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.
A son born in a Dragon Year can be a blessing. ‘May the son become a dragon’ (a success) is an ancient benediction: this birth year is associated with enterprise, intelligence and daring. Yet China’s political leaders know all too well that Dragon Years are also fraught with hidden dangers: ambition can easily be frustrated and the best laid plans can go awry. The Dragon Year of 1964-1965 saw the first stirrings of Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution in the form of the Socialist Education Movement in the countryside. The next cycle in 1976-1977 witnessed natural disaster, political upheaval, Mao’s death and the unravelling of his revolutionary enterprise, while the economic and cultural ferment of 1988-1989 called forth a nationwide protest movement culminating in its suppression by massive state violence on 4 June 1989.
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.
The Beijing Olympics
At the auspicious hour of 8:08 pm on the eighth day of the eighth month of 2008 (8 August), the XXIXth Olympiad began in Beijing with an opening ceremony extravaganza directed by the filmmaker Zhang Yimou. Beijing had become only the third Asian city to host the Olympics.
It was the hottest month of the year, but thanks to the shutting down of industry, a strict system of traffic management and even ‘rain-making’ cloud-seeding to clean the air, the city’s usually stifling summer smog-haze was kept at bay. Still, human rights activists, particularly concerned with the recent crackdown in Tibet, held their noses. Regardless, the international community supported China’s hosting the summer games thanks in no small part to US$44 billion in expenditure, the construction of twelve large sporting facilities, a restructuring of the city’s transportation system, an extensive program to relocate polluting industries, a multiyear propaganda blitz and ‘civilizing’ campaigns aimed at improving civic behaviour.
The Games enjoyed unprecedented popularity, breaking records for TV audience numbers. The Chinese national team won a record fifty-one gold medals and the US swimmer Michael Phelps won eight gold medals – the most ever won by an athlete in one Olympics. The overall result was deemed a resounding success by the Chinese government, the majority of participants and most media observers.
The positive impact of the Games can still be seen in Beijing today. Plastic shopping bags still have to be purchased and are no longer given away by supermarkets, new subway lines have opened up and older ones extended and public transport is more convenient than ever. That said, air pollution is more noxious than ever and the giant Bird’s Nest stadium where the opening and closing ceremonies were held in 2008 looms on the north central axis of the city, costing more money to run than it can generate in income.
Still, China’s self-image was burnished by the Games, and the smooth management of the event is held up by the official media as one of the country’s greatest recent national achievements.
The year 2011 had seen a rise in protest against underlying systemic problems. It started out with police clampdowns on protests inspired by the Arab Spring. In the middle of the year, a disaster involving the country’s much celebrated new high-speed rail system at Wenzhou, near Shanghai, killed dozens of people; the accident raised serious questions about the accelerated rate of construction and frenetic change in the country. The year ended with villagers in the southern province of Guangdong revolting en masse against the collusion between local party bosses and unscrupulous developers that had resulted in brutish land-grabs. Increased surveillance of the Internet, which played an ever-increasing and unpredictable role in these unsettled times, was also a sign of official anxiety that social unrest could escalate into violence and trigger wide-scale rebellion.
Meanwhile, continued ethnic tensions in China’s west – Xinjiang and Tibet – led to waves of protest and repression. In its immediate region, China had been increasingly aggressive in pressing its territorial claims over the South China Sea. Since 2009, bellicose statements by several army leaders had alerted the international community to the new realities they faced with a country that was moving away from a former policy of ‘hiding its light’ and biding its time (tao guang yang hui 韬光养晦) to one of asserting its influence on the world stage. Some commentators have chided China condescendingly as demonstrating ‘adolescent behaviour’. Others saw China’s precipitous rise to regional and global stature from 2008 onwards as thrusting the current political leadership into an international role for which it was ill-prepared given the decades of self-imposed isolationism under Mao and the eclectic approaches to ‘opening up’ under Deng and since. Moreover, the unhappy legacies of the past – the bullying conduct of the West and Japan in the colonial era as well as the post-World War II international dominance of the United States and its concomitant hostility to China – together with the fractured interests of the countries of Asia and the Pacific and Japan’s economic sluggishness also contributed to China’s assertiveness.
