Li Lianyu’s glorious homecoming becomes a national portrait of the self-serving cadre

By David Bandurski — We don’t know whether Li Liangyu (李连玉), the top leader in the city of Pizhou, Jiangsu Province, anticipated the well-planned orgy of enthusiasm that awaited him on his return from the 17th National Congress. It’s safe to assume, however, that he never expected the national furor that has followed in the wake of his homecoming. Li’s story, which began as a series of photos posted in an online chatroom, is now national news, and a simmering indictment of a party selfishly out of touch.

As web users branded Li Lianyu a “local emperor” (土皇帝) and invoked the triumphal returns (衣锦还乡) of China’s imperial history, leaders in Pizhou threw oil on the fire by clamping down on postings to a local Internet forum, where users were overwhelmingly critical of Li [See Global Voice on web user comments].

Coverage has now appeared in media across China, from People’s Daily to Southern Metropolis Daily.

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[ABOVE: Screen capture of notice on a Pizhou chatroom against further postings concerning the Li Lianyu Affair]

Today’s editorial in Southern Metropolis Daily read the Li Lianyu affair in terms of fear and love. The editorial expressed apprehension for the web user who made the original post, wondering whether police in Pizhou would hunt the person down and “sue them for harming an official by rumor mongering.”

The editorial also questioned Li Lianyu’s priorities:

Liu Xiaofeng (刘小枫) has written a book called Fear and Love in this Generation. I’d really like to know: When Secretary Li and company were planning this huge ceremony, where were they placing their love? And when they deleted those postings, what were they afraid of? This question of love and fear offers a faithful portrait of officialdom in local areas.

Others have been less reticent in their criticism, and the debate over Li Lianyu’s triumphal return has already touched on the deeper question of how China’s communist leaders see their own role.

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[ABOVE: Screenshot of Li Lianyu story covered at China Digital Times]

In an editorial appearing on Wednesday at China Elections and Governance (CEG), CEG editor Ye Zi said Li Lianyu’s homecoming could not be stomached by China’s public because it was painfully at odds with a new set of emerging values in China. The people, she said, were owed an apology.

Leaders like Li Lianyu, said Ye, were forgetting their place. They were forgetting their obligations to the people, and that power was vested in them by the people.

“We find the scenes [at Pizhou] jarring,” said Ye, “because there’s no need anymore to beat our gongs and our drums to herald anyone’s return in victory. What does that mean? It means that the Communist Party of China has already completed its mission as the party of revolution, and that it must find a position for itself as a party of leadership (执政党).”

The anger invoked by the Li Lianyu affair, in other words, sends the clear message that this is no longer an age of martyrs and heroes. Chinese owe their allegiance not to cadres and kings, but to a system of universal values.

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What We’re Really Waiting for is an Earnest Apology
China Elections and Governance
By Ye Zi (叶子)

If the “Secretary of Pizhou” story were a listed stock it would be blazing hot judging by the number of hits it’s getting on the web. We could of course be talking about other things, like the affairs of the nation in the wake of the 17th National Congress. But I’m afraid nothing quite grabs the eyes like this story of a delegate’s return home.

In just the last two days I’ve received no less than five e-mails with pictures attached of this Pizhou party secretary returning home after serving as a delegate to the congress. One of these came from a middle-aged professor of Asian studies at a major university who has close links to the Brookings Institution and other think tanks. Two of them came from elderly veteran journalists who entered central party media back in the 1950s and 1960s. And two came from friends of mine born after 1980, one a journalist the other a masters student. I routinely get e-mails like this from friends and colleagues, but this is the first time I’ve been bombarded in this way.

So I’ve been thinking. What is it that’s made people care so much about something we should already have gotten so numbingly accustomed to?

We placed these photos in an inconspicuous place [on our website]. At the bottom-right corner of our site is the “Discussion and Analysis” column (疑义相析). Friends who are familiar with our site probably know that this column was originally called, “Perspectives Clash” (观点撞击). We eventually changed this to “Discussion and Analysis” because “clash” was too un-harmonious. The column is all about enjoying great articles together and discussing their significance.

The “contending of different viewpoints” is simply an objective fact in any society, and not something you can simply put an end to if you don’t approve [as government officials are wont to do, as the Pizhou chatroom notice telling Web users to cool it]. “The opening of a single flower doesn’t herald the arrival of spring” (一花独放不是春 百花齐放春满园). And there is another old saying, that “if the forest is big enough you can find any sort of bird there” (林子大了什么鸟儿都有). This works the other way round too. If there’s only one kind of bird, it means the forest isn’t big enough, that there is insufficient harmony, as it were, in the ecological environment. [Ye Zi is saying that discussion should be expected and allowed to flourish in a society, not be controlled by those in power].

