, and China has surely now taken it’s place as Number One. So for this Congress, we’ll be in the spotlight like never before. It’s our chance to show the world that after decades of backwardness we now deserve to be taken very seriously as one of the most important and sophisticated countries in the world. Now – any ideas about what we can do to make this Congress the best yet?
LI: BAN BALLOONS!
BOSS: Ban balloons, hmm? Go on …
LI: If people are going to try to spread messages of dissent, how are they going to do it?
WANG: Ah! By floating messages through the sky …
BOSS: … on balloons!
BOSS: Step one. Ban balloons. I’ll write it down.
WANG: But what if someone doesn’t use balloons, and instead they write messages which could undermine the Communist Party’s security … on ping pong balls?!
BOSS: Or any balls?
LI: Yes – balls. Balls have been a common denominator at all revolutions.
BOSS: True - but how are they going to spread these messages with their balloons and balls?
BOSS: By taxi?
LI: Well yes, obviously by taxi. No private cars are going to be allowed near the Great Hall of the People during the congress. So anyone aiming to overthrow the government during this week is going to have to catch a cab.
BOSS: So, if we wanted to describe a public enemy number one – we’d be looking for anyone carrying a balloon or a ping-pong ball, and who is in taxi?
WANG: Boss - would it not be hard to start a revolution or protest with a message written on a ping-pong ball? Like, they’re pretty small. All you could write on it would be “Revolt” and then maybe a phone number or something?
BOSS: Wang, need I remind you that every journey of 1000 miles starts with a single step?
WANG: True that.
LI: And let’s not forget the ox is slow but the earth is patient.
BOSS: Good point well made. But we can’t just stop people selling balloons and balls. It’ll hold us up as a laughing stock.
LI: Boss! I know I know: All we have to do is get taxi drivers to watch out for people carrying balloons, or balls, with counter-revolutionary messages on them!
LI: And just to be sure, make sure people can’t wind down their window in a taxi!
BOSS: Brilliant. “Disable taxi windows”. I’m writing that down. Aaaand … “taxi drivers to be rewarded if they bring in any passengers holding balloons or balls with bad things written on them”. Locked in. Any other matters?
BOSS: Yes, pigeons. What are we going to …
WANG: KILL ALL THE PIGEONS!
BOSS: Wang, Wang, Wang ... You old-style hardliners really crack me up. We don’t need to kill all the pigeons. You know how many homing pigeons there are in Beijing?
WANG: Ah. Sorry.
BOSS: But we do have to do something. Pigeons are a proven way of communicating messages.
SUN: Isn’t there also the internet?
BOSS: Yes yes - we’ll get to that later. What of these pigeons?
LI: All we need to do is issue an edict that all pigeons must stay indoors for the week!
BOSS: Done. “All homing pigeons must stay indoors, until further notice.” Anything else or are we good?
LI: We can’t be having any of this “Go and buy a knife” business in Party Congress week.
WANG: Why not?
LI: Smell the tea, man! Someone buys a knife just before Congress week, what are they going to do
BOSS: So … “Noone can buy a knife in Beijing during Congress week, and a few days before.” Done.
WANG: But, umm …
BOSS: Yes what is it now?
WANG: Aah … oh I know: What if someone’s got a knife they bought 10 years ago? Or a month ago? What if they use that to attack us?
BOSS: Well they’re not going to, are they Wang?
WANG: Why not?
BOSS: Who in their right mind would try to overthrow the Chinese Government with an old knife, man? For God’s sake.
LI: You know he’s right.
WANG: Or - I know - we could clear the backlog of old knives …
LI: … “stockpile” sounds better ...
WANG: … stockpile of old knives by getting everyone to melt them down in backyard smelters then turn them into shoddy steel goods which break after a few hours?
SUN: Didn’t we try that in the ‘50s and it didn’t work out?
SUN: Remember?! Great Leap Forward? “My kingdom for a spoon”?