Tour of the South (nanxun 南巡)
During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the Kangxi and Qianlong emperors of the Qing Dynasty whose rule represented the greatest Prosperous Age (shengshi 盛世) in Chinese history, revived the ancient practice of the imperial tour of inspection, or ‘imperial progress’. ‘Tours of the South’ became major events in imperial administration.
Mao Zedong frequently ‘toured the south’, spending much of his time away from Beijing. In 1992, Deng Xiaoping undertook what was officially described using the imperial-era term nanxun, travelling to Shanghai and Guangdong province. The tour signalled to the nation his commitment to economic reform and market-driven prosperity. Remarks he made during the tour contributed directly to a new stage of the country’s economic opening up and market reform.
International leaders welcomed Chinese capital to help stabilize European financial institutions in the ongoing financial crisis of the Eurozone. Several business commentators lauded the Beijing model as a success story about state capitalism married to authoritarian politics. In China, there was growing discontent and alarm over corruption and official brutishness. Some see systemic change – a liberalization of the one-party political system – as a possible way ahead; others on the left are critical of an authoritarian market economy in league with global capital. As the contributors to this volume show, in the years between 2008 and 2012 there are Chinese citizens who regard a return to socialist values, Mao-era egalitarianism and a strong populist one-party state as the solution to China’s mounting social crises. Others believe that the political and media reforms promised at the hopeful start of the country’s transition to a market economy thirty years ago remain the vital remedy. Still others note that following the successful 2008 Beijing Olympics, China has witnessed the reassertion of the party-state (that is, Communist Party control over the civil governmental bureaucracy, the one inseparable from the other) in major aspects of national life.
The result is a series of contentions over the national narrative required to articulate the next stage of economic reform and the country’s modern transformation. ‘Collective vision’ is an integral part of political rhetoric under the Communist Party. In practice, we find in recent years the divided agendas of a cautious, fearful and time-serving bureaucracy with a vested interest in maintaining the status quo.
An Overlooked Anniversary
At the start of 2012 there were muted commemorations of the 1992 Tour of the South (nanxun 南巡) that Deng Xiaoping, the celebrated ‘grand engineer’ of China’s open door policies, undertook after economic reform stalled in the wake of the Beijing Massacre of 3-4 June 1989. The massacre had brought an end to the ‘chaos’ of nationwide student-led demonstrations in favour of freedom of expression and government accountability. It had also thrown into doubt the reformist agenda of Deng and his allies; for a time, economic conservatives and ideological neo-Maoists held sway and along with a clampdown on all forms of public protest, further economic liberalization was sidelined. Deng realized that China was in danger of going the way of the Soviet Union and that if the welfare and prosperity of the majority of China’s people was neglected, as it had been with disastrous consequences under Mao Zedong, his own attempts to bring the country into the global market economy and to play a major role in world affairs would be thwarted.
In early 1992, during what was ostensibly a family holiday, Deng Xiaoping toured the southern cities where economic liberalization and market economies had been allowed. He warned his fellow Party members that they could not afford the luxury of continued ideological wrangling over whether economic reform and engagement with the international economy was by nature ‘socialist’ or ‘capitalist’. Development, he declared, was an inescapable necessity; ideological and systemic stagnation were the enemies of future prosperity. His words (and behind-the-scenes politicking) ignited a wave of change in China that has since awed the world. His efforts were formally recognized at the Party’s Fourteenth Congress in October 1992, setting an economic course for the country that was maintained for the next two decades.
The red boomers, or ‘princelings’ (taizi dang 太子党), typified by the deposed Chongqing Party Secretary Bo Xilai and president-in-waiting Xi Jinping, are the generation of men and women born either at the war-era Communist capital of Yan’an in Shaanxi in north-west China in the 1940s, or around the founding years of the People’s Republic. For decades the progeny of Party leaders at all levels have been active both politically and economically. Through alliances, marriage and various coalitions of interest they form a complex socio-political strata in the Chinese world.
In February 2012, Premier Wen Jiabao made his own southern trip and in Guangdong he invoked the memory of Deng’s Tour of the South by pointedly repeating his predecessor’s calls for continued reform in China. Quoting Deng he said: ‘Opening-up and reform should be implemented unswervingly, or there will only be a dead end.’ Nonetheless, the twentieth anniversary of Deng’s original tour passed with scant celebration in Beijing. It was a sign, perhaps that, faced with myriad other problems, the country had lost its enthusiasm and will for further, necessary change. Some critics declared that Chinese ‘crony capitalism’ and ‘vested interests’ – long evident in the country, and identified in their nascent form by the protesters of 1989 as a major threat to the country’s future – were frustrating reform of the state sector. ‘The state’, they warned, ‘was on the march and private enterprise was in retreat.’
