A video of a Chinese general’s discussing officials who were caught spying against Beijing has recently garnered a significant amount of attention. Much of the discussion has centered on the significance of a Chinese general apparently criticizing the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), and whether this presages a split between military and civilian leadership.
But Major General Jin Yinan, director of the Strategic Teaching and Research Department at the Chinese National Defense University, is not simply criticizing the Party. Instead, the available video of his entire speech, which lasts more than two hours, is much more about the past glories of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and the importance of preserving respect for the CCP.
Jin’s comments about senior officials caught spying, including Kang Rixin, general manager of China National Nuclear and a member of the CCP’s Central Committee and Central Disciplinary Committee, and Li Bin, Chinese ambassador to South Korea, are intended to contrast the current Chinese leadership’s attitudes with those displayed by such key figures as Zhu De and Mao Zedong. The implication is that today’s CCP leadership is not living up to the example and the ideals set by Mao.
Jin says the accused were charged with economic crimes instead of spying, because it was too embarrassing to the Party to acknowledge that senior officials might be engaged in espionage. While discussing Li Bin, Jin laments that no other country has had one of its own ambassadors change sides. (Jin apparently is unfamiliar with the case of Soviet ambassador to the U.N. Arkady Shevchenko.)
What is striking is how Jin’s comments are in line with the efforts of neo-Maoist populists such as Bo Xilai, the general secretary of the direct-controlled city of Chongqing (comparable to a province). Bo has sought to distinguish himself from the mass of Chinese politicians by publicly cracking down on corruption, stressing populist themes such as affordable housing, and emphasizing the continued importance of ideology. Bo has reportedly text-messaged quotations from Chairman Mao to various followers, and championed the broadcasting of “red culture” songs on Chongqing television.
If the available video of General Jin’s speech is authentic and accurate (which remains to be seen), it is far from indicating a military/civilian split. Instead, it would likely signal the rise of a new faction within Chinese politics—a neo-Maoist grouping that combines military and civilian elements. This new faction would appear to be more interested in old-fashioned Communist ideology, as a means of reviving the authority of the CCP—perhaps due to economic difficulties. On the eve of 2012’s power transition in Beijing, from Hu Jintao to Xi Jinping, such a new grouping may have unpredictable results.