How to Approach Political Rumors in China
With regard to political rumors in China, there are two basic rules to follow.
Rule No. 1: do not spread them. You could be legally liable if you retell the story about the involvement of a former premier’s 90-year-old mother in a corruption scandal, even though the original reporter later won the Pulitzer Prize for “his striking exposure of corruption at high levels of the Chinese government.” You could face severe sanctions if you can not keep to yourself the story about the relatives of a former vice president being filthy rich and having secret bank accounts overseas. You could be dismissed from the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party if you are a Central Committee member; expelled from the Party if you are a CCP member; or sent to jail if you are none of the above.
Rule No. 2: do not dismiss rumors completely. Subsequent to a Politburo meeting on December 29, 2014, it was rumored that Party Secretary Sun Chunlan of Tianjin would be transferred to Beijing as director of the Central United Front Department, replacing the discredited Ling Jihua. Mayor Huang Xingguo of Tianjin would replace her as party secretary of Tianjin; Deputy Secretary Wang Dongfeng of Tianjin would replace Huang as mayor of Tianjin. This was quickly dismissed as a rumor by an internet group, Xue “Xi” Xiaozu (Xi Jinping study group) — Xi Jinping’s cyber alter ego. This is because Ling Jihua had yet to be dismissed as director of the Central United Front Department, paving the way for Sun Chunlan’s possible appointment, and Wang Dongfeng had to be appointed as acting mayor by the Tianjin Municipal People’s Congress Standing Committee before his formal appointment as mayor.
But on December 30, 2014, it was announced officially that Sun Chunlan was no longer party secretary of Tianjin and Huang Xingguo took over as acting party secretary of Tianjin. On December 31, 2014, Ling Jihua was officially dismissed as director of the Central United Front Department and Sun Chunlan took over that post. It is not clear who will eventually be party secretary of Tianjin, nor is it clear who will become next mayor of Tianjin. But Huang Xingguo could be a strong candidate for the position of Tianjin party chief and Wang Dongfeng is a good candidate as his replacement — just as the rumors suggested.
In sum, please remember these two don’ts for dealing with rumors about Chinese politics: don’t spread rumors and don’t dismiss them entirely. PERIOD.
Professor BO Zhiyue, a leading authority on Chinese elite politics in the world, will take up an appointment in January 2015 as Director of the New Zealand Contemporary China Research Centre (NZCCRC) and Professor of Political Science at Victoria University of Wellington. The only nation-wide research center on contemporary China in the world, NZCCRC aims to be a global leader in knowledge generation and knowledge sharing on political, economic, and social life of contemporary China among tertiary institutions, business sector, and policy community for the benefit of New Zealand. Based in Victoria University of Wellington, the Centre has seven member universities: Victoria University of Wellington, the University of Auckland, Auckland University of Technology, the University of Canterbury, the University of Otago, the University of Waikato, and Lincoln University.