By Gao Zhang
In recent times, apart from Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang, the two protagonists in the rumored “Xi down, Li up” conspiracy drama, Hu Chunhua, who was only qualified to watch the drama from the sidelines, has suddenly become a hot focus in the eyes of various overseas media. First, on July 27, the People’s Daily of the Communist Party of China (CCP) published his article “Guided by General Secretary Xi Jinping’s Important Discourse on the Work of the “Three Rural” Areas, Striving to Create a New Situation for Comprehensive Rural Revitalization”, in which he praised Xi Jinping 52 times without mentioning one time his top boss and direct leader Li Keqiang, was astonished at by public opinion as a formal oath of allegiance to Xi Jinping, but also foreshadowed that he will take the next step up. Moreover, he took the lead in public exposures after the Beidaihe meeting, much busier than others: on August 16, he participated in the “Three Rural” conference, the next day hosted a meeting on the stability of foreign trade, on August 19 participated in promoting employment conference; Hu Chunhua crossed official capacity to intervene in Liu He’s management of foreign trade, and Han Zheng and Xiao Jie’s responsibility for employment, the outside world interpreted this as he is in preparation for the Prime Minister designate; most recently, on August 22, Wang Yang chaired the Standing Committee of the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) to discuss “adhering to the implementation of the employment priority policy”, and Hu Chunhua showed up in a rarity to listen to opinions and provide “instructions”, while on the same day he also attended the inaugural meeting of the China Council of the “Sustainable Markets Initiative” by video, and Xinhua reported that “Vice Premier Hu Chunhua and Crown Prince Charles of the United Kingdom delivered video messages”, which was seen as a quasi-Premier and equivalent to the “Crown Prince”. The Nikkei Asian Review directly highlighted that “one name is getting special attention, and that is Vice Premier Hu Chunhua”, and the Nikkei News even said that “if Hu Chunhua succeeds in joining the Politburo Standing Committee at the 20th National Congress, he could be seen as Xi Jinping’s potential successor at the Party Congress in 2027. If Hu Chunhua succeeds in making it to the Politburo Standing Committee at the 20th National Congress, he could be seen as Xi’s potential successor at the Party Congress in 2027. Of course, these media comments are accompanied by a recollection of an unpleasant incident: “He has a history that cannot be ignored, namely that he was considered by Hu and Wen as an intergeneration successor. Sun Zhengcai, who was also being groomed as a successor, was taken down by Xi Jinping and put in jail, while Hu Chunhua luckily escaped with his life. To really take over as premier this year would be a “dead fish back to alive”, making history – from a highly-in-danger scrappy prince to the second-ranked Standing Committee member, smoothly taking over the reins”.
When I entered Peking University, Hu Chunhua had already gone to the foothills of the Himalayas, carrying hundreds of pounds of sacks over the mountains in the thin air on both sides of the Yarlung Tsangpo River, so he and I never had a chance to meet in person. However, at that time, Hu Chunhua’s sensational effect and the aftermath of the his heat wave were still far from dissipating: the triangle windows were plastered with a variety of newspapers from the People’s Daily to the Peking University Journal, etc., which carried his deeds and large photos of his speeches and presentations everywhere, and from time to time, the campus could see the “Learn from Hu Chunhua” slogans that had not yet been removed or purposely saved. The slogan “Learn from Hu Chunhua” can be seen on the campus from time to time, and his role as a role model is repeatedly mentioned in conferences and meetings of ideological education and political reports.
Before the twenty-first century, Communist China was a society propped up by shining citizens and role models, with each stage having its own specific group of role models and representative figures – in the twenty-first century, only the overwhelming and rising criminal groups and the endless corruptive negative models remain – “In the 1950s, it was the workers, peasants such as Li Ruihuan and Chen Yonggui; in the 1960s, it was the People’s Liberation Army such as Lei Feng and Ouyang Hai; in the 1970s, it was the new forces in all walks of life who took the class struggle as their platform, the anti-trend heroes such as Zhang Tiesheng and Huang Shuai; in the eighties, they became intellectuals and their core representatives -university students. The splendor and honor of university students in the eighties is unimaginable and unattainable for today’s generation: they were not only the “proud sons of the heaven”, but also the pillars of the motherland and the hope of the nation in the future, so the typical and exemplary figures in the eighties are basically all from university students, like Zhang Hua and Xu Liang, who were household names, known to women and children, and were famous all over China. The popularity of Hu Chunhua was no less than that of Zhang Hua and Xu Liang, except that the fate of the latter two had already been decided when they became “heroes” – Zhang Hua and the ghosts became neighbors after he died, and Xu Liang was disabled for life – but Hu Chunhua was determined to mortgage the future glory. When you think about it, it is quite risky to establish a role model in such a hasty and reckless manner, in case one day “Wang Mang is modest and humble” – when the role model tries to take over the Party? But the Communist Party has always been pragmatic, the word ‘profit’ is the foremost concern, so it haphazardly chose “we’re on fire, let’s take care of the present.”
Nowadays, we have finally survived the long passage of time, the pawns have crossed the river, and we have become the “long-bearded people” who “manipulate and use” the schemes that the CCP hated to the bone, and we have seen the young generation in China who are into deep scheming, aged before their time, ruthless, profit-oriented and faithless, thus we always wishfully imagined our own youthful selves as innocent and flawless. In fact, when I recall the time of youth seriously, we were not really as silly and sweet and innocent, so as soon as we heard about Hu Chunhua’s deeds, our instinctive reaction is: this person is blazing an unique path, so bold and daring, not simple at all. I don’t know what Hu Chunhua thinks, but none of us believe in such nonsense as “going to the place where the motherland needs it most” and “shouldering the mission given by the times”. At that time, the mystery of Tibet is certainly mysterious, but it is not at all like what it imagined to be in the eyes of today’s pseudo-rich, handsome and petty youth: a quarter of the dashing to go at will, a quarter of Versailles, a quarter of the bohemian, a quarter of the soul searching and purification of the heart from the place nearest to heaven, the most holy place; even if we don’t understand the situation of our country, we still know: that dangerous and unknown land is the place where our country needs college students the least. The real aspiring youth who vow to shoulder the mission of the times, all went to National Institute of Systemic Reform and the State Council Agricultural Research Center. However, we believe it or not, even Hu Chunhua himself believe it or not is not important, the leaders believe, or the leaders pretend to believe is enough.
