Wednesday, 10 January 2018

In Nanjing, Perhaps Not Everyone Is In The Same Lane

President Xi Jinping’s proclamations are rightly receiving “thunderous applause” [雷鸣般的掌声] from some quarters in recent days. As ever, he and his words are worth appreciating. 

Some of the Nanjing media, on the other hand, has been less than effusive in the wake of Xi’s drive-by here last month.

For example, while Party publications at the central level have been lavish in their praise of Xi and link the results of the 19th Party Congress to his vision of China, local coverage of a conference recently held in Nanjing on the city’s economic and social development barely mentioned Xi and his programs. And at the same time that Beijing has been emphasizing the importance of putting Xi’s principles into practice, Nanjing’s notions of implementation focus on seeing the city’s specific plans for the New Year succeed. 

Even when there have been the expected paeans here to the 19th Party Congress and Xi’s piloting of the Communist Party, there’s reason to wonder how genuine some of that sentiment really is.

The full page in Nanjing Ribao that extolled the second volume of Xi’s speeches on governance[1], appeared on the eve of Xi’s visit to Nanjing in what could well been an attempt to curry favor. Parts of that edition read as if the Nanjing leadership was defending its efforts to play up the 19th Party Congress-- conceivably because Beijing believed that officials here hadn’t been doing that before.

Of course, local Party officials have done some rebroadcasting of the results of the 19th Party Congress, and they've issued praise for Xi personally. The prevailing Party line about China entering a new era [新的代] gets echoed locally at least in some parts of the city and its environs. Slogans and other signage are in the streets and avenues here, as elsewhere, exalting the Party Congress. One particularly prominent posting appeared at the Nanjing South Railway Station in mid-December.

Still, there’s at least a reticence, a hesitancy here among some regarding just what the course set by the 19th Party Congress means for Nanjing. Even Nanjing Party leader Zhang Jinghua [张敬华] seemed to acknowledge as much when he said earlier this week that, “at present [当前], Nanjing is in the process of carrying out [正在贯彻] Xi Jinping's new socialist thought with Chinese characteristics and in the spirit of the 19th Party Congress.”

Those are rather cautious words, carefully chosen. 

What to make of all this?

First, what it’s not.

There’s no clear indication that there’s sudden and angry opposition to Xi or any of the policies announced at the 19th Party Congress. Social discontent, unrest in the streets of Nanjing or its suburbs—these too are absent, as they have been for a very long time here. Those analysts who continue to look for political upheaval in China will do so in vain. Problems with bike-sharing, the housing market, property management firms, and the like do not a revolution make[2]--local or otherwise. There are a lot of bright people composing smart solutions, locally and elsewhere in China.

Still, there’s something amiss here, at the policymaking level—which is where pretty much everything connected with power matters anyway. Nanjing media is focused inward, not upward. Local Party outlets that would normally reiterate the central line are only doing that intermittently. Call it local reluctance, the possibility of overreach by Beijing, or that the political system here doesn’t function that well with too much power at the top the way it did under The Great Helmsman—the reasons are currently unclear. Central-level officials might think that they dictate policies and political doctrine that fits every situation. But that doesn’t mean that everybody is buying in just yet.

And that large, almost lavish sign at Nanjing’s efficient and quite modern South Station? It’s gone, replaced by a car advertisement. 

Outside China's beltway, some apparently prefer to travel in their own lane. 

[1] Amazon China sent special texts to previous customers based in Nanjing highlighting the availability of Xi’s book during this time as well. Maybe that's yet another demonstration of power, but it's more likely another effort by Xi's allies to secure political ground. 

[2] Artists announcing their opposition from far away are irrelevant; it’s the ones who’ve remained and practice their craft who are better harbingers of where China is moving.

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