Wednesday, March 09, 2005

So, a new biography of Jiang Zemin, former President and party secretary, was just released simultaneously in the US and in China. It is written by a US investment banker, Robert Lawrence Kuhn, Ph.D.-- in neurology--, who is a long-time "friend of China." While its US sale has been tepid, it is apparently a big hit in China (see article below). An officially sanctioned biography of a living Chinese leader has rarely been published, presumably because some issues are often too sensitive. So why was this biography published just as Jiang stepped down from his last formal post, the chairmanship of the State Military Committee?

According to an expose written by an early collaborator of Kuhn, Chinese biographer Ye Yonglie, a senior propaganda official had first approached Kuhn and Ye about the book. More importantly, the propaganda official had told Ye that Jiang's office was NOT responsible for launching the book and that someone high up in the propaganda apparatus had intiated the book. So who initiated the book? and why?

In a nutshell, I think the most likely culprit is Zeng Qinghong, Jiang's right-hand man and the current vice president of China. Given Hu Jintao's recent aggressiveness in replacing Jiang cronies with his own "Youth League" faction, Zeng is probably afraid that he is next. So how does he protect himself? The head of the Central Propaganda Department for the past few years was Liu Yunshan, a shepard who somehow wormed his way up the bureaucracy. His one qualification for office seems to be his close ties with Jiang Zemin and Zeng Qinghong. It is likely that Zeng had Liu initiate this "Project 001," the codename for the Jiang biography.

Why? For a historical comparison, one can look to the "genius" episode with Lin Biao, Mao's one-time annointed successor who fell from grace in 1972. In 1970, Lin wanted to launch a campaign to praise Mao as a "genius." He did so in order to bolster Mao's position in the party and thereby increase his own status in the party as the annointed successor of Mao. Unfortunately for Lin, Mao became very suspicious of Lin's motivation and ultimately purged him. Zeng was perhaps trying to do the same. By bolstering Jiang's position as "The Man who Changed China," he secures Jiang's legacy in the party and in the country, which hopefully secures his own position in the Politburo. Everyone knows that Zeng is a close protege of Jiang, so removing Zeng from power would be a great offense to "the man who changed China."

Is it likely to work? Yes, for him, but not for more junior members of Jiang's faction. While Hu would hesitate to remove the likes of Zeng or Huang Ju from power at least before the 17th Party Congress, Hu will hollow out Jiang's faction by removing more junior members of his faction who are currently provincial governors and party secretaries. By the time the 17th PC arrives, Jiang's faction will consist of a few retiring Standing Committee members and very few lower level officials. Unless Zeng gets more inventive, Jiang's faction will slowly wither away.

American Banker's Jiang Biography A Hit In China
1,165 words
9 March 200506:37 amDow Jones Chinese Financial WireEnglishCopyright (c) 2005, Dow Jones & Company, Inc.