The 1980s was a period of change and fast-changing history, with new role models of youth, and those young idols of Peking University around us, can be described as the sun and moon mixing, brilliant and gorgeous, dazzling. Hu Chunhua was like a shooting star, faded away in a blink, disappeared from our lives with not a care. After that, we in the swallow garden of the University, some went after light song and dance, chasing bees and butterflies, some holed up in small buildings, reading nightly next to chiseled wall, some expressed a scholarly spirit, full of vim and vigor, some drummed the trends of the times, in the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau and the sky burial platform, plateau red, life and death book, the Six Realms and Three Paths for the company of Hu Chunhua, the distant nothingness like the existence of another world and reincarnation, has long been left behind by everyone, forgotten completely, no one cares, even asks about him.
About a dozen years later, Hu Chunhua once quietly returned to Peking University, I once again heard and remembered this name. The people who met him told me that Hu Chunhua was unrecognizably old and suffered from multiple illness, and that he had traveled all over Tibet over the years: “Tibet is really not a place where ordinary people can stay!” As for how he was performing and what position he was currently holding, our knowing was very vague, and we didn’t bother to inquire and remember – it seems that we all believe that this person, after a short-lived appearance, even if he doesn’t regret giving up and finally escaping, is destined to spend his life in an uneventful way; even if he has an unexpected extraordinary path, the most he can do is to be another noble and unfortunate Kong Fan Sen.
The CCP central authorities have an unwritten rule that cadres returning from a few years of assignment to Tibet will be upgraded by half a level, so there is no shortage of people going similar to the moth to the flame, and several of my friends are so, and after returning, they all gravely emphasized the point that Tibet is not a place where normal people able to tolerate. The most empathetic, I’m afraid, is Hu Chunhua’s predecessor in Tibet and the Central Committee of the Youth League, Hu Jintao. Hu Jintao went into Tibet in January 1989 to take charge, but his body was never able to adapt to the harsh climate of the plateau, especially his heart, and he spent many days of the year recuperating in Beijing. There was a time when he desperately wanted to be transferred back to Beijing, and willingly offered to drop half a level as a deputy director to go to the State Education Commission, but was kindly rejected by the Education Commission. This little-known secret was told to me by a director of the State Education Commission, and I believe it is true. From this episode one can imagine that Hu Jintao’s standing in the future fourth generation leadership core position, was also a rushed decision by Deng Xiaoping prior to the 14th National Congress of the CCP, this is completely in line with Deng’s decades of practice in people management, and Hu Jintao himself must only find out in the last minute that he got a lucky break that that pies do fall from the sky. Not being trapped in the National Education Commission that is known as a stagnant water pool, a bureaucratic agency full of zombie workers who never see the light of the day, Hu Jintao was very fortunate of course. Throughout the years and in countless big conferences and small meetings, I and Hu Jintao had three face-to-face encounters: once was on a May 3rd evening, Peking University held a bonfire to commemorate the May Fourth Youth Day, he led Li Keqiang and his party cadres ascended to the May Fourth playground west of the humble podium of green brick cement, he shook my hands and offered greetings; the second time was when he was in Guizhou, the Peking University Youth League Committee organized a large summer social internship group to Guizhou, the province held a farewell dinner before leaving, Hu Jintao gave speech as the local head and the Communist Youth League veteran leader, during which I also went forward to give him a toast; another was that year Hao Ping first became the head of the Department of Public Works of Peking University, the new official took office, spent a lot of effort to organize a “college youth knowledge and intellectual competition” on the May 3rd evening in the old teaching building, one English Department teacher, later one of the New Oriental Three Musketeers Wang Qiang hosted, that night Hu Jintao was in Beijing and visited Peking University, first to the May 4 playground annual commemoration bonfire, and then walk a few minutes to the competition site, sitting in front of my left. Hu Jintao in those days, young and handsome, vivid and lively, a look of enthusiasm, health, loved-by-all type of the perfect-ten young role model. Years later I saw him again on TV, he has become expressionless, dull as a wooden chicken, short of breath, people called it facial paralysis. The deteriorative transformation of Hu Jintao from the spiritual to physical, can be attributed to his years spent in Tibetan which greatly accelerated the process.
After another decade, in 2009, the 18th National Congress was approaching, Xi and Li’s succession was imminent, and Hu Chunhua and Sun Zhengcai, the sixth generation of leaders-in-waiting designated as the next generation to replace Xi and Li in thirteen years, also surfaced and were expected to enter the Politburo at the 18th Congress. At this time, Hu Chunhua had not only left Tibet, but had already gone through a dizzying series of rocket-like jumps: once to the Central Committee of the Youth League, twice to Tibet, twice to the Central Committee of the Youth League, governor of Hebei Province, and secretary of the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region. On a cool, dreary evening that fall, we inadvertently chatted about Hu Chunhua during a guzheng-accompanied banquet at the famous Hua Jia Yi Yuan courtyard restaurant on Beijing’s Gui Street. A junior schoolmate, who was a director in the State Council, could not help complaining about the lack of rules and arbitrariness in the Chinese officialdom, and said with great indignation that for Hu Chunhua to succeed in the future, the Central Organization Department had actually changed his ethnic background from Tujia to Han! If what the schoolmate said is true, I’m afraid this is a secret that not many people in the world know. Hu Chunhua’s hometown is Mayandun Village, Wufeng County, Yichang District, Hubei Province, which is a Tujia Autonomous County, where Tujia are the majority, so it would be logical for him to be a Tujia; and the change of ethnicity is in line with Chinese political culture and official logic: the CCP sings superficially about “workers have no motherland” and “Fifty-six ethnicities fifty-six flowers”, but the core thinking is still the traditionally narrow “Han and thieves are incompatible”, with no understanding of the Obama-style political correctness, so the big boss or the head of the ruling class must be of pure blood, the descendants of the first practitioner of the “Sutra” carrying on the great tradition is the righteous background to orthodox kingship. Just do not know Hu Chunhua who got abrogated as the Crown Prince prior to the 19th National Congress, the Ministry of the Organization whether follow the order or speculate on the wishes of the Emperor, and quietly changed his ethnicity back to Tujia.