WANG: Oh yeah.
|Judging from the edicts, China's leaders|
feel the biggest threat to national security
does not in fact look like this.
Instead, it should look more like this ...
|And here, found on the web, is surely|
the Communist Party's idea of the
Apocalypse - a pigeon who
|It's not just taxis that have security chiefs worried, as these|
efforts from China's propaganda department show. The
caption reads: Report all ride-by shootings during the
18th Party Congress!
|This one reads: To all who would|
spread messages on ping pong
balls thrown from taxis, we say
|The instructions detail sealing off doors by|
activating childproof locks, and windows
by removing the winding handle, as this
driver has done. Photo: AP.
BOSS: Let's push on. Is there anything we've missed?
LI: Pencil sharpeners?
BOSS: Good – they’re out too.
LI: I know I know! The internet!
BOSS: Ah yes, that.
WANG: SHALL WE KILL IT?
BOSS: Well, no, I don’t think you can do that, can you?
LI: No. You can’t kill an internet.
LI: Mm. But what we can do, is interfere with it so it becomes virtually impossible to use for a few
BOSS: Mmm. Nice.
SUN: Hang on: You mean to tell me that anyone wanting to organise a revolution at the Party Congress via the internet will have left it until just before the Party Congress?
BOSS: Well, maybe.
SUN: What: “Hey I just noticed the Party Congress starts day after tomorrow. I might raise a people’s army and seize control of the state”?
SUN: “I’ve had four years and 50 weeks to do this, and I’m leaving it til now”?
SUN: “But I can’t because the internet’s slow”?
BOSS: Look, it’s what we do, ok? I’m writing it down: “Make sure the internet is slow enough to drive everyone f***ing bananas and stop them having a revolution. The end.” Ok – done.
LI: But what about clearing all the prostitutes out of town, and making sure big TV stations don’t play songs with negative words like “die” and “down” in them?
BOSS: Yes we’ll be doing both of those things as a matter of course.
LI: And we forgot remote control planes. They can fly too.
BOSS: “Anyone wanting to buy a remote-controlled plane during the Congress must gain written approval from their local police chief after presenting identity documents.” Anything else?
LI: I think that’s everything.
BOSS: Then I declare that this meeting has been successfully concluded. Lunch!
|And here's what all the fuss is about: A previous|
Party Congress inside the Great Hall of the People,
which serves as a monument to Soviet-style Marxist
architecture, and would kick ass as a disco.
|Delegates in session at the 17th Party Congress. Note the|
imposing backdrop of giant red flags and the hammer
and sickle, which the Communist Party decided was
a lot more impressive than ...
|... a row of of palm-trees. Though hailed as a forerunner for|
interior design bravado still seen in many Chinese homes
today, the trees were soon removed as China set out to present
itself more as a Workers' Paradise than a Banana Republic.
|The big moves: Xi Jinping is set|
to be approved as China's new
president barring unforeseen twists,
such as 2000 aliens inhabiting
the bodies of Congress delegates
and voting against party lines.
|Xi will replace this man, Hu Jintao, as|
life begins for the fourth generation
of People's Republic leadership after
Mao Zedong, Deng Xiaoping, Jiang
Zemin, and Hu.
|Meanwhile, Li Keqiang will take|
over as deputy boss, or Premier,
|... Wen Jiabao.|
|Every Party Congress starts the same way - with the|
incoming regime pledging to ensure a smooth
continuation of leadership and an unbroken supply
of hair dye.
|The leaders are presented after the last Congress. Note|
the free-thinking radical second from right in the gold
tie. His career went right downhill after this.
|Everyone talks about the Congress as being "a carefully|
choreographed event". Well I'm not sure what went wrong
during this shambolic dance number by the Tibetans.
|They certainly weren't as tight as this lot.|
* Apologies to any readers left distressed and off their food by out our abject lateness today. It was again caused by you know what (a crippled internet) caused by you-know-who. More on Thursday!