Beijing's mane man

Tiger on the Brink: Jiang Zemin and China's New Elite

Bruce Gilley <em>University of California Pr

Chinese leaders, whose flacks emphasise their "plain living" (a bowl of noodles handed to them by a modest wife is always enough), have a penchant for self-eulogising titles. Jiang Zemin, already State President, Party General Secretary and Chairman of the Central Military Commission, possesses two titles that Mao, Great Teacher, Helmsman, and Red, Red Sun in Our Hearts, never held: Core Leader and Chief Engineer. The first was accorded him by Senior Leader and Chief Architect Deng Xiaoping; the second, Jiang bestowed on himself.

For Bruce Gilley, Jiang is a kaleidoscope of contradictory qualities: he does not cultivate a personality cult but is now "exalted as an emperor in his own right". After Tiananmen Square (about which he feels guilty) he ordered few punishments, and has described the foreign reaction to the massacre as "much ado about nothing"; yet he also reminds foreign visitors that the 1989 killings were necessary to preserve China's stability. He "has committed minor sins", Gilley says, " but is not a man to hate", even though he presides over a government - this Gilley does not say - that Amnesty International says is responsible for more extra-legal executions than all other countries put together.

These and many other contradictions - sometimes Gilley loses control of them from one page to the next - appear in this first biography of Jiang Zemin. The author, a young Canadian with near-perfect Chinese, has established himself as a coming journalist in his short career in Taiwan and Hong Kong. He is currently the Hong Kong correspondent of the Far Eastern Economic Review and a visiting fellow at the Berkeley Journalism School.

Gilley takes Jiang from his birth 73 years ago to the early spring of this year. He was born in Yangzhou, not far up the Yangtze river from Shanghai. A good-sized town, once one of China's richest, it remains a pretty place, renowned for its barbers. Gilley devotes pages and pages to Jiang's oiling, dying and combing his "mane", but only a few lines to human rights.

Jiang's family was well off and to some extent "intellectual", which in China means little more than being literate and not doing manual work. He was estranged from his merchant father and was adopted as a kind of son by one of his two communist uncles. The connection with a "revolutionary martyr" did Jiang much good in his largely untroubled climb up the usually thorny slope of Chinese political life. He participated marginally in university politics against the government of Chiang Kai-shek, joined the Communist Party, became an engineer and eventually spent a short time in a Soviet factory. He was barely brushed by the purges of the Cultural Revolution. Early on in his political life Jiang found that invaluable tool for party success: a much older and well-connected mentor, Wang Daohan, who eased Jiang up the slope after him.

Gilley traces Jiang's career, which he justly characterises as "joining the pack and emerging in the lead", although I disagree when he says that Jiang does not "scuttle rivals". Once Deng Xiaoping was on his deathbed, Jiang began "scuttling" some of the Senior Leader's closest allies in industry, the army and in the highest reaches of government. He abruptly retired Qiao Shi, a slightly democratic Politburo Standing Committee member. Most recently Jiang purged the vastly corrupt Chen Xitong, mayor of Beijing during Tiananmen and one of Deng's appointees to the Politburo. Hailed by the dog-like press as Jiang's most masterful anti-corruption stroke, this was actually a carefully elaborated ploy to demonstrate that the Dengists were on their way out.

The genuine contribution of Gilley's biography is to show that Jiang was not "plucked from nowhere" by Deng in 1989 to succeed him. He had been a minister and Central Committee member since 1982 and in the Politburo since 1987. When he was appointed mayor of Shanghai in 1985, and then the city's party boss, Gilley explains, it was but another example of prospective national leaders being sent to Shanghai before their final elevation.

Gilley insists that Jiang does not employ the party's traditionally brutal practices. He claims - without a convincing source - that during Tiananmen Jiang was isolated because, in one of Gilley's queer phrases, Deng knew that "anyone associated with the impending crackdown in Beijing would be tarred at home and feathered abroad".

He suggests, equally unconvincingly, that Jiang feels "guilt" about the use of violence in Tiananmen, in which he played no part; in Jiang's Shanghai base, Gilley notes, there was relatively little brutality against the supporters of Tiananmen. However, the extreme violence in Beijing was the national exception. In most of the other hundred or so cities in which there were uprisings in the early summer of 1989 there was relatively little armed suppression at the time; punishment came afterwards with arrests and executions. In any case, Jiang always observes that what took place in Tiananmen was necessary.