Five or six years ago, a friend who is now a senior political official in Inner Mongolia brought two underlings to Beijing, and we sang together in a nightclub, while the two underlings sat outside the private room from beginning to end in the confined corridor responsible for paying the bill. Between the jade sleeves around the incense, I asked my friend: “Our elder schoolmate in Inner Mongolia, did not help out the alumni?” My friend smacked his lips and said with dissatisfaction: “Hey, don’t mention it, I really went to see him – but he pretended to be confused, no mention of a single word, but asked me a lot about the local situation.” This complain about Hu Chunhua, is rather similar to Li Keqiang. It is said that Li Keqiang not only did not personally promote an alumnus from Peking University but started to deliberately distant himself in Henan to avoid suspicion. Although China’s officialdom has long mirrored gangs and triads, delivering profits to power, aiming for higher positions, “gang up as a group”, has become the norm, but in the end, this is mostly at low-level, the real high level officials, really are not so: like Zhao Ziyang, Hu Yaobang kind who had the capacity of big temperament, big heart, big realm and mindful of the nation and the world. Or like Li Keqiang, Hu Chunhua, who are far-sighted, ambitious, full of wisdom, leaving no suspicion for political oppositions, do not care for, or disdain to form its own troupe, inner circle. After Hu Shigen was sentenced to prison again in August 2016, some people expect and fantasize that Hu Chunhua can give a helping hand to his classmates with the same surname, however from the above episode where he did not care for his alumni serving as an official, with less-trouble-the-better as his motto, this expectation is really a fantasy, a foolish thought.
After Li Keqiang took up the senior leader position, a lot of his classmates became public darlings due to their associations, including Tao Jingzhou, Jiang Mingan, Xie Simin, etc. I am familiar with them, in addition to many “bunkmates” whose names I do not know. Originally, Tao Jingzhou is an international barrister, Jiang Mingan is a famous domestic jurist, but they belong to the niche, unknown to few people outside of professional circles; what make them become quasi-public figures, access to public attention, is their memory of the days of being classmates with the Prime Minister. The aforementioned individuals are outstanding, some others however are not so decent: it is said that there is a person whom I do not know, retired and idle, was being offered around by brokers and lobbyists, in each city to meet the local head, the lobbyist was for sure to offer him first: “This is the Premier’s classmates”! The man nodded slightly, and then sat down with a sashay, leaving the local officials to drop the lobbyist on the side, running around him, warm and fuzzy, extremely flattering, but he always stayed with an indifferent expression, not a word. It is quite interesting that those colleagues and close friends of Li Keqiang, who spent most of his five-year career at Peking University engaged in the student union and youth league committee work, but none of them “look back on” the Premier’s youthful days like their classmates. Similar to what happened to Li Keqiang, there are many Hu Chunhua’s “only contact in Peking University” from the Chinese Department of Peking University over the years, and I have had dinner with two or three of them. Once I asked one of them: “How come your classmate is so leaning left? People in Dongguan for so many years are in peace with red flowers green willow, daily songs of the night life, he went to shut it all down, not to leave an inch of grass, so extreme!” The person whispered to me: “He is actually not left at all, this time is just after he arrived in Guangzhou, someone dug a hole to screw him, Dongguan shady story received CCTV exposure. He was forced to do it, so he had to crackdown ruthlessly.”
Twenty-nine years ago today, Li Keqiang and Hu Chunhua left Peking University almost at the same time: Hu Chunhua traveled more than 8,000 miles and twenty days on the road, after a long and arduous journey into Tibet, heading for a potentially dangerous and unpredictable future, to work as a dull, cold, scribbling “officer” in the Organization Department of the Regional Youth League Committee, living in a dilapidated and drab building in the desolate frontier. Li Keqiang, on the other hand, emerged from the quiet ivory tower of Swallow Garden in the western suburbs and drove to the new and lofty white building inside Chongwen Gate, the bustling heart of the imperial capital, more than 20 miles away, to “take the pulse of the republic”, to fight in the center, and to make great achievements. The first thing he did was to become the head of the school department of the Central Committee of the League, and six months later he became the alternate secretary of the Central Committee of the League. Hu Chunhua was a hit, hot and popular, shaped into a national role model and role model of college students, in those months, it is Li Keqiang in the countdown time at Peking University. Whether it was Li Keqiang who helped Hu Chunhua stand out, or Hu Chunhua who forged another brilliant outcome for Li Keqiang at Peking University, making his resume even more glamorous and fascinating, Hu Chunhua and Li Keqiang have a deeper connection than his relationship with Xi Jinping can ever be compared. Now, when he looks back and summarizes his achievements in the field under the Premier, he doesn’t mention his senior schoolmate at all. Although Li Keqiang is not surprised and is used to it, and would have acted the same way if he were in his place, he is a human being with seven emotions and six desires, however he could understand from the perspective of others, could “stomach a boat in the belly of the prime minister”, be “made of special materials”, became insensitive and hard-hearted due to the CCP’s cold, cruel and unrecognizable political culture, presumably he must still have a sour taste in his heart.
Whether Hu Chunhua makes it to the Standing Committee at the 20th National Congress or not, he is the one with the most personal bitterness and deep suffering in the history of top CCP leadership which is absolutely unprecedented and won’t ever be matched.