In 1992, Deng and his supporters in the army pushed for a new agenda of accelerated development in which they sidelined attempts by left-leaning and even Maoist ideologues to slow down the pace of market reforms. Twenty years later, in 2011-2012, left-leaning thinking was again a feature of political infighting. For neo-Maoists and a range of left sympathizers, both inside and outside the Party and army, the status quo was evidence that traitors were pursuing their own economic agenda at the behest of international capitalism and that they were selling out the country to Western (that is, US) interests.
It is against this backdrop that the change of Party and state leadership would take place in 2012-2013. Moreover, this time around, and for the first time in the history of the People’s Republic, true heirs of the dragon, that is the progeny of the founding party rulers of modern China, were jockeying for key command jobs in the Party’s highest decision-making bodies.
A group called the ‘revolutionary successors’, that is children of the Communist leaders born in the 1940s up to the time of the founding of the new state in 1949, first made a play for power in the early months of the Cultural Revolution of 1966. As high-school students initially favoured by Mao for their ideological fervour, they enjoyed privileged access to state information due to their parents’ positions in the Party hierarchy. This led them to believe they would play a leading role in shaping the nation’s future, or as the phrase has it, directing China’s ‘rivers and mountains’ (jiangshan 江山). These ambitious high-born adolescents helped create the idealistic and iconoclastic Red Guard movement that gained notoriety for violence. The support they received from Mao was short-lived. They were soon cast aside for their links to Party leadership figures when the old guard itself became the target of Mao’s plan for ‘continuous revolution’. Over the ‘vested interests’ of the Party’s leading bureaucrats and their progeny, Mao advanced a new and unaffiliated cadre of activists that for nearly a decade steered the country on a radical path.
The now displaced revolutionary successors joined countless other former Red Guards in a forced march to the countryside and factories for re-education by the labouring masses. They have bided their time for nearly fifty years, establishing political powerbases and commercial empires throughout the country from the smallest locality to the largest urban megalopolis.
The two revolutionary successors to gain the greatest international name recognition in the transition years were Xi Jinping, son of the general Xi Zhongxun (1913-2002) who helped oversee early economic reform in China’s south, and Bo Xilai, whose father was Bo Yibo (1908-2007), a party planner extraordinaire. Both men were tipped for power, Xi as General Secretary of the Communist Party and President of China, and Bo for possible entry into the Standing Committee of the Party’s ruling Politburo. Their individual machinations – a vast and intricate power play involving in-coming as well as out-going leaders – were pursued under the cover of consensual politics.
Besides Xi and Bo, other members of this group of ‘red boomers’ have also agitated to be recognized as the rightful heirs of the revolution. Among them, many like Bo have flaunted a leftist stance and attempted to act as a loyal opposition to the mercantilist policies of a party they feel had lost its moral and revolutionary moorings. These leaders and others had been jockeying for key posts in the new line up for the Politburo and State Council for years.
What could be dubbed the Chinese party-state’s electoral cycle actually began in the lead-up to the Olympic year of 2008. Numerous events provoked the hyper-nationalism of that time, most notably, the March 2008 uprising in Tibetan China and the debacle of the Olympic Torch Relay the international progress of which was dogged by human rights protesters. The resulting fervour was in part directed by Xi Jinping in Beijing, in patriotic defence of state action against Tibetan protesters and rights activists. Bo Xilai, meanwhile, was championing mass media cosmetic socialism – ‘red culture’ – in the province-size autonomous city of Chongqing in the country’s south-west which he ran as Party Secretary. Other signs of this disquieting shift were China’s harsh demeanour and hard line at the November 2009 Copenhagen talks on climate change followed not long after by the intimidating behaviour on display in relation to territorial disputes with the country’s neighbours in the South China Sea.
