Yearbook 2012: Red Rising, Red Eclipse

The China Story Yearbook brings together the various talents of the Australian Centre on China in the World. It is aimed at the engaged public, as well as specialists, journalists, businesspeople, diplomats and students.

The inaugural Yearbook is titled Red Rising, Red Eclipse, and it covers the period from 2009 to mid 2012. Produced by academics and writers who are members of or who are affiliated with the Centre the Yearbook offers a survey of Chinese politics, law, economics, regional diplomacy, Internet politics, thought, history and culture featuring academic analysis as well as a range of information lists and data compiled by the Centre in coordination with our collaborators at Danwei Media under the direction of Jeremy Goldkorn. The Yearbook took its final form during editorial discussions with Jeremy Goldkorn in March 2012 at Capital M, Qianmen, Beijing.

The Australian Centre on China in the World is a publicly funded research centre. We believe that it is important for us to provide broad access to our research and expertise without pay walls or charge. The Yearbook is a ‘cross-platform’ work. That is to say, it is being produced as a printed text (not for commercial distribution), as well as being made available via this site in downloadable PDF format, in the form of individual chapters, as an online text, e-text and in Kindle format.

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Introduction: Red Rising

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The start of 2012 ushered in another Year of the Dragon according to the twelve-year cycle of the traditional Chinese lunar calendar. It also marked a time of pre-ordained political change – over the following year and a half, the leaders of China’s Communist Party and civilian government would hand over power to the next generation.

Initially, observers both inside and outside China presumed that the years 2012-2013 would see an orderly transition of power and the untroubled retirement of a generation of party-state leaders, from Communist Party General Secretary Hu Jintao and State Premier Wen Jiabao downwards. Even within China’s Communist Party, however, there were already signs of discontent – over corruption, social anomie and the perceived stagnation of the economy and the political system.

Chapter 1: China’s Foreign Policy Aggressiveness

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This chapter analyses the 'aggressive turn' in Chinese foreign policy during the 2010–2011 period, including examples and sometimes competing explanations. It also surveys international reactions to shifts in Chinese policy, including a backlash from other countries in Asia. While most of these seem keen to maintain quidistance between China and the United States, the sharp and public debate that China's foreign policy provoked in Australia illustrates the policy dilemmas that an increasingly assertive China will inevitably generate.

Chapter 2: Symbolic Cities and the ‘Cake Debate’

by Carolyn Cartier and Luigi Tomba

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Cities provide the most spectacular evidence of China’s transformation. New urban landscapes punctuated by landmark skyscrapers proclaim the country’s rapid development and modernisation. Since 1978, over 500 new cities have been built and constructing them has been a major social and political achievement as well as a major driver of economic growth. The process has also dispossessed millions of rural landholders without due or sufficient compensation, resulting in tens of thousands of protests in recent years. In historic cities, displacement of long-established residents and the replacement of socialist-era housing and factories by sleek office buildings and shopping malls also demonstrate the changing economic functions of the city and throw up new social and economic issues. Moreover, the design and development of cities is a highly competitive process. Key Communist Party officials stake their careers on the ‘quality’ of urban development in the cities in which they govern. They do so not only as a matter of governance but also to manipulate the symbolic significance of the cities in their charge for the sake of their own political advancement, as a kind of personal exercise in ‘branding’.

Cross-Straits Relations

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The term ‘cross-straits relations’ refers to the intersecting political, military, economic, cultural and social relationships between Taiwan and mainland China. Cross-straits relations (liang’an guanxi 兩岸關係) have evolved in complex ways since the ‘hot stage’ of the Chinese Civil War officially wound down some thirty years ago (when the two sides agreed to cease their desultory, ritualistic, every-other-day shelling of islands and coastline).

Chapter 3: The Ideology of Law and Order

by Susan Trevaskes

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Justice stands at the intersection between state and society in all of its dimensions. It is the expression of relations between the vast majority of China’s people and the relatively small coterie who govern them – the Chinese Communist Party. As more people resist the interference of powerholders in all aspects of their lives as well as the abuse of their social and economic rights, the Party has come to regard such behaviour as arising threat, an alternative source of legitimate power and justice. The collective, if often inchoate, power of the average citizens and the importance they have come to place on justice today pose direct challenges to China’s ‘red rising’ – that is the increasingly assertive party-state and its goal of ‘maintaining stability’.