First of all, it is his birth origin and the hardships of his early life. If we talk about “adversity”, all is a drop in the ocean compared with Hu Chunhua’s. He was born and grew up in the poorest family in the poorest rural areas of China, it was as different of a world like heaven and hell when contrasted against CCP princelings who were readily served with jade meals, anointing and embroidering, fed rice by just opening mouth, put on clothes by merely stretching hands; it also lack the common language with those who grew up in the big city, well-clothed and well-fed, never tasted the bitterness of the rural ordeal. Li Keqiang stayed in the countryside for four years, but that was temporarily as he left to spend the pre-high school years in the provincial capital of Hefei to go to the countryside to “reform” and “re-education”, however Hu Chunhua was pre-qualified in his mother’s womb on the matter of “reform on the countryside” and “re-education.” Hu Chunhua later dared and could endure the cruel torture of Tibetan conditions that he could not see the end of, could be attributed to his ability to bear hardship with equanimity with the poor conditions and difficult environment in which he was born into. Incidentally, despite his hardships, Hu Chunhua was the only top-ranked genius at the top of the CCP leadership circle in the entirety of CCP’s history. You should know that 1979 was the year when the college entrance examination was resumed after the Cultural Revolution, and it was the year with the most difficult exams and lowest admission rate; the top student in Wufeng County in ’79 was an order of magnitude higher in quality than the top student in the country in ’77 and ’78; to be the top student in Wufeng County in ’79 was equivalent to be the top-ranked student in the entire province in other years later – not to mention, he was just 16 years old. In a circumstance where most people were like ants, left to live or die on their own, alive in the morning but not knowing one’s fate at night, to be able to create such a miracle shows how smart, hardworking, and diligent he was. Among the older generation of Communists, Mao Zedong barely made it to a teacher’s college, with connections through the back door, only to become a librarian looked down by others in Peking University, his source of lifetime grievances; Zhang Guotao got into Peking University, and majored in science, but he was not doing his readings from the first day, only to provoke trouble, thus his lack of study can be imagined; Deng Xiaoping, who deeply sensed the country’s poverty and weakness, vowed to “study for the rise of China”, the domestic school was not inadequate to him, he ended up taking the third class oversea trip drifting for months to Europe to seek knowledge, it was to be admired deeply, but unfortunately did not withstand the temptation of the world full of flowers and coffee and bread in Paris, he had desire for the study, spent all his times wandering in Europe, a few years passed he not only didn’t learn basic foreign words, his Chinese expressions became a mess. In recent generations of leaders, Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao went to Shanghai Jiaotong University and Tsinghua University, relating to their professional studies, there were no evidence worth boasting about their achievements; as for the current leader Xi “the core,” even less to the eyes: when the university mathematics exam asked to add two fractional numbers, he could barely distinguish the numerator from the denominator, though now he may be a king, but could only fill pages with blanks.
Secondly is his life experience and the bitterness of his struggle along the way. No Communist leader ever went through the appalling hardships that Hu Chunhua endured in order to climb to the pinnacle of political power. Early Communists, under the tolerance of warlords, advocated in universities and in society about cult worship, propagated secession, spread rumors, incited unrest, plotted to subvert the state, acted as three forms of extremism, manipulated students and workers into rioting, and became leaders when they were favored by Moscow – during which time they could also reap fame and fortune, seducing and raping fans, gambling and prostitution binges. After that, they either lived with new identities in the foreign settlement areas in Shanghai while mixing with the wives and daughters of their comrades, or they went to stay in the mansions in Moscow and Sochi to enjoy the pleasure of fire and merging their bodies, or they became the king of the mountains to kill and rob, to plunder, to fleece the villagers, to bully men and dominate women, even during the most arduous Long March it was others eating grass roots and bark, but top leaders comfortably riding horses or bamboo chairs. After the Communist Party usurped power, let’s not even mention leaders like Li Peng who “rose to the top without a worry or care,” Jiang Zemin has never left the city and big metros, Qiao Shi, Hu Qili, Zhu Rongji not only never left the city and big metros, and for most of their lives have not left the central government; Li Ruihuan is from the authentic poor rural areas, but even he knew it is best to be a carpenter in Beijing. Although Hu Jintao has endured several years of high-altitude reaction in Tibet, nevertheless he was the top minister and supreme ruler in Tibet, completely incompatible with Hu Chunhua’s ordeal in Tibet. As for the current leaders, Xi Jinping had his choices of good places to rule, either in rich and gentle Xiamen Fuzhou, or the scenic mountains and pretty water in Zhejiang and Hangzhou paradise, and then the fragrant Huaihai Road on the Shanghai Bund; Li Keqiang has never been to the grassroots after graduating from college – of course, I did not take the Youth League Committee of Peking University as the grassroots; Li Zhanshu and Wang Yang left early for the city to make a living, Zhao Leji was born in the provincial capital of Xining, after only a year of rural stay he hastily returned to the city; Wang Huning was the most clever, so far, in addition to live in the United States for six months, he only recognizes Shanghai and Beijing – two largest and most prosperous cities in China; unlucky Sun Zhengcai is the son of a farming family for real, majored in agriculture, his school is the unknown Laiyang Agricultural College, but once graduated he left for Beijing without a delay, except for eight years in Jilin and Chongqing as the top-ranked minister – in the foreseeable future, he will continue to spend time in the political prison at the foothill of Yanshan Mountain in Beijing.