Just as the power transition began in February 2012, the mysterious death of an Englishman in Chongqing and the attempt of Bo Xilai’s police chief and right-hand man, Wang Lijun, to seek refuge in the US Consulate in Chengdu threw Bo Xilai’s carefully-laid plans for ascension into chaos. Then, in March, with his wife under suspicion for the Englishman’s murder and his police chief allegedly having revealed all manner of malfeasance related to Bo Xilai’s rule in Chongqing, Bo himself was removed from his post and disappeared from sight. For years commentators had presumed there would be a relatively unruffled leadership handover in China. Suddenly the world gained a glimpse of the fractious nature of the country’s politics, and the ideas and interests that motivate it. For some weeks after Bo’s downfall, the leftist ideology of the Mao era that he had revived in his bid for power continued to be volubly defended by many Party members, army leaders and intellectuals.
One day before the sensational news of Bo Xilai’s fall was announced, Premier Wen Jiabao spoke at what would be his last press conference as the head of China’s government. Twice Wen referred to the 1981 Communist Party decision on ‘certain historical questions’. That document provided the ideological rationale for China’s post-1978 economic reforms. A carefully worded text, it formally negated the socio-economic policies that had underpinned the Mao era, including the Great Leap Forward and the Cultural Revolution. Wen referred to the 1981 decision in the following way:
I want to say a few words at this point, since the founding of the People’s Republic of China, under the leadership of the Party and the government, our country’s modernisation drive has made great achievements. Yet at the same time, we’ve also taken detours and have learnt hard lessons. Since the Third Plenum of the Eleventh Party Central Committee [in December 1978], in particular since the central authorities took the decision on the correct handling of relevant historical issues, we have established the line of thinking and that we should free our minds and seek truth from facts and we have formulated the basic guidelines of our Party. In particular, we’ve taken the major decision of conducting reform and opening up in China, a decision that’s crucial for China’s future and destiny.
What has happened shows that any practice that we take must be based on the experience and lessons we’ve gained from history and it must serve the people’s interests. The practice that we take must be able to stand the test of history and I believe the people fully recognize this point and I have full confidence in our future.
Over a year before Bo Xilai was put under investigation for breaching Party discipline, there were signs that ideological contestation and a concomitant power struggle were well under way. The last major public power struggle within the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) occurred in 1989, and in recent times commentators on China have pondered the possible forms that jostling for position within the top Party echelon might take in the current iteration of China’s brand of one-party consensual authoritarianism. Such educated guesses, known as Zhongnanhai-ology, remain at best an imaginative art. It is all but impossible to track effectively the backroom dealings, the power plays and the political feints involved in what is a byzantine process. Nonetheless, the media provide some indication of the nature of intra-party tussles.
Regardless of who rises or falls during 2012-2013, the Chinese Communist Party’s nomenclatura, whether they have a family pedigree or not, face a profound dilemma: how do the contending individuals, factions and groups allow this extraordinary nation to flourish locally and globally while dealing with parochial or vested interests and the exigencies of situations requiring immediate solution? How does the Party maintain stable rule and legitimate succession despite having reneged on seventy years of promises to introduce democracy, basic freedoms and oversight of its power? These problems are not unique to China but they are particularly acute at present. China has a political system conceived at the time of the Russian Revolution nearly a century ago. It is a system not open to public debate and despite the appearance of bureaucratic order and functionality, its operations often recall its underground, conspiratorial and mafia-like origins.
China’s labyrinthine politics in which personal alliances and loyalties are tangled with regional alignments and commercial interests complicate the present regime’s aspiration to high professionalism and reasoned idealism. These competing impulses, together with the simple survival instincts needed for success in leadership contests, demand a multi-dimensional approach for any deeper analysis.
China’s prominence in the Asia and Pacific region as well as its increased role on the international stage mean that many aspects of Chinese reality now attract global media coverage. These include: the behaviour of the government both at home and abroad, the country’s rapidly changing urban and rural landscape, the ideas that enliven public and elite debate, influential religious beliefs in Chinese society today and the government’s response to them, the Internet and censorship, the current situation and future prospects of the rule of law and human rights, and many other issues besides.
The China Story
The song-and-dance extravaganza staged on 8 August 2008 for the Opening Ceremony of the Beijing Olympics offered an enthralling account of China’s great traditions and its aspirations. It was just after that opening ceremony that I was invited on 9 August 2008 by the then Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd to join him in conversation with a number of Chinese officials and individuals. They included a leading Party propagandist who emphasized how the events of 2008 brought home the importance for China to tell the world its own story – what he called Zhongguode gushi 中国的故事 that is ‘The China Story’.