I stumbled upon an essay recently that sheds some light on this group of pictures [of the Pizhou party secretary returning home] by asking about party congresses in America. The piece was written about delegates to the 17th National Congress: “As our 17th congress was being held with much clamor, a friend told me he had a friend who was serving as a delegate. This friend was someone of intelligence and character, but he had seen in news reports that he was meaninglessly repeating the language of national leaders at the congress. Do American political parties hold these kinds of meetings, he asked.”

Minor details and major changes. Li Lianyu (李连玉) basked personally in the scientific view of development and harmonious society [at the congress]. And after he had represented the broadest sections of the people in celebrating the policies of the party (代表了最广大的人民歌颂了党的政策) [NOTE: the language here purposely mimics the lofty speech of the party], delegate Li Lianyu returned home triumphantly.

Xiang Yu (ancient king of Chu) taught us: “To not return home when you have riches and honor is like parading through the darkness in a rich gown”. When Li Liangyu returned home triumphantly it was approaching nightfall and the lights were flickering on. Thousands of men and women, young and old, of all walks of life, turned out to express their heartfelt welcome.

Perhaps these people really turned out of their will. But I don’t know if Secretary Li is aware of yet another old saying that goes, “Oh, this is too much” (折煞我也) [This is a phrase used in Chinese when someone extends too much honor]. Had he an ounce of respect or reverence for the people, Secretary Li would not so flagrantly have accepted the honors extended to him.

Is Pizhou’s party secretary “confused”? Setting aside the malpractices of Pizhou City event organizers, Secretary Li’s gall is astonishing.

[Web user] Chenyi Yuanshi (陈毅元帅) pointed out that the victory of [the People’s Liberation Army] in the Huaihai Campaign was won by dint of the people’s efforts. The ashes of [PLA] General Su Yu (粟裕) are buried at Pizhou … Twelve days of vicious engagement, and do you think the battle could have been won without the support of the people?

. . .

How is it that a single Li Lianyu can garner so much attention and create such a big stink? Close to 8,000 hits for an article placed in an inconspicuous corner of our website. This is unexpected during an Autumn 2007 in which website traffic has been rather low.

. . .

We find the scenes [at Pizhou] jarring because there’s no need anymore to beat our gongs and our drums to herald anyone’s return in victory. What does that mean? It means that the Communist Party of China has already completed its mission as the party of revolution, and that it must find a position for itself as a party of leadership (执政党). What a party of leadership needs to do is let the people live and work in peace and contentment, and pass their days in richness, living life in ease without the feeling they need to thank anyone for it or feel indebted.

“Pizhou was the home of China’s youngest martyr [1941-1949], Song Zhenzhong (宋振中 ), the “Little Radish” of the novel Red Rock (红岩).” In the musical drama “Red Child” (红孩子), which recently played in Beijing, the character “Little Radish” says to Little Sky, the child of tomorrow: “You must all believe in our existence, just as we believe in yours.” Those were for me the most moving words of the performance. “You … all.” It was only because those martyrs past believed that we might live on this land without being mental and physical captives that they laid down their lives without looking back.

This is a major national trend [of our time].

As we find our national character we must embrace universal values. Chinese people should seek the interests of China on the basis of universal values. China is at the point where it needs to make a breakthrough. The 17th National Congress has established a value system for the medium to long term [Ye Zi means here that the congress set down values that are universal, such as freedom and fairness, mentioned in Hu Jintao’s report]. World history shows that the short term is about the interplay of interests and the long term is about the interplay of values. Values consistent with the times will win out in the medium to long term.

It’s precisely because the basic values set out at the 17th National Congress are shared by the people, including Web users, that we cannot stomach Li Lianyu’s image as a returning delegate.

It’s not that we’re not familiar with the “national characteristics” evinced in such characters as Su Qin (苏秦) [a key political strategist of the Warring States Period, 475-221 B.C.] . . . And we don’t imagine Liu Lianyu to be guilty of heinous crimes. We don’t need anyone to step out [in an official press conference] and explain to us what happened. All we are waiting for is a sincere apology. We don’t want yet again to see the Pizhou chat forum notice [warning Web users to stop their criticism]. What we want to see is a party of leadership reflecting earnestly on its actions from top to bottom.

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