special report

Factions help drive modern China history

Compromise and conciliation replace cutthroat feuding, but city retains major political role

Guidebook descriptions of Shanghai tend to focus on the city’s brash hipness, its longstanding openness to Western influence and its role as the nation’s main shipping hub and commercial and financial center. Politics usually get short shrift. Yet political intrigue is an important part of Shanghai’s story and Shanghai’s political wrangling has played — and still plays — a central role in Chinese political life. Factional battles between the central government and Shanghai’s own power brokers have driven some of the most significant political events of modern Chinese history, ranging from the Cultural Revolution that began in the 1960s to the tense aftermath of the violent suppression of the Tiananmen Square student-led demonstrations in 1989. The history of the Chinese Communist Party had its beginnings in Shanghai when, in July 1921, Mao Zedong and other leaders gathered in the city for the first national party conference. The site, a tradition-

‘‘There are a lot of senior officials who could easily be charged with corruption, but that happens very rarely.’’
al shikumen, or stone-gate house, is now a museum, complete with life-size waxwork models and placards describing the goals of the party’s founders, including the elimination of class distinctions. A touch incongruously, the museum sits in the middle of Xintiandi, one of the most upscale and chic new development projects in Shanghai — a district of boutiques, galleries and cafes that are favored haunts of local yuppies and Western expatriates but beyond the means of most residents. Shanghai was likewise the home base of the leftists who carried out Mao’s Cultural Revolution, the decade-long orgy of political extremism that ended only with his death in 1976. Lingering suspicion about Shanghai’s potential for destabilizing radicalism was a crucial factor in the central government’s reluctance to let the city participate in the early stages of economic reforms begun by Deng Xiaoping in the late 1970s. Only in the early 1990s did Mr. Deng see fit to loosen the chokehold on Shanghai. And once he endorsed Shanghai’s revival, the city was quick to seize the chance to catch up. Shanghai saw more new construction between 1992 and 1996 than it had during the previous four decades, culminating in the transformation of its sleepy eastern Pudong area into the mass of new skyscrapers that the former top leader Jiang Zemin could credibly describe in 2003 as ‘‘China’s Manhattan.’’ The rules of Chinese political feuding have changed in recent years, with compromise and conciliation replacing the cutthroat combat of the past. But the perpetual tussle between Shanghai

and the center has continued. That high-level rivalry now pits the so-called ‘‘Shanghai Gang’’ of Jiang Zemin, against the ‘‘Youth League Faction,’’ named for the nationwide Communist Youth League of China and headed by Hu Jintao, Mr. Jiang’s successor as president of China and Communist Party boss. Mr. Jiang was the top Communist Party official in Shanghai in 1989, and when he was elevated to the national leadership that year, after the turmoil surrounding the Tiananmen Square protests, he took many of his Shanghai associates with him. Despite his retirement from all official posts, he remains active as the titular head of the group. As another leadership transition looms in 2012, the two factions have been battling over personnel appointments and policy differences. Not surprisingly, the Shanghai faction favors emphasis on and funneling of resources toward the more economically advanced and urbanized coastal region of China, of which Shanghai is the keystone. The Youth League faction, worried about imbalances between the coast and inland regions, has advocated a series of policy realignments in favor of the interior. In late January, Mr. Hu made a public appearance in Shanghai. On the surface, there was little noteworthy about the visit. He made no important remarks and his activities consisted of nothing more than meetings with local officials, visits to factories in Shanghai’s vibrant information technology sector and an appearance at the site of the Shanghai World Expo, which is due to open May 1. But two factors marked the visit as significant by the arcane standards of Chinese political life. It was Mr. Hu’s first publicly reported visit to the city since 2006, and he was greeted by — and photographed with — Mr. Jiang’s eldest son, Jiang Mianheng, who held a significant official post as Vice President of the Chinese Academy of Sciences but would not normally, under standard protocol, have had anything to do with a visit by Mr. Hu. ‘‘There is really no reason for Jiang Mianheng to be showing Hu Jintao around in Shanghai,’’ said Cheng Li, director of research at the Brookings Institution’s John L. Thornton China Center. ‘‘No one in China will miss the political message of state media showing these two together. The clear meaning is that the two factions have cut a deal,’’ he said. Such a deal, several years in the making, could calm a power contest that has not been without casualties. The biggest blow was struck in September 2006 when the top official in Shanghai, the Communist Party Secretary Chen Liangyu, was arrested and accused of involvement in a scandal involving the misappropriation of hundreds of millions of dollars from the city’s public pension fund. Mr. Chen, a close ally of Mr. Jiang, was eventually convicted and sentenced to 18 years in prison, but his prosecution was widely seen as more of a political move than a simple act of law enforcement. Mr. Chen, who was also a member of China’s ruling Politburo, had been extraordinarily bold in attacking the policies of Mr. Hu’s administration. ‘‘There are a lot of senior officials who could easily be charged with corruption, but that happens very rarely,’’ said a Chinese journalist at a magazine published in Shanghai.