As is so often the case with such encounters, this senior bureaucrat was interested in ‘using the foreign to serve China’. Indeed, he enjoined us in the language of friendship diplomacy to act as a bridge between China and the world. Having spent my professional career as an historian attempting to understand, translate and relate ‘Chinese stories’ and not to convey to others a monolithic ‘China Story’, I remarked that it was the plurality of Chinese stories, be they in the People’s Republic or globally, that form the natural bridge to an understanding of China today.
Telling national stories has been part of the creation of nation-states since the nineteenth century, and many history projects have been devised as part of or, at least, under the umbrella of creating a foundational narrative for the political purpose of nation-building. The China Story, as part of the official Chinese narrative, has in recent years served as propaganda for continued one-party rule in a highly unequal society.
If we wish to be critically engaged with China, we must understand the official discourse and its historical and ideological underpinnings. We need to be alert to the highly orchestrated nature of the official ‘Chinese world view’ and to discern the gulf between it and the larger Chinese realities, possibilities and uncertainties that it seeks to obscure. To the extent that the government compels the media to endorse party-state programs and pronouncements, the information approved for publication often reflects something of what I have called ‘China’s Flat Earth’.
Approaching The China Story as scholars and educators requires us to bring an empathetic understanding to the task. We must pursue facts with sensitivity to people’s often-raw emotional reactions to the received history and the political uses made of that history. We should also heed differences and similarities between the values inherent in The China Story and those enshrined in the stories we tell of ourselves, our society and our nation. We also should be alert to the ways in which the official national ‘China Story’ is used to legitimate countless local Chinese stories, ways of leveraging, negotiating and bypassing in provincial China the strictures of Beijing. The approach that frames the writings of this volume, one based on what I call a New Sinology (Hou Hanxue 后汉学), resonates with Clive James’s observation of a form of humanistic inquiry that is distinguished by ‘its hunger, its scope, its vitality and its inner light – an inner light produced by all the aspects of life illuminating one another, in a honeycomb of understanding.’
The China Story Yearbook
China Story Yearbook is a project initiated by the Australian Centre on China in the World (CIW) at The Australian National University (ANU). It is part of a broad project aimed at understanding The China Story, both as portrayed by official China, and from various other perspectives. Our Centre on China in the World is a Commonwealth Government-ANU initiative that was announced by then Australian Prime Minister, the Hon. Kevin Rudd MP, in April 2010 on the occasion of the Seventieth George E. Morrison Lecture at ANU. The Centre was created to allow for a more holistic approach to the study of contemporary China: one that considers the forces, personalities and ideas at work in China when attempting to understand any major aspect of its socio-political or cultural reality. The Australian Centre on China in the World encourages such an approach by supporting humanities-led research that engages actively with the social sciences. The resulting admix has, we believe, both public policy relevance and value for the engaged public.
George E. Morrison
George Ernest Morrison (1862-1920) was an adventurous Australian traveller who arrived in Beijing in 1897 as China correspondent for The Times of London. He later served as an advisor to the Chinese government following the Xinhai Revolution of 1911 and the establishment of the Republic of China. He was an engagé writer and avid collector of books whose library formed the basis of the renowned Toyo Bunko in Tokyo. The major shopping thoroughfare in central Beijing, Wangfujing, was during most of the Chinese Republic (1912-1949) known as ‘Morrison Street’ in honour of its famous inhabitant.
In 1932, the inaugural ‘George Ernest Morrison Lecture in Ethnology’ was delivered in the new Australian capital city of Canberra; the annual lecture series continues to be held at The Australia National University.
This first volume of the Centre’s China Story Yearbook takes as its theme the colour red, and the title Red Rising, Red Eclipse. We believe that the red of Party control, of state enterprises, of reformulated Party ideology and culture, the red dominion of the party-state over the individual and the red successors who have been moving onto centre stage are a particular feature of the political transition period that began furtively in 2008. In the years 2009 to 2012, the colour red featured also in the major celebrations of the Chinese state and the Communist Party – the commemoration of the sixtieth anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China on the 1 October National Day of 2009, which was marked by a grand parade in the heart of the Chinese capital, just as the marking of the ninetieth year since the foundation in July 1921 of the Chinese Communist Party led to months of media-saturated celebration in 2011. The red symbolism of politics, society and culture will remain a fixture of the Chinese world for some time to come, but the fall of Bo Xilai in early 2012 and the seeming lack of viable long-term solutions to China’s socio-political problems also cast a shadow over the country’s contentious red traditions.
