Sunday, 10 January 2010

Where is Hu Jintao's laojia?

[a picture of the Taizhou Tower, not representative of an otherwise beautiful city]

Of all the idiotic political movements of 2009, none was more silly than the 'Birther' movement which erupted in the US following the election of Barack Obama, son of a Kenya-born father and a Kansan mother. Whatever doubts people might legitimately have held about Barack Obama's eligibility to fulfil the role of president have been fully laid to rest by the Obama campaign's release of his birth certificate, yet the movement persists, and may have even grown, at least until the obviously-barmy Orly Taitz reared her air-filled head.

But suppose we had no real idea of where Barack Obama was actually born and different parts of America competed to be his home? Wouldn't this be a conspiracy theorists paradise? But this is what appears to have happened