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“SPOKE TO President Xi of China to congratulate him on his extraordinary elevation.” This, from his American counterpart, Donald Trump, reacting to actions of the 2017 Communist Party Congress that was recently held in Beijing.

Make that not merely “counterpart,” but “wannabe”?

This thought came to me after reading “The Headline Prince,” by Qi Gua in the London Review of Books, November 16, 2017. Gua’s report of goings-on in the People’s Republic of China was an eye-opener for me, in particular on how less than 7 percent of a country can so effectively control its people’s political life, commerce—and thought.

Less than 7 percent?

In fact, the Chinese Communist Party has around 90 million members, only about 1/15 of that country’s adults.

Yet, as Gua reports in the LRB, “The Chinese Communist Party has evolved a highly sophisticated bureaucracy in the 96 years of its existence.” Note, the next of these quinquennial meetings of the Communist Party Congress, in 2021, will be quite a celebration.

Gua continues, “Every branch and organ of the state—the provincial governments, the university system, the official print outlets, the TV station—has two heads: one is the mayor, the principal, the chief editor or the director; the other is always the party secretary who ranks higher than his or her counterpart and ensures that all party guidelines are observed.”

His article is replete with examples of how this control is exercised. With regard to news stories, notes Gua, “Months before the congress, government news outlets across the country were told to follow an emergency response programme. For example, if a directive came through to an online news site to remove an item and it failed to do so within three minutes, the whole team was ordered to regroup and review its response system.… The emergency plan also included a drastic contingency measure that would have seen the government take down the internet by unplugging the country’s major providers—China Telecom, China Mobile and China Unicom—in the event of an unpleasant surprise.”

Gee, that would certainly handle any “fake” news here, wouldn’t it?

Beijing commuters were caught up in increased security caused by the party congress. To make sure their complaints didn’t spread, the subway company shut down the comments section of its website and “dismal images of crowds massed outside stations were immediately removed from social media.”

What’s more, “Knives and scissors were taken off the shelves of stationery stories and supermarkets; couriers delivering cutlery were not allowed to enter Beijing.”

And our NRA types carp that madmen may have insufficient access to military hardware?

Gua also observes, “When group chat managers at WeChat, our main message app, were told that they would have to take responsibility for member’ comments and opinions, several chatroom conveners quietly replaced their own names with the names of dead people.”

I’d have taken Chester A. Arthur.

Wang Huning is the new propaganda boss of the party. Previously he had been a professor of international politics at Shanghai’s Fudan University, one of China’s finest. Gua observes, “… optimistic liberals were ecstatic: ‘Great! An intellectual in charge of propaganda and culture! A sign of a more congenial climate!”

“Then we were reminded,” Gua says, “that Goebbels had a doctorate in philosophy from Heidelberg. A long-term insider like Wang could easily crack down on metaphor, irony, allusion and historical reference—all the things seasoned writers used to get around censorship.”

“Is this cigar only a cigar?” Was that Freud or Bill Clinton?

Heading all this is the extraordinarily elevated Xi Jingpin, who clearly doesn’t have to worry about the likes of Special Council Robert Mueller. Gua notes, “… Xi has continued to top the news: Day after day he is the first thing you get when you open a news app or an online outlet; in the print media he hogs the front page. People call him ‘the headline prince.’ ”

My, wouldn’t that be a boost to one’s ego?

And then there’s the new mobile game from Tencent, a vast Chinese infotech company: Applaud for Xi Jinping invites players to simulate clapping by tapping their phone screens as many times as they can in 19 seconds.

Sorry, but Xi got there first: MCGA, making China great again at the 19th Communist Party Congress. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2017

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