Long ago, Mao Zedong warned that after his death careerists and opportunists would attempt to use the Party’s ideology to justify a return to what he called the ‘bourgeois dictatorship’. These traitors to the revolution would, he said, ‘wave the red flag to oppose the red flag’ (da hongqi fan hongqi 打红旗反红旗). In recent years China’s ‘new left’ (an ill-defined coalition of mostly armchair Marxists, academics and proto-patriots) and neo-Maoists have criticized the economic reforms for doing just that, and they have supported those populists who would raise once more a red banner to forge a path for China’s future. For them the Asia-Pacific century should be led by a return to the red past. Others argue that only by reforming the political party that Mao helped create and by establishing a modern polity that better reflects the will of the majority of Chinese can the nation enjoy a global status and future worthy of its size and promise.
The specialists whose work features in Red Rising, Red Eclipse are members of or associated with the Australian Centre on China in the World. They survey China’s regional posture, urban change, social ativism and law, economics, the Internet, history and thought. Their contributions cover the years 2009-2011, updated to mid 2012 and offer an informed perspective on recent developments in China and what these may mean for the future. Red Rising, Red Eclipse provides a context for understanding the underlying and ongoing issues of modern China, issues that will resonate far beyond the Dragon Year of 2012–2013.
China Story Yearbook is produced by the Australian Centre in the World in collaboration with the Danwei Media Group in Beijing, a research organization that has been collecting and collating Internet and media information in and on China for CIW and this project since 2010. The chapters are arranged thematically and they are interspersed with information windows that highlight particular words, issues, ideas, statistics, people and events. Shorter essays, or ‘interstices’, provide updates on relations between the polities on either side of the Taiwan Straits, on disturbances in Tibetan China and Xinjiang, as well as top ten lists and highlights of Chinese achievements. A list of People and Personalities and a Chronology at the end of the volume provide an easy reference for words, peoples and events featured in the body of the text. Footnotes and the CIW-Danwei Archive of source materials are available online at: www.TheChinaStory.org
The editorial group that has overseen this project led by Geremie R. Barmé consists of Jeremy Goldkorn, Carolyn Cartier and Gloria Davies. Jeremy and his colleagues at Danwei Media in Beijing – Eric Mu, Joel Martinsen, Freedom Zeng, Barry van Wyk and Nicholas Richards – provided updates of Chinese- and English-language material relevant to the project, as well as helping to compile much of the information used in the additional windows in chapters and interstitial essays. Mark Harrison agreed to write on cross-strait relations and Chris Buckley offered a series of comments on the Chongqing and Guangdong models. Robbie Barnett and David Brophy read over the material on ethnic China and Lois Conner kindly provided us with the cover image. Multimedia Services, ANU College of Asia and the Pacific created the maps in Chapter 2 and we are particularly grateful to Linda Jaivin for her extensive and painstaking editorial work on the final draft of the manuscript, as well as to Glen Rose for copy-editing the final text. Markuz Wernli created the elegant visual and typographical style of the book.
Each chapter in this book is introduced by a pictorial motif. They are:
The Cover Image
Huabiao 华表 are sculpted marble pillars. Such pillars are entwined by a carved dragon, pierced by a decorative wing-like cloud and topped by a crouching animal. They traditionally feature at entrances to palace buildings, imperial ancestral temples and along processional paths. The stylized cloud represents what in ancient times was called the Board of Criticism and Protest, or the ‘wood of direct speech’ (feibang zhi mu 诽谤之木). These boards were affixed to pillars situated outside the palace or court so that common people could write complaints about their rulers on them. Subsequently, even in their highly abstracted form, the pillars were supposed to symbolize the right of the people to speak out against official injustice and to demand conscientious government. Tiananmen Gate in central Beijing is flanked by huabiao.
Bo Xilai, during his tenure as Mayor of Dalian, Liaoning province (1993-2000), ordered the construction of a huabiao twice as large as those in front of Tiananmen. Critics commented that the appearance of a mammoth huabiao in the city’s Xinghai Square was an early sign of Bo’s ‘imperial presumption’.