These Pictures from Social Media Say What the Chinese People Can’t About their New Leaders

Sina Weibo users liken their seven new leaders to these images.

Sina Weibo users liken their seven new leaders to these images.

Originally published November 15, 2012 on Quartz.com
So what exactly came out from behind the curtain in China’s Wizard of Oz political system today? Is the new seven-man Politburo Standing Committee a group of hardliners determined to keep the tight grip of the Communist Party on the country’s economy through monopolistic state enterprises? Or will they be making more room for private enterprise to reignite growth and give China’s restive and demanding citizenry the rapidly improving living standards that they have become only accustomed to.

The Actual New Leaders (AFP/Getty Images)


My usual advice is to watch what Chinese leaders do, not what they say. But all we can do today is parse the words a bit. They are usually talking to each other, certainly not the outside world and sometimes not to the wider population outside the party, warning some to get with the program while reassuring others by repeating bromides from Party liturgy.

In his speech yesterday, China’s new leader Xi Jinping offered some standard bromides from party liturgy to reassure party members that he won’t wrench the steering wheel sharply left or right.

Since its founding, the Communist Party of China has made great sacrifices and forged ahead against all odds. It has rallied and led the Chinese people in transforming the poor and backward old China into an increasingly prosperous and powerful new China, thus opening a completely new horizon for the great renewal of the Chinese nation.

But he also obliquely addressed the task the party faces in rebuilding its credibility in the aftermath of the Bo Xilai scandal and unveiling of spectacular corruption and wealth among party leaders’ families.

Under the new conditions, our party faces many severe challenges, and there are also many pressing problems within the Party that need to be resolved, particularly corruption, being divorced from the people, going through formalities and bureaucratism caused by some Party officials.

The key sentence from his entire speech came near the very end. He said that he can’t do this by himself. The era of strongman politics in China is over. Xi’s biggest challenge is to get the six men standing in the stage with him in the Great Hall of the People to work together and modernize the Chinese economy and political system.

We are well aware that the capability of one individual is limited. But when we are united as one, we will create an awesome power and we can certainly overcome all difficulties.

What is clear as this new leadership team takes over is that China’s current economic model is running out of gas and the political system has fallen behind the country’s society and the people’s aspirations to have a say.
Xi nodded to this by saying:

Our people have an ardent love for life. They wish to have better education, more stable jobs, more income, greater social security, better medical and health care, improved housing conditions, and a better environment….They want their children to have sound growth, have good jobs and lead a more enjoyable life. To meet their desire for a happy life is our mission.

Chinese citizens on the country’s highly censored Internet could hardly comment on the leadership transition as just about any key words they could use, including the names of the new leaders, are blocked. So they resorted to posting pictures. These photos from China’s homegrown Twitter services shown above demonstrate most clearly what many people think about the party these days. They most graphically show the difficult job that lies ahead for Xi and his comrades.

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About James McGregor
James McGregor is an American author, journalist and businessman who has lived in China for more than 25 years. Currently, he is chairman of APCO Worldwide, Greater China. A professional speaker and commentator who specializes in China’s business, politics and society, he regularly appears in the media to discuss China-related topics. McGregor is the author of the books "No Ancient Wisdom, No Followers: The Challenges of Chinese Authoritarian Capitalism" (2012) and "One Billion Customers: Lessons from the Front Lines of Doing Business in China" (2005). He also wrote the 2010 report "China’s Drive for ‘Indigenous Innovation’ – A Web of Industrial Policies." From 1987 to 1990 McGregor served as The Wall Street Journal’s bureau chief in Taiwan, and from 1990 to 1994 as the paper’s bureau chief in Mainland China. From 1994 to 2000, he was chief executive of Dow Jones & Company in China. After leaving Dow Jones, he was China managing partner for GIV Venture Partners, a $140 million venture capital fund specializing in the Chinese Internet and technology outsourcing. In 1996, McGregor was elected as chairman of the American Chamber of Commerce in China. He also served for a decade as a governor of that organization. He is a member of the Atlantic Council, Council on Foreign Relations, National Committee on US-China Relations and International Council of the Asia Society. He serves on a variety of China-related advisory boards.

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