Gilley alleges, too, that the reason for the violence in Tiananmen was that the People's Armed Police, initially responsible for order in the capital, were not equipped for non-lethal crowd control. This is the explanation of Premier Li Peng and it is not true. I was tear-gassed by the PAP on 3 June and beaten with their rubber truncheons. The brutal fact is that Deng wanted to use tanks and automatic weapons in Beijing.

According to Gilley, Jiang "sought to limit outright punishment to the hard core of Tiananmen organisers, many of whom had already fled abroad". He claims he has used only primary sources, but quotes an American political scientist's figure of 1,179 cadres specifically charged with Tiananmen-related offences. In his book The Legacy of Tiananmen (University of Michigan Press, 1996) James Miles, the BBC's Beijing correspondent, uses party documents to estimate that in the party alone four million members were investigated, "tens if not hundreds of thousands" of others were arrested across the country, and "millions of people who had joined the protests, not to mention those who had played a leading role, lived in terror". Miles's book is not in Gilley's extensive bibliography.

Jiang, claims Gilley, is not a chauvinist who sees China's "minority nationalities" as inferior to the majority Hans. But like his predecessors he implacably crushes cultures and aspirations in Tibet, Xinjiang and Mongolia. Gilley produces a quote from Jiang urging some local Chinese to learn from their "minority" neighbours. Gilley treats such ritual phrases as if they mean something deeper than, say, Bill Clinton's use of the Jewish prayer of atonement to exhibit his contrition. This credulity extends to his use of official media, which he describes as "reliable in their information" - because they are official. But no official media anywhere in the world rivals China's for inaccuracy, distortion and omission. And, as Gilley shows, Jiang is obsessive about media disloyalty and ensures that the press remains supine.

Gilley's language often clangs against sensibility. Politburo member Zhu Rongji, genuinely in tears when Deng dies, is described as "a basket case". No longer under Deng's thumb, Jiang is now "ruling without the Dengist training wheels". Tiger on the Brink is not as brilliant as its jacket puffs proclaim - few books are - but future students of Jiang Zemin will thank Gilley nonetheless for an impressive first effort.

This article first appeared in the 18 December 1998 issue of the New Statesman, A time for unadulterated tradition

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What's to be done about racial inequality?

David Cameron's words on equal opportunities are to be welcomed - now for some action, says Sunder Katwala.

David Cameron made the strongest, clearest and most high profile statement about ethnic inequalities and the need to tackle discrimination ever yet offered by a British Prime Minister in his leader’s speech to the Conservative Party conference in Manchester.
“Picture this. You’ve graduated with a good degree. You send out your CV far and wide. But you get rejection after rejection. What’s wrong? It’s not the qualifications or the previous experience. It’s just two words at the top: first name, surname. Do you know that in our country today: even if they have exactly the same qualifications, people with white-sounding names are nearly twice as likely to get call backs for jobs than people with ethnic-sounding names? … That, in 21st century Britain, is disgraceful. We can talk all we want about opportunity, but it’s meaningless unless people are really judged equally”, said Cameron.
While the proof of the pudding will be in the eating, this was a powerfully argued Prime Ministerial intervention – and a particularly well-timed one, for three reasons.

Firstly, the Prime Minister was able to root his case in an all-but-universally accepted appeal for equal opportunities. It will always prove more difficult in practice to put political energy and resources behind efforts to remedy discrimination against a minority of the population unless a convincing fairness case is made that values cherished across our whole society are at stake. Cameron’s argument, that any party which tells itself that it is the party of the ‘fair chance’ and ‘the equal shot’ must have a response when there is such clear evidence of discrimination, should prove persuasive to a Conservative Party that has not seen race inequalities as its natural territory. Cameron argued that the same principles should animate responses to discrimination when it comes to race, gender and social class. Put like that, wanting job interviews to be fair – by eradicating conscious and unconscious patterns of bias wherever possible – would strike most Britons as offering as clear a case of the values of fair play as wanting the best baker to win the Great British Bake-Off on television.
Secondly, Cameron’s intervention comes at a potential "tipping point" moment for fair opportunities across ethnic groups. Traditionally, ethnic discrimination has been discussed primarily through the lens of its impact on the most marginalised. Certainly, persistent gaps in the criminal justice system, mental health provision and unemployment rates remain stark for some minority groups. What has been less noticed is the emergence of a much more complex pattern of opportunity and disadvantage – not least as a consequence of significant ethnic minority progress.

Most strikingly of all, in educational outcomes, historic attainment gaps between ethnic minorities and their white British peers have disappeared over the last decade. In the aggregate, ethnic minorities get better GCSE results on average. Ethnic minority Britons are more likely, not less likely, to be university graduates than their fellow citizens. 

