Over the last two weeks, Fang Yonggang (方永刚) has become a household name in China. He is not a star athlete, not a leading man in the latest Chinese blockbuster. But this obscure naval academy professor is, according to the wave of “public opinion” now boosting him high above the pack, a man to be universally admired and emulated. He is also the latest pawn in play in the great political chessgame leading up to China’s 17th Party Congress in October. [BELOW: Screenshot of Fang Yonggang features page at Sohu.com].
Nothing at all in the east-is-red media blitz of the Fang Yonggang story suggests it is anything more than a silly throwback to the ideological campaigns of China’s past. Moral, social and political models are of course nothing new in China. Through the 1990s, fresh models and heros, particularly those of moral fortitude, appeared in China’s media every two or three months — a recycled pantheon of caricatured, wooden Lei Fengs.
And certainly, the Communist Party fight song piping up on China Central Television’s special Fang Yonggang page is enough to induce eye-rolling laughter …But not so fast, before you move on to those headliners about Wen Jiabao’s visit with Shinzo Abe, or foreign direct investment in China.
Fang Yonggang was catapulted into the Party’s official news after President Hu Jintao paid a high-profile visit on February 20 to the professor’s hospital bed, where he is still recovering from a life-threatening illness. Hu Jintao reportedly learned of Fang’s situation on January 24 through an internal reference document, and responded by issuing an official memorandum: “We must do everything in our power to save Comrade Fang Yonggang’s life. And we must earnestly draw together and disseminate his advanced achievements.”
What are those “advanced achievements” exactly?
Fang Yonggang has been a contributor to much of President Hu Jintao’s own ideological armory — idea’s like “harmonious society“, the “scientific view of development”, etcetera. So elevating Fang Yonggang — who has the emotive and strategic advantages of being both seriously ill and a member of China’s armed forces — is to elevate the ideological “core values” of the sitting president. It is not an infantile game of perceptions, but in fact goes to the heart of Hu Jintao’s legacy and power.
Which is why Hu’s emotional visit to Fang Yonggang’s bedside …
Entering a sickroom full of fresh flowers, Hu Jintao warmly went forward to the sickbed where Fang Yonggang lay and extended both hands. Fang Yonggang, who had just undergone treatment and was half lying down in bed, tried with all his strength to sit up. Hu Jintao sprang forward, clasping his hands, and said: “Lie down, quickly lie down.”
Sitting at Fang Yonggang’s side, Hu Jintao said affably: “Today is the third day of the new year. I wanted to come especially to see you, to ask after both you and your family in the New Spring!” Fang Yonggang said with emotion: “Thank you, Hu Jintao!” (People’s Daily)
… was followed on April 9 with an announcement by Li Changchun (李长春), the powerful politburo standing committee member in charge of ideology, that Fang Yonggang’s “advanced achievements” should be studied and emulated by everyone.
The import was clear: Hu Jintao’s ideology and policies are the way forward for China, and Party officials should respect this fact as China’s approaches the all-important 17th Party Congress, where the sitting president hopes to exercise a decisive influence over the political report coming out of that plenary session, thereby controlling the Party’s “prevailing consensus” for the next five years.
A debate has lately been brewing just slightly under the surface in China about how exactly the Party should define its direction ideologically coming out of the 17th Party Congress. Hu Jintao, clearly, is blowing his own horn, and there have been indications that he might attempt this October to have his own theories written into the party constitution, a move that would bolster his legacy and solidify his hold on power.
An article by scholar Dong Degang (董德刚) in the March issue of the official magazine Scientific Socialism (科学社会主义) suggested a number of cadres, “including high-level officials and old comrades”, were wary of attempts to modify the party’s constitution at each CCP plenary session, and urged a cautious approach to adding President Hu’s theories to the document.
Dong pointed out that the 15th Party Congress had written Deng Xiaoping Theory into the party constitution, and that the 16th Party Congress in 2002 had thrown Jiang Zemin’s “Three Represents” into the mix. He argued that making amendments every four or five years showed insuffient respect for the party constitution. According to a summary of Dong’s arguments from Hong Kong’s Sing Tao Daily, he said the entry of Jiang’s “Three Represents” into the party constitution had “a definite negative impact by creating a market for the theories of one set of plenary leaders” with the goal of “firming up an individual’s place in history”.
Dong’s comments may underscore exactly what is at stake in the elevation of Fang Yonggang to the status of ideological exemplar. Like former president Jiang Zemin, whose power clique has well-noted frictions with the present top leadership, Hu Jintao may make a bid for the inclusion of his own favored theories in the party constitution.
With the unwitting help of a naval academy professor on his sickbed at the Liberation Army Hospital, Hu Jintao might be able to “kill two eagles with a single arrow” (一箭双雕), as the Chinese say — to showcase his precious theories and get the best of his arch-rival.
“Naval academy professor wins president’s praise“, China Daily, April 5, 2007
Sohu.com feature page on Fang Yonggang
China Central Television Web coverage of Fang Yonggang
[Posted by David Bandurski, April 12, 2007, 2:29pm]