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They stay in the darkness because they can’t see in the light

So, now we have it out of their own mouths. China’s leaders have good reason not to declare their assets, but how long can they stay secret?

A recent report notes that China’s leaders don’t want any transparency about their wealth, assets and financial interests. Why, you might ask? Not because of any concern about privacy, that’s for sure.

But the leadership of the party has nailed the reason—because it might lead to social unrest. And, of course, they have every reason to be concerned.

What an understatement! And the official blockage to the disclosure of pecuniary and other interests is not even dancing around the real issue. China’s leadership is right to be concerned about such disclosures, especially if they became regular and routine.

Why? Because a combination of need and envy in the general population will lead to social agitation. That, as history shows in an abundance of instances, flows over into political instability and a threat to the authority and control of the government.

As anyone with even a smattering of historical knowledge—of China or elsewhere—will know, once knowledge of widening gaps in wealth become common in any society, it will create social tensions.

And sooner or later social tensions become political movements and destabilise the ruling powers, as aggrieved parties join forces to address their shared complaints.

The enrichment that occurs when the leadership of a country profits from its positions of public office, assumed theoretically to be for public service, but in reality for private advantage, is not just a matter of public scandal.

It is frequently the trigger to political instability, as the poor struggle harder and harder to survive while the rich just get richer.

First published by the New York Times and then covered in even greater detail by Bloomberg, just how many tens of billions of American dollars have been moved out of China by its wealthy elite has become a matter of public record.

A good deal of that money belongs to four families whose members provide China’s ruling political cadres.

Recently retired premier, Wen Jiabao, scoffed at claims and blocked access in China to sites carrying the details claiming that his family alone had moved US$3.7 billion ($28.65 billion) out of the country and, to add fuel to the fire, the new leadership is closely related—politically, by marriage and blood—to Wen’s family.

Blocking access to media that distributes facts is a continuation of the control of information, just like the blocking of people and commentators on blogs, which was commonplace in China even before the Beijing Olympics.

Back in 2007, the clamps really came down hard and they haven’t been lifted.

But the controls by the government don’t stop at information.

Chinese society remains one of the most observed and managed anywhere. And it has been that way for centuries.

China’s communists and nationalists are both Leninist parties. Their leadership was trained in Russia, while Lenin was still alive, and introduced his staged and phased structures of control to ensure their undisputed leadership of the Communist Party.

In Russia, political committees that met weekly and were the main means of both indoctrination and reporting to the security police controlled every neighbourhood, factory, commune, village and workplace. Any aberrant thinking or practice became known and suppressed quickly.

The pattern was transferred to China and while it lapsed in Taiwan in the 1980s, it remains alive and well on the mainland.

However, the system in China is little more than a continuation of the imperial system of control that has operated at least from the 17th century.

It ensures that doctrine is pure, policies and their processes are communicated and monitored, and that compliance is checked in a routine and effective way.

Real information, rather than doctored accounts of history or contemporary affairs, is the death of this system.

Of course, because many Chinese know how to play the game in the government-controlled committees, while at the same time availing themselves of information freely from the Internet, they can jump the firewall and find out what they want to know.

So why would the government feed such curiosity by providing an account of pecuniary and other interests? Doing so would feed social unrest and then political instability.

It is much better to keep the populace ignorant and submissive.

But again, as history shows, that’s only a short-term solution (UCAN).



Lei Wai Ho

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