The extraordinary and unprecedented career path of Hu Chunhua can be studied and compared to the life progression, growth trajectory and the cause and effect of success and failure of people in his generation. When Hu Chunhua graduated, college students were still very rare and looked upon as the pride of the heaven; the years of university admission stoppage caused a shortage of talent, and the purged of cadres during the Cultural Revolution led to a large number of vacated positions needing to be filled, meanwhile Deng Xiaoping was eager to achieve the transition of the old and the new and “four modernization of cadre force” for both public and selfish purposes. All of these things add up to make the graduates of universities like Peking University have the status of imperial palace graduates. Stay in Beijing was not the pursuit of goals, graduates were torn with decision of go to the Central Secretariat of CCP, the Central Office of the Central Committee or the State Council, it was considered shameful to end up at the Beijing municipal authorities. Meng Xiaosu, who graduated from the same study as Hu Chunhua but two years earlier, went to the Central Propaganda Department, was soon handpicked by Wan Li as a secretary; his schoolmate from the law department, Meng Hongwei, graduated and chose the Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission, these are just names coming to my mind at present. The student cadres plus CCP membership were treated even better than palace graduates; Zhang Wei, an economics student and class president who graduated in 1977, the same year as Li Keqiang, requested by Hu Qili to take the position of Tianjin municipal party secretary, a few years later installed as the alternative Tianjin vice mayor; Hu Chunhua’s another contemporary, student president Dong Hong graduated and immediately became Bo Yibo’s secretary. This situation continued into 1985, that year, a student who was the class vice president from the Chinese Department graduated, nearly one hundred work units from the Central and Beijing governments sent in requests. At that time, the purpose of competing to become a student cadre and join the CCP was mainly to increase the bargaining chips and opportunities, to grab the best work units, positions and positions when assigned, to occupy the highest starting point and the most promising resources. From the real-world point of view, following Li Keqiang all the then student party cadres of Peking University did reap all the benefits and take advantage of the circumstance, except for a few who gave up half-way and sunk, most are still in the ruling class; just to count those in the officialdom, vice ministers, ministers are abound. In fact, at that time, the whole society from top to bottom, including the students themselves were talking about the importance of grassroots experience, and also knew that only after the practical work and trials at the grassroot level that a solid foundation and deep precipitation of character could be obtained, which enables longer travel down the life’s path, but in reality the grassroots was never entitled to select talent and be selected by talent. Against the grain, there was really a group of people who were mavericks in going to the grassroots in a reverse flow – for example, from the Central Secretariat to Dalian Jin County, from the General Office of the Military Commission to Hebei Zhengding – they are exactly the CCP princelings still in the infancy of the succession, because they do not care where they go, how long they go away, the Central political body will always have higher positions waiting for them to return – but if these were ordinary people, then basically they’d be long forgotten. In the early 80s, in addition to the invitation to the Central government, counsellor of State, in front of the ambitious students of Peking University, lies another path toward political participation that was more dazzling, more gorgeous, more flamboyant, faster, more glittering like gold: the road of the Communist Youth League cadres. At that time, Hu Yaobang, Hu Qili, one followed the other entered the CCP Central Committee, the power of the Youth League faction was strong like the mid-day sun, reached the historical peak. Wang Zhaoguo became the secretary of the Central Secretariat and director of the Central Office just three years after assuming the first secretary of the Central Youth League, Li Keqiang became the alternate secretary of the Central Committee after more than a year of being the secretary of the Peking University Youth League …… the power of role models is boundless, in no time, many more outstanding and super talented people flocked to this path; In addition to Li Keqiang and Zhang Wei, there were other “talented and strategic” Pan Weiming, Zhang Honghai and Liu Xiaofeng, who by the judgement of Xu Xiaoping were on par in leadership skills. Pan Weiming was the student body president only one year ahead of Hu Chunhua and one year after Zhang Wei; after Li Keqiang left Peking University Pan succeeded as the youth league secretary, and at the same time doubled as the deputy director of the CCP committee office of Peking University, two years later transferred to the Shanghai Municipal Party Committee as the propaganda minister, arrived at the same time as Pan was Zeng Qinghong who became the municipal party committee organization minister. Zhang Honghai, who served as the vice chairman of student body alongside Li Keqiang, and these two have a very good relationship to this day, after a short time as deputy secretary of the Peking University Youth League, he became the deputy secretary of the Beijing Youth League Committee. Classmates of Liu Xiaofeng and Pan Weiming, and the Peking University Youth League Secretary after him, two years later went to Qinghai as the secretary general of the provincial government, the mayor of Golmud City …… and so on. At this period, Peking University graduates were so in demand, discussed by the public with joy, admire by all, “there is no you but him in my eyes” are these stars, icons and future leaders of China who exude charm and charisma – no one knows the horror at the end of the Liaodong Peninsula, which is many years older No one knows about Bo Xilai, a lowly-ranked man working at a bleak fishing village near the frightful Snake Island at the end Liaodong Peninsula, and Xi Jinping, a deputy director at a grimy county crossroads in the drab and dull wasteland of southern Hebei, and even if they did, who would pay them any attention?