A waxwork display at a museum in Shanghai that was the site of the first national congress of the Communist Party of China.

A multifaceted city of restless energy and cradle of the Communist revolution, Shanghai is shaped by a thirst for change.
‘‘Everyone here understood that the case against Chen Liangyu was a signal. It meant that the center was retaliating against him because of his opposition,’’ said this journalist, who requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of political commentary in China. Still, according to Mr. Cheng, the Brookings research director, the case resulted only in the removal of an individual, and not the destruction of his faction or the continued punishing of Shanghai. One major element of the peacemaking was a March 2009 announcement by the central government endorsing a plan to make Shanghai a global financial and shipping center by 2020. ‘‘Tension is obviously there, but both factions are cooperating. They cannot overlook the fact that they are in the same boat, and maintaining Shanghai’s growth is an important goal for both sides,’’ he said.

From bloggers, a mosaic of a changing city

Local and expatriate writers provide rich diversity of information, gossip and insight

Within two weeks of starting his personal blog in 2002, Wang Jianshuo noticed something peculiar. A post he had written about shuttle services to and from the Pudong airport in Shanghai was getting a lot of traffic. In fact, it was getting so much traffic that Google ranked it first when searching for the words ‘‘Pudong airport.’’ The explanation turned out to be simple: Mr. Wang’s post was almost the only information available online in English about an international airport then serving 11 million travelers a year — now almost 32 million. Since his first post, Mr. Wang has devoted about half an hour a day to updating his entries. He said he liked to focus on ‘‘useful things,’’ like tips about transportation or places to visit in Shanghai. In the process, the blogger, who in his day job is the chief executive of Baixing, eBay’s online classifieds Web site in China, has offered the English-speaking world a window into the daily life of a ‘‘new China’’ citizen. Mining the hundreds of posts he has written over the past eight years, readers can follow Mr. Wang through his apartment moves, on visits to various countries — when he worked for Microsoft he made several trips to the United States — and even watch his son, Yifan, grow from a mere idea to a chubbycheeked 3-year-old playing with Legos with his dad. Mr. Wang talks about how to dodge the Chinese government’s efforts to control the Internet by using tunneling software to gain access to Facebook and Twitter, and he shares his anxiety about which school Yifan should attend to prepare him best to compete with his peers 20 years from now. Aficionados of Mr. Wang’s blog, which according to him gets about a million page views a month, say that it is still one of the richest sources about contemporary Shanghai available in English. But his is no longer a lone voice. Want to find the best find hot pot in Shanghai? Or pizza? Or Irish pub? Check out the Shanghaiist, part of the Gothamist network of city-centric blogs founded in New York in 2003. Want to know what people in mainland China think about the one-child policy? Or what teenagers are saying about the gaokao, the national university entrance exam? Go to the blog ChinaSMACK. Need three dozen cupcakes for a 7-year-


A photograph posted on Shanghai Scrap, the Englishlanguage blog of Adam Minter, an American freelance journalist who chronicles daily life in the city.

old’s birthday party? There’s a blog for that, too. Get in touch with Emily Lopez, of Emily’s Adventures in Shanghai and Emily’s Cupcakes. John Pasden, a 31-year-old native of Florida, is the man behind the blog Sinosplice. He planted himself in China, first in Hangzhou, then Shanghai, 10 years ago, starting his blog as a way to tell the ‘‘folks back home’’ about his life in a place that was then little known to most Americans. Thanks to Sinosplice, he has become a go-to person for all things related to life in Shanghai and learning Chinese. Other first-wave mainland China bloggers include Kaiser Kuo, a Chinese-American rock star, writer and media expert, and Brendan O’Kane of bokane.org, an Irish-American who speaks flawless Mandarin and is reputedly one of the best Chinese-English translators around. Those early bloggers were ‘‘focused on the idea of ‘telling it like it is,’’’ Mr. Pasden said. ‘‘Back then hardly any other Westerners were blogging from China, but we knew that our friends and family back home had no clue what modern China was like.’’ The blogs filled a void in information about the country, he added. ‘‘We knew the media wasn’t educating them either. China to the average American, at least, was still some murky outdated vision of Mao’s China.’’ Mr. Pasden, like some of the other early bloggers, has made the transition from personal blogging to a professional online job — his blog started his career as senior product manager at ChinesePod, an online Chinese language school.

