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Pot bellies embody China’s rigid system


By Jamil Anderlini in Beijing (FT): In a tranquil lake in the centre of Beijing’s ancient Summer Palace floats a pleasure boat made entirely of marble that remains the most potent symbol of corruption and decay in the last imperial Chinese dynasty.
The Qing empire was overthrown after 267 years in power by a republican revolution in 1911 three years after the death of Cixi, the empress dowager who diverted money earmarked for the navy to pay for her marble boat.
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The Communist Party of China will unveil its latest crop of leaders on Thursday and they will reign for the next decade under a governing structure that remains strikingly similar to the Leninist model it imported from the Soviet Union more than 60 years ago.
At this time of transition, many in China are inevitably searching for – and finding signs of – dynastic decay in the rigid rule of the party.
The modern equivalent of the marble boat can be seen in the walled communities of opulent villas on Beijing’s outskirts where the extraordinarily wealthy generals of the People’s Liberation Army and their families park their Bentleys and count their fortunes.
Some western diplomats estimate that as much as 40 per cent of China’s military budget is siphoned off through corruption.
As a phalanx of senior PLA officers ascended the steps of the Great Hall of the People in Tiananmen Square this week, many of them sported generous pot bellies, leading one party member to comment wryly to the Financial Times that nothing displays structural weakness like overweight generals.
David Shambaugh is an expert on China’s political system at George Washington University and has written extensively about the Communist party’s uncanny ability to adapt to meet the needs of its citizens.
But he now argues the party has begun to ossify and is starting to show classic signs of dynastic decline.
These signs include a hollow state ideology in which nobody believes, cronyism, public apathy towards politics, an assertive military not fully under the control of civilian leaders, rampant corruption, capital flight, a rise in social vice and factionalism at the top of the system.
“The concubines in the inner court always fight each other more when the emperor can’t assert his authority,” he says, in a reference to the relative weakness of modern presidents compared with the power that was concentrated in the hands of past leaders such as Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping.
Anyone listening to the turgid speeches on “socialism with Chinese characteristics” at the party congress this week would have to agree that the party’s ideology has devolved into contortions of logic that mean nothing to most of the Chinese people.
Revelations of enormous wealth held by some party leaders in western media this year provide a glimpse of how deeply and corrosively corrupt the party has become.
But perhaps the most telling fact is the enthusiasm among upper-class Chinese for procuring foreign passports, property and bank accounts and how willing they seem to be to get out of a system that has benefited them so well.
The fact that incoming president Xi Jinping, like many of his contemporaries, has sent his daughter to the US (to Harvard) to study is just one more powerful symbol of elite uncertainty and mistrust of the system.
Andrew Nathan, an expert in Chinese politics at Columbia University and co-author of China’s New Rulers, points out that the party itself seems to find the political system indefensible.
He says that instead of acknowledging the top-down authoritarian reality, the party pretends it is democratic, calling itself a “socialist democracy”, “people’s democracy” or “democracy with Chinese characteristics”.
The other tactic is to admit that the system needs changing but insist that the party is improving it and making it more representative through a slow and careful process necessary to avoid chaos.
Often, the party makes these two arguments in the same breath, insisting that the system is already the best possible one for China but that the party will make it even “more perfect”.
Yet, predicting the end of a Chinese dynasty is very difficult.
After his diplomatic mission to the court of the Qing emperor Qianlong in 1793, British ambassador George Macartney described the Chinese empire as “an old, crazy, first-rate man-of-war”. that would, in the not-too-distant future, “be dashed to pieces on the shore.”
He was proved right eventually, but not until 118 years later.

For Indian tourists travelling by land:- 72 hours (-ve) C-19 report, CCMC form and Antigen Test at entry point

For Indian tourists travelling by land:- 72 hours (-ve) C-19 report, CCMC form and Antigen Test at entry point

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Information for Indian tourists travelling by land:- 72 hours (-) C-19 report, CCMC form and Antigen Test at entry point
Information for Indian tourists travelling by land:- 72 hours (-) C-19 report, CCMC form and Antigen Test at entry point
Information for Indian tourists travelling by land:- 72 hours (-) C-19 report, CCMC form and Antigen Test at entry point