Hu Chunhua entered Peking University at the young age of 16 and graduated after barely reaching 20 years old, while peers of his age were almost all in their first and second years. This young age, not to mention in those years, even in the entire history of Peking University is also very rare. Hu Chunhua chanced upon the golden period for college students, but did not have the luck to benefit from this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity: because he was too young, and because of his humble birth and background, limited experience, shortage of knowledge, childish mind, restrained demeanor, shabby appearance, lack of self-confidence, not to mention any comparisons to students from Worker-Peasant-Soldier background who had been popular stars and idols; even compared with Zhu Shanlu, of the philosophy department from the same class of 1979, who worked as a worker, workshop leader, teacher and deputy secretary of the general branch of the factory, held the position as the vice chairman of the student union of Peking University at that time and was exactly ten years older to which Xu Xiaoping had looked down on, Hu was far below in his abilities in terms of experience, knowledge, ability, grandeur and tact. A former student in the Chinese Studies Department, who was two years ahead of Hu Chunhua, told me that he had never heard of him before 1983, and that he only met him for the first time when he went to say goodbye to dormitory mates before he left school, and the only feeling he had was that he was “extreme soft and naive.” It can be seen that Hu Chunhua’s time in Peking University, basically casted aside in the margins and corners, he had no chance to enter the school Youth League and student council, even his department had no roles for him, his “organizational background problems” was resolved only because of his application to service Tibet a few months before graduation in a blitz “resolution”. In this context, it was not easy for Hu Chunhua to go to the Central authorities after graduation, and if he wanted to stay in the Youth League committee, I’m afraid it would be difficult for him to have a part, even though the League was assigned the most graduates and many of them were low quality from the Class of 1979 deployment. Maybe Hu Chunhua saw early on at a young age that he could not afford and did not have the capital to compete with those people who had seized the stage and the spotlight, so he could only open up an unexpected, unprecedented, unmatched, the most marginal, the most difficult, the most desperate path, find a way out of a dead end, to break out alive with a bright future; perhaps Hu Chunhua was young and therefore gullible to fall for the “success comes from experiencing hardship and bitterness” thousand-year-old chicken soup motivation, he felt that the sins of his suffering since birth was not enough and to become an important figure with big future responsibilities he must endure more hardship from the heaven … … either way, he had undoubtedly thought what others dare not think, done what others dare not do, a formidable character, his ruthless to himself daunted others; later he was able to persevere, grit his teeth and hold back, for more than ten years without making errors, and finally actually succeeded, it is clear that this person’s emotional intelligence, will, intelligence, potential and stamina is really amazing and rare – one must know that it is easy to be passion and impulsive during the youth, it is too difficult to be persistant, it is easy to become a role model in a moment of opportunisty, it is too difficult to always be a role model; and as a role model of early fame, the pressure and danger of politics is the greatest, because everyone is trying to “pick the bones in the eggs”. Before and after Hu Chunhua’s contemporaneous years, his predecessors and college gradutes of the same age whose qualifications, talents, and prestige were much better, and more prominent than him, who had much higher starting point and position on the road to politics, no one ended up matching Hu’s success at the end, except Li Keqiang.
Zhang Wei, with Li Keqiang as his deputy, who seemed eminent and unapproachable in the eyes of Hu Chunhua in his school years, and who was respected by his fellow students as a world-class politician rarely seen in a century, became a candidate for vice mayor soon after graduation as secretary of the Tianjin Municipal Committee, but was defeated in the election because he was too young, and then became the director of the Tianjin Economic and Technological Development Zone Administrative Committee, director of the Tianjin Foreign Trade and Economic Cooperation Commission, and secretary of the CCP Tianjin Municipal Foreign Affairs Office Work Committee, at the age of 33, he was featured in the American Time Magazine and ranked number one as a “future star” and future leader in Chinese politics. In May 1989, Zhang Wei had already been appointed vice governor of Hainan Province, and soon after the June 4 massacre, he resigned without hesitation and in protest. On the day of his resignation, Zhang Wei rode the government car to work and went home on a public bus. Subsequently, he was demoted to the Tianjin Academy of Social Sciences as a data clerk, his wife left him, his son suffered from leukemia. In 1993, at the age of 38, after being a senior official for many years, he started from scratch and took his son to the United States for treatment, simultaneously he received his master’s degree in public administration and doctorate in economics from Harvard and Oxford, and later served as director of the China Center for Economic Research at Cambridge University. Many years ago, Zhang Wei was invited by Kim Jong-il to North Korea to participate in economic decision-making, but was barred from entering China when he changed planes at Beijing Capital Airport, and was directly escorted to the return flight to the UK. In his anger, Zhang Wei gave an impromptu speech on the plane, which became a big sensation. In 2011, Zhang Wei started working for a Hong Kong company and still spoke out for democracy, freedom, fairness and justice in China. Another too-high-to-reach senior of the same department in the eyes of Hu Chunhua, Pan Weiming, Zhang Wei’s successor as president of Peking University Student Union, went to Shanghai three years after graduating to become the propaganda minister of the municipal Party committee, and soon launched the “Shanghai Cultural Development Strategy Seminar” and the Shanghai Cultural Development Strategic Plan, which brought together a group of China’s most prominent liberal intellectuals and became a sensation in the officialdom, and he was named as another Chinese leader of tomorrow in an article by Time magazine. However, the good times didn’t last long, during the student movement at the end of 1986, he shielded and took the blame for his boss, Shanghai Municipal Party Committee Secretary Jiang Zemin, who went to Shanghai Jiaotong University to read the “Gettysburg Address”, but was still implicated and received the demotion, relegated to the Shanghai Electric Factory as Deputy Secretary of the Party Committee, in 89 years promoted back as the Party Secretary to the Shanghai Press and Publication Bureau. After the outbreak of the ’89 student protest, Pan Weiming traveled between Beijing and Shanghai, attending the World Economic Herald symposium and so on, his political leaning was extremely clear. After the “June 4” settlement, he was purged completely, dismissed not only from the Party but also from public office. In 1990, the authorities set up a prostitution trap in Chengdu for Pan Weiming, and then a Shanghai court framed him and sentenced him to four years in prison. After his release from prison, Pan Weiming completely divorced from the officialdom, has opened bookstores, restaurants, coffee theaters, cultural companies, and focused on photography business; at spare time to meet friends, invite banquets, parties, large bowls of wine, large pieces of meat, became an authentic casual traveler. Liu Xiaofeng, a classmate of Pan Weiming, took over as secretary of the Peking University Youth League Committee after him, and a year later went to Qinghai as secretary-general of the provincial government and mayor of Golmud, and after two years returned to Beijing to be deputy director of the Institute of Physical Reform, he was arrested after “June 4” for covering the escape of the director Chen Yizi, and after his release from prison, he concentrated on business and became extremely successful. The above-mentioned student leaders, including Li Keqiang, who had been cadres of workers, peasants and soldiers for many years before entering the university, had rich social experience, outstanding ability and talent, and superior emotional and raw intelligence, and their education, talent, fame, initial positioning and starting position were much higher than most of the people in the Politburo Standing Committee today, but except for Li Keqiang, all of them failed halfway, failed at the last mile, or turned around the gun and counter attacked. This is really interesting to explore.