This pattern is in keeping with an overall trend, said Marjorie Dryburgh, a lecturer in modern Chinese studies at the School of East Asian Studies at the University of Sheffield in England. In the past five years, blogs from China have ‘‘moved some way beyond the quieter, personal type of work that you might associate with the blog-as-online-diary,’’ she said. Now, there are more blogs about self-help and stock market advice and more official blogs, she said. According to the China Internet Network Information Center, a state-run nonprofit group, there were 182 million personal blogs and ‘‘personal spaces’’ in China as of June 2009, of which a third were being updated at least once every six months. Fauna, the online alias of the blogger behind ChinaSMACK, shines a spotlight on ‘‘the real China,’’ at least as it appears online. The Shanghai native, with a small team of contributors, translates Chinese blog posts and comments from popular online forums about juicy, gossipy and very Chinese topics that the average mainland city dweller might discuss around the dinner table. Through these translations, English speakers can get a perspective on what people think about Chinese men who buy brides in Vietnam; Chinese university students in Australia who tote Louis Vuitton bags and drive BMWs; and a new trend in which teenage girls sport slashed wrists (though it is unclear whether the wounds are real or faked). According to Fauna, ChinaSMACK received more than 500,000 visitors last month, of whom a quarter logged on from the United States, while more than 10 percent were local. The topic of censorship is a popular one for those dealing with the media in China, but none of the bloggers interviewed said they had ever been shut down. Access is a greater issue, resolved with the use of virtual-private networks, or VPNs, to get around online fire walls created by the Chinese government. Many bloggers, however, said that they self-censored by choosing nonpolitical topics. Because of the nature of what she covers, Fauna, in an interview conducted by e-mail, said she never revealed anything about her identity, beyond her gender. Professional journalists are also blogging. James Fallows, a correspondent for The Atlantic magazine, blogged while he was stationed in Shanghai, and Adam Minter, an American freelance journalist, runs a frequently referenced blog, Shanghai Scrap. He says he gets 22,000 to 77,000 hits a month on his site, depending on who is counting. Mr. Minter chose to make Shanghai his home because of ‘‘all of the money sloshing down these streets,’’ a testament to the entrepreneurial vibe that pulses through the city. Though he makes no money from his blog, Mr. Minter said he maintained it to force himself to

write regularly and as a place to put story ideas he found that were too small or too obscure to sell to publications elsewhere. It also gives him additional exposure to the public. ‘‘I’ve received tips, leaks and invitations purely on the basis of information published on the blog,’’ he said. ‘‘That’s an unexpected boon.’’ This set-up-shop spirit has drawn, according to the Chinese government, 4.7 million migrant workers into this city of 18 million to walk along the same streets as 120,000 foreigners looking for their piece of the pie. Ms. Lopez, a San Francisco native, is among them, writing a blog and making cupcakes for something to do, but also for profit. In China, ‘‘anything is possible, but everything is difficult,’’ she said. Starting her business required little more than the idea, a health license and a business license. For her, Shanghai gives people ‘‘a chance to be creative and do something that would take more money or wouldn’t be as easy to get started in your home country.’’ She knows other women entrepreneurs making everything from jewelry to specialty paper goods. Mr. Pasden said the English-language Shanghai blogosphere was dominated by foreigners, an imbalance that made the work of bloggers like Mr.

For early bloggers, ‘‘China, to the average American at least, was still some murky outdated vision of Mao’s China.’’
Wang and ChinaSMACK specially valuable. Mr. Minter said that voices from Shanghai’s huge migrant population were particularly lacking. ‘‘The Chinese migrant experience to Shanghai is going to be as important to the future Chinese selfimage as the New York immigrant experience was to the American self-image,’’ he said. But whatever its gaps and the limits, Mr. Wang said, the broad rise of blogging has meant a welcome increase in available information; and more information means a better idea of what is really happening in the city. ‘‘Everything in this world is just like the elephant in the blind men and the elephant story,’’ he said, referring to the tale of blind men confronting a strange beast, trying to identify it by touching different parts and each giving a different answer. ‘‘As a blogger, I’m just one of the blind men to feel this elephant. I am very sure that I write everything that I know and I never write anything that I know is not true, but this does not mean that my article is the whole Shanghai. ‘‘Blogging provides a way for all the blind men to sit down together and share whatever they see,’’ he added, ‘‘and when more and more people blog, we can understand this world better from many different perspectives.’’

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