AWSJ(3/9) American Banker's Jiang Biography A Hit In China


YANGZHOU, China -- His new book is a blockbuster in China, selling more copies here in a single month than any book since the last installment of 'Harry Potter.' Readers have lined up by the thousands to get his autograph. His name is splashed in newspapers across the country: Robert Lawrence Kuhn.
Robert Lawrence who?
Mr. Kuhn, a 60-year-old American investment banker and managing director at Smith Barney, is the author of 'The Man Who Changed China: The Life and Legacy of Jiang Zemin,' a biography of the former Chinese leader, who stepped down last year after 15 years in power.
'I think I have something important to say to the West, or to Western thinking, about China,' says Mr. Kuhn.
Readers in the West don't seem convinced. Whereas the Chinese publisher, Shanghai Century Publishing Group, says it has printed a million copies, Crown Publishers has printed just 15,000 of the English-language version. U.S. sales have been poor since the title hit the market in January, and some reviewers have panned the 709-page book as a fawning work of hagiography.
'Mr. Kuhn, like a faithful stenographer, has recorded here a perfect example of Chinese propaganda,' Jonathan Mirsky, the former East Asia editor of The Times of London, wrote in Hong Kong's Apple Daily newspaper.
But for most readers in China, the book offers their first glimpse into the life of a man who ran their country for 15 years. Even with 10% of the content censored from the Chinese-language version, the book treats many sensitive events, such as the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests and Mr. Jiang's political promotion, in terms that are unusually candid for China. Tidbits offered by people close to Mr. Jiang, while typically casting him in a positive light, also give a better sense of a man whose most salient feature for many people has been his enormous glasses.
The frenzy around the Chinese edition reflects a strong undercurrent of public curiosity about the secretive men who run the emerging global power. In a country where publishing details about the lives of high officials or their families can land Chinese writers in jail, a biography of a living leader is nonfiction at its most novel.
'We've never seen a biography about a leader who isn't already dead,' says Xie Yihong, 70, one of more than 1,000 customers waiting in line to get his copy signed by Mr. Kuhn in the eastern city of Yangzhou. That the book was written by an American is a plus, Mr. Xie reasons: Americans 'are more impartial.'
An investment banker who co-founded and managed a mergers-and-acquisitions firm called The Geneva Companies before it was sold to Citigroup Inc. in 2001, Mr. Kuhn, who lives in Southern California, says he has made frequent trips to China since the end of the 1980s, often serving as an unpaid adviser to officials trying to overhaul the economy.
Interested in showing Americans a more nuanced portrait of China than he felt mainstream media was providing, he produced a 90-minute documentary with China's state-run television broadcaster that was shown on PBS in 2000. The documentary, 'In Search of China,' balanced narratives about upwardly mobile Chinese with stories of secret churchgoers and unemployed workers. It was well-received in the U.S. by viewers and earned Mr. Kuhn the trust of Chinese officials. In 2000, after seeing a televised interview of President Jiang on the CBS news program '60 Minutes,' Mr. Kuhn says he resolved to write the man's biography. Mr. Jiang was widely viewed at home and abroad as a somewhat colorless figure whose main achievement had been to keep China on the path of economic changes mapped out by the late patriarch Deng Xiaoping beginning in 1979.
There were a few obstacles to surmount: Mr. Kuhn doesn't speak or read Chinese; few people -- much less foreigners -- are given access to Mr. Jiang's friends and family; and though he had written books before, Mr. Kuhn had never attempted a biography.
A respected Chinese biographer named Ye Yonglie says that in 2001, he was invited by a senior propaganda official in Beijing to help Mr. Kuhn with the book. Mr. Ye says he held lengthy discussions with Mr. Kuhn and the official, but he backed out when Mr. Kuhn informed him he would be cited as a researcher but not a co-author.
In Chinese media accounts, 'The implication is that this book is a civilian effort by a foreigner,' Mr. Ye said in a telephone interview. 'But it has Chinese official engineering.'
Mr. Kuhn confirms that he offered to employ Mr. Ye as a researcher and that he was introduced to him by an official with the State Council Information Office, which handles China's overseas propaganda. But Mr. Kuhn dismisses the suggestion that the government had any say over the content of the English-language version of his book.'It's my voice and my project,' Mr. Kuhn says.
Mr. Kuhn also discloses in his book and in interviews that he has done business in China and aspires to do more. He says he has been in discussions since last summer with Citigroup about a potential role with the company's arm that does investment banking in China. Between book signings, he has met with officials to discuss investment-banking opportunities, he says. He acknowledges that public acclaim for the book may help him in business, but he says that was never his goal.
'When I decided to write it, it was a real desire to understand China,' he says. 'I'm independent enough financially, I'm independent enough mentally to do what I think is right.' He says his contract with the Chinese publisher entitles him to 10% of the book's proceeds; he says he plans to give half of the money to Chinese foundations and charities.
When asked, Chinese readers say they were unaware that the domestic version, translated by the publisher, was stripped of much of its most politically sensitive material. Headlines in local newspapers tend to play up the fact Mr. Kuhn is an American -- a big selling point in a country where domestically written books about politics are often viewed by readers as propaganda. At a bookstore in Yangzhou last week, Mr. Jiang's hometown, Chinese reporters trained their TV cameras and notepads to Mr. Kuhn's remarks about the book, and applauded him when he finished. Downstairs, some people waited seven hours to get their books autographed by Mr. Kuhn.
He says his tennis elbow has flared up from signing so many books. But he says he is considering writing another one: an account of Mr. Jiang's successors.

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