These people were a very small number of the top standouts among the huge number of commoners who were wasted and precipitated during the Cultural Revolution; although they faced adversity but remained ambitious, their talents were revealed through personal struggles earlier in the grassroots level, when the opportunity came, they without hesitation seized the opportunities to be admitted to Peking University in the first two waves of national examinations, they not only have superhuman talent and intelligence, but also have a strong leadership temperament. In the 1970s and 1980s, they were amid the fierce era of the old and new, the awakening and enlightenment, represented by the ideological liberation movement and the election campaign, which was the most suitable time for them to quickly emerge to reign and roar, to become student leaders of Peking University – the outstanding people and student leaders with similar qualities at that time, no doubt including those who were outside the official path, individuals who shone like the mid-day sun such as Hu Ping and Wang Juntao.
At this time, the reform process surged ahead, there was an urgent need for cadres and talents and the “third echelon (reserve cadres)”, the organizational line boldly liberated, not bounded by conventional, and the age and qualifications of the Party princelings were not enough to take over, therefore these young talents immediately attracted attention and was quickly promoted to high positions. Their personal style and the work characteristics of the Communist Youth League are more like the so-called politicians in the West than bureaucrats; they have a clear goal of changing China and self-fulfillment at the same time, and are eager to achieve quick results; the Communist Youth League system in which they started was extremely popular when the group was in charge, and they are used to moving very fast daily, climbing up rapidly; they have superior abilities, naturally creative, and unparalleled ideas, thus they become arrogant, too rigid and prone to break, so can’t stand aggravation; their deep thoughts on the lessons of the Cultural Revolution, their insight into historical development, their understanding of China’s reality, their grasp of the pulse of the times, plus their personal experiences and professional characteristics make them active in their thinking, free in their spirits, and forever unsettled in their souls, making them adore the truth, pursue fairness and justice, be brave and fearless, and instinctively have an anti-establishment bone; and so on. All these qualities make them unable to adapt to and identify with a conservative, rigid and old system once they formally enter the real bureaucracy, unable to tolerate and accept the endless torment of a mediocre and stagnant era, and even more difficult to be compatible with them. As a result, they are super good at taking initiatives, no wall they can’t knock down, but lack stamina, endurance, and sustainability. The last decisive factor, is the destiny of history that tiny individuals can never alter, that is, the “predestination” written by American historian William Lawrence Shirer on the title page of his famous book “The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich”: just a few short years after they made a splash and shone brightly, China’s forward progress stalled and the course of history reversed, with no sign of ending for more than thirty long years had passed. Closely linked to this, their fate was firmly sealed.
Hu Chunhua, on the other hand, has everything on his body that is the opposite of almost all of them.
After experiencing the Chinese Spring of reform and the era of burning passion, we can say that what we feel proud of Peking University, was, is, and will always be them, not Hu Chunhua.
If Hu Chunhua really takes over the premiership next March, the two former first secretaries of the Communist Youth League, who are both from Peking University and are only one year apart, will take over the premier office one after another, which means that the status of the Youth League as the “reserve army of the Party” and the “successor of the Communist cause” has deep roots, unbreakable, and also shows that the roots of Peking University is deep, unshakeable. This, however, is narrow-minded, mean and ungrateful “Xi core” cannot accept and tolerate, so I think the chance that Hu Chunhua in becoming the Premier is not high.
Thirdly is the journey and the suffering of his humanity, soul and spirit.
In his book “Leaders”, Nixon said: now that one enters the path of politics, one must hope to reach the summit, otherwise it is meaningless; however, the long journey to the top leadership is extremely lonely, cold and isolated, very few people can bear and persevere. The journey in politics is bumpy, unpredictable, dangerous, painful and unpredictable, if one takes it as the only purpose of life and the only direction of life, not only will one have to sacrifice all the pleasures, interests and hobbies of life, give up all the content, enjoyment and happiness of life, but also distort human nature, suppress aspirations, extinguish love and hatred, eliminate joy, anger and sorrow, endure endless mental distress, suffer inhuman spiritual torture, and eliminate all irrelevant thoughts, impulses and behaviors, that is, as Su Shi said: “Suffering in his heart and mind …… his every act is less than desired …… thus shaken his heart to the core and strengthen his disposition.”
Unfortunately, that is exactly what happened to Hu Chunhua. He from the day he vowed in public to go to Tibet in 1983, has placed and gambled his entire future and lifetime fate on this prospect and pressed on, “I bet on tomorrow with my youth.” Consequently, for decades, he has been trembling with fear and trepidation, walking on thin ice and near the abyss, exterminating his personality and cutting off his six desires – back to the Dongguan incident, whether he is left or right politically, I am sure he has no liking for prostitution and sex trade: how distracting it is just to watch. After Sun Zhengcai was arrested in July 2017, rumor has it that Hu Chunhua requested to step down from his post on the grounds of poor health, although the rumor was not verified thus hard to know the truth, but since that point forward I started to notice that he has never bleached his white hair, see the suffering of his heart and mind and spirit for half of his life, and I am afraid that 2018 was his life’s greatest crisis and torment. For inexplicable reasons, the unprecedented hardship he had experienced earlier in life allowed him to survive the crisis in the second half of 2017 and returned to safety: think about it, Xi Jinping is however mean and ungrateful, however cruel and ruthless, facing a person who has suffered hardship half his life, suffered bitterness half his life, his hair is as white as frost, his face full of vicissitudes, and behaved without attachment to power, no ambition, bear the humiliation, and work hard, even Xi would be embarrassed to go with the plan, take advantage of the situation, really let him retire at a young age and become unemployment, right?
The worst thing is that Hu Chunhua’s desperate bet on this future is completely unknowable, all the huge sacrifice may end in vain, like river flows to the ocean. The “Warring States Strategy – Qin Strategy” says that the father of Lu Buwei, a native of Puyang, told him: “The profit of plowing a field is ten times, the win margin of pearls and jade is a hundred times, and the profit of establishing the lord of the country is infinitely large. However, losses in other forms of business are just money and resources, and can rise again, but the business of stealing the throne of a country, is to risk one’s life as the capital, is to gamble on life. For Hu Chunhua, he is genuinely fighting with his back to the water, failure not only means a life without any value, but implies his life is equal to never existed, and it is difficult for him to have other means of livelihood and a way out. I have not heard what he is good at and hobbies outside of his job, the Chinese language study is very specialized and difficult to master, no matter how well Hu Chunhua learned it in school, it is not possible to restart after abandoned it for so many years, except for being an official he has no skills and strengths, once he cannot be an official he would most likely live a joyless life and die depressed – In contrast Li Keqiang can do translation of English law books, Sun Zhengcai can go study new crop cultivation, even if Qincheng prison does not allow him to utilitze his expertise, he can at least no longer be tied up in mundane affairs, no distractions, enjoy the beloved “King’s Glory” to the fullest!
Compared to Hu Chunhua’s bitter path to politics, another alumnus of mine, Li Shulei, who is a year younger than Hu Chunhua but entered school one year earlier, treated politics like a hobby. When I was at Peking University, Li Shulei was studying for his master’s degree in the Chinese language department, and my impression was that he was the most diligent author of tofu-like soft articles in the school magazine, sometimes evaluating literature, sometimes reciting poetry and fugue, sometimes lamenting life, sometimes meditating life and death, making people feel that his ideas are ponderous and mysterious; then for the next 30 years he followed the wind and the moon, free and easy, relaxed and floating, until he met his benefactor Xi Jinping, since then he is soaring to great heights. As early as five years ago, there are graduates from Peking University foreboding this person may have a better future than Hu Chunhua, who has long been a member of the Politburo – if the prophecy comes true, then Hu Chunhua must feel that there is really no right and wrong, no good and evil, no justice under heaven! In fact, not to mention Li Shulei, except for Hu Chunhua, since the third generation of the CCP officials from the oldest to the youngest, which one of them is not a playboy? The distanced Jiang Zemin, before the lucky ball hit his head he was singing opera, chasing the famous actress, showing off English, visiting overseas most of his life; currently Xi Jinping, in Fuzhou he was a famous playboy in the mouth of the locals, in Zhejiang, “enjoy this wine to make me happy today, do not ask about the future success and fame”, day after day staying out with hangover, but also do not decline a fat meal at noon. Other countless lesser names and characters in the officialdom, seize the time from the first day in the office, spend day and night, “an inch of time is an inch of gold” chasing material fulfillment, indulge their desires, enjoy drinking and sensual pleasure while in their primes, they move forward in life while carrying illnesses; they are young but treacherous and slippery, both self-interested and rough, before the beginning these people have seen through everything, thought about everything, surveyed everything, never because life is a mirage that they delay life’s multiple pleasures, power, wealth, fame, women, they want to take everything, nothing is left off the table, even if one’s life ends in dust and smoke at least it was fully lived. Therefore, Nixon’s sentiments are the old generation’s way of doing things, it has long been out of date in the current generation party gangsters, just like in our time, everyone believed that learning and research were bitter and hard, but now learning and research are lively, noisy, promiscuous, rich, happy, wine, sex, wealth, and everything else.
In addition to the above-mentioned non-serious officials and so-called “fat hamsters” by Li Si, the fact is that there are more people risen to the top inadvertently. Check the resumes in the list of the Politburo for the past few years and you can see that, those who have planned aspirations for the higher office are only Bo Xilai and Hu Chunhua who are at the two extremes of their backgrounds, only these two names: Li Keqiang originally wanted to study abroad to continue the study of law, however, Han Tianshi, the then Secretary of the CCP Committee of Peking University, forcibly made him stay at the school and became the Secretary of the Youth League Committee, Sun Zhengcai really is an accomplished agronomist, later obeyed the organizational arrangements in the tradition of “he who excels in learning can be an official,” both of them were “forced in politics” – especially Sun Zhengcai, who studied agronomy for his undergraduate degree and chose the more specialized “crop cultivation and farming” for his master’s degree, even during his doctorate study he did not switch to learn anything about “management,” his sole focus was on agriculture, and more agriculture, it can be seen that he was single-mindedly aimed to become an agricultural expert; it was the CCP organization that lured, encouraged, created, and trained him to be an ambitious schemer, but could not tolerate his bigger ambition, which made him and destroyed him. Other people like Wang Yang, Li Zhanshu, Han Zheng, Chen Miner, etc., their first occupations in life were low-level jobs, and afterwards, even though they gained the opportunity to participate in the restored college entrance examination and changed their lives for the better, they were too lazy to fight more changes; for them, they never expected to get ahead, the low-level jobs and later unintentionally embarked on the officialdom are all means to have a rice bowl, keep jobs and make a living, naturally for them there is no pressure and hard work, and there is no such thing as success or failure, who could predict that one day may have the luck of stepping into dog poop or blind cats run into dead rats in following Xi Jinping, just one step to reach to the golden summit. They can best relate to what Biden told reporters: when he first moved into the White House, he woke up every morning and asked his wife, “am I dreaming?”
In a normal society and system, Hu Chunhua’s success is inevitable and a regular pattern; but in today’s China, he is a once-a-century miracle, special case, extraordinary event and anomaly that cannot be replicated and no one is willing or brave enough to repeat so – and even if duplicated, it will be extremely risky, seeking self-destruction.
If China is doomed to be poisoned by the Communist Party, I would rather hope that Hu Chunhua fulfills his wish, and there is sweetness at the end of his hardship. That way, I can at least see that the phrase “even a thief has ethics” is not a lie.
This article first appeared in Beijing Spring on 09/11/2022