As a result of that progress, Cameron’s intervention comes at a moment of significant potential – but significant risk too. Britain’s ethnic minorities are the youngest and fastest-growing sections of British society. If that educational progress translates into economic success, it will make a significant contribution to the "Great British Take-Off" that the Prime Minister envisions. But if that does not happen, with educational convergence combined with current ‘ethnic penalties’ in employment and income persisting, then that potential could well curdle into frustration that the British promise of equal opportunities is not being kept.  Cameron also mirrored his own language in committing himself to both a ‘fight against extremism’ and a ‘fight against discrimination’: while those are distinct challenges and causes, actively pursuing both tracks simultaneously has the potential, at least, depolarise some debates about responses to extremism  - and so to help deepen the broad social coalitions we need for a more cohesive society too.

Thirdly, Cameron’s challenge could mark an important deepening in the political competition between the major parties on race issues. Many have been struck by the increase in political attention on the centre-right to race issues over the last five to ten years. The focus has been on the politics of representation. By increasing the number of non-white Conservative MPs from two to seventeen since 2005, Cameron has sent a powerful signal that Labour’s traditional claim to be ‘the party of ethnic minorities’ would now be contested. Cameron was again able to celebrate in Manchester several ways in which his Cabinet and Parliamentary benches demonstrate many successful journeys of migrant and minority integration in British society. That might perhaps help to ease the fears, about integration being impossible in an era of higher immigration, which the Home Secretary had articulated the previous day.

So symbolism can matter. But facial diversity is not enough. The politics of ethnic minority opportunity needs to be about more than visits to gurdwaras, diversity nights at the party conference fringes and unveiling statues of Mahatma Gandhi in Parliament Square. Jeremy Corbyn’s first speech as Labour leader did include one brief celebratory reference to Britain’s ethnic diversity – “as I travelled the country during the leadership campaign it was wonderful to see the diversity of all the people in our country” – and to Labour bringing in more black, Asian and ethnic minority members - but it did not include any substantial content on discrimination. Tim Farron acknowledged during his leadership campaign that the Liberal Democrats have struggled to get to the starting-line on race and diversity at all. The opposition parties too will no doubt now be challenged to match not just the Prime Minister’s rhetorical commitment to challenging inequalities but also to propose how it could be done in practice.

Non-white Britons expect substance, not just symbolism from all of the parties on race inequalites.  Survation’s large survey of ethnic minority voters for British Future showed the Conservatives winning more ethnic minority support than ever before – but just 29 per cent of non-white respondents were confident that the Conservatives are committed to treating people of every ethnic background equally, while 54 per cent said this of Labour. Respondents were twice as likely to say that the Conservatives needto do more to reach out – and the Prime Minister would seem to be committed to showing that he has got that message.  Moreover, there is evidence that ethnic inclusion could be important in broadening a party’s appeal to other younger, urban and more liberal white voters too – which is why it made sense for this issue to form part of a broader attempt by David Cameron to colonise the broad centre of British politics in his Manchester speech.

But the case for caution is that there has been limited policy attention to ethnic inequalities under the last two governments. Restaurateur Iqbal Wahhab decided to give up his role chairing an ethnic minority taskforce for successive governments, unconvinced there was a political commitment to do much more than convene a talking shop. Lib Dem equalities minister Lynne Featherstone did push the CV discrimination issue – but many Conservatives were sceptical. Cameron’s new commitment may face similar challenges from those whose instinct is to worry that more attention to discrimination or bias in the jobs market will mean more red tape for business.

Labour had a separate race inequalities manifesto in 2015, outside of its main election manifesto, while the Conservative manifesto did not contain significant commitments to racial inequality. The mid-campaign launch in Croydon of a series of race equality pledges showed an increasing awareness of the growing importance of ethnic minority votes - though the fact that they all involved aiming for increases of 20 per cent by 2020 gave them a slightly back-of-the-envelope feel. 

Prime Ministerial commitments have an important agenda-setting function. A generation ago the Stephen Lawrence case opened the eyes of middle England to racist violence and police failures, particularly through the Daily Mail’s persistent challenging of those injustices. A Conservative Prime Minister’s words could similarly make a big difference in the mainstreaming of the issue of inequalities of opportunity. What action should follow words? Between now and next year’s party conference season, that must will now be the test for this Conservative government – and for their political opponents too. 

Sunder Katwala is director of British Future and former general secretary of the Fabian Society.