Chapter 4: Uncertain Numbers, Uncertain Outcomes

by Jane Golley

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Some of the numbers that have been collected, concocted, analysed and debated in recent years illustrate the potentially serious nature of China’s economic, social and political challenges. Ongoing debates regarding fertility rates, the pending exhaustion of rural surplus labour, the end of the demographic dividend, gender imbalances, income inequality and government debt make it virtually impossible for anyone to predict particular outcomes with precision. Accurate assessments of China’s socio-economic outlook require more accurate collection and reporting of numbers. Meanwhile, great care must be taken in interpreting those that are available.

China's Top Ten

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This is a selection of top ten lists and annual reviews of 2011 published by various organizations including the official Xinhua News Agency, commercial Internet companies like Sina Weibo, the neo-Maoist website Utopia and Hudong Encyclopaedia.

Chapter 5: Discontent in Digital China

by Gloria Davies

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The digital age has brought new complexity and new conundrums to China’s one-party rule. While dissidents continue to be summarily arrested and charged with serious crimes, official rhetoric and vox populi now jostle for attention on the Internet.

Chapter 6: Searching for a Sage Today

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In recent years, Chinese leaders have acknowledged that the country’s famed rapid development has also resulted in increased social inequality, environmental degradation and community unrest. Official attempts to revivify elements of the Maoist heritage that began in Chongqing, the ‘red culture’ discussed throughout this volume, was one attempt to find a past ideological model to serve presentday society. A sage from a much earlier period, Confucius, has also been promoted by President Hu Jintao as providing values for rebuilding social cohesion while maintaining secular authority. The search for paragons led some also to Laozi, the Taoist philosopher, as well as to one of his latter-day adherents and promoters, the celebrity Taoist priest Li Yi. In the late 2000s, Li Yi’s ‘temple spa’ outside Chongqing became a haven for the nouveau riche, who sought there spiritual balm for the anxieties of modern life – until, that is, Li’s spectacular fall from grace in late 2010.

Anxieties in Tibet and Xinjiang

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In the People’s Republic, the far western regions of Tibet and Xinjiang are both officially known as ‘autonomous regions’. The dominant ethnic groups – Tibetans and Uyghurs – are supposed to enjoy a certain amount of self-governance. But this formal administrative approach, coupled with enormous investment in the local economy and infrastructure, has done little to ease ethnic tensions, nor to allay fears of economic marginalization caused by extensive Han Chinese immigration and worries that educational and religious policies are stifling Tibetan and Uyghur cultures.

Chapter 7: Behind The Great Firewall

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According to the official China Internet Network Information Center (CNNIC), in 2011 the number of Chinese Internet users grew to more than half a billion. It remains, however, a circumscribed and heavily censored space lacking such common global websites as Facebook and services such as Twitter. Some Chinese netizens sarcastically call China’s World Wide Web the ‘ChInternet’ or ‘China’s vast intranet’.

Despite this, the year 2011 may well have been a watershed. Government officials began reading Internet postings with a care once reserved for picking through editorials in the People’s Daily. The ability to decipher gnomic utterances in the Party newspaper was once vital to a political career; today, understanding the Internet is arguably even more important for Party and non-Party observers alike for the way it reflects China’s restive reality.

Chapter 8: Voices from the Blogosphere I

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The variety and depth of information about China available on blogs and niche websites is extraordinary. The best bloggers offer immediate and well-sourced perspectives on events on the ground; news about China often breaks on their sites first. There are also dozens of sites that translate articles from the Chinese media and postings from the Internet.

This and the following chapter provide a selection of writings from the Internet by Chinese and foreign observers, translations and commentary that offer further reflections on topics discussed elsewhere in this book. All material is reprinted with permission from the original author or website. The punctuation and style of these selections accord the house style of the book, the texts have not otherwise been edited. Sources are given in the online notes for this book.

From Victory to Victory

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A list of the achievements of the People’s Republic of China and the Communist Party from 2009 to 2012. This information is drawn from annual Government Work Reports (available at www.gov.cn) and the Xinhua News Agency.

Chapter 9: Voices from the Blogosphere II

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This Chapter continues our selection of writings from the Chinese Internet by local writers and foreign observers that engage with some of the topics discussed in this book. All material is reprinted with permission from the original author, editor or website.

Chapter 10: Red Eclipse

by Geremie R. Barmé

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‘The China Story’ as told by the Chinese authorities is a grand romantic narrative of struggle, progress and socialist transformation. It is a glowing history of how the Party has brought about the ‘great renaissance of the Chinese nation’. On the occasion of the celebration of the sixtieth anniversary of the People’s Republic in 2009, China’s President Hu Jintao repeatedly cited this phrase, first used by Party General Secretary Jiang Zemin a decade ago. Hu reprised it when marking the centenary of the 1911 Xinhai Revolution on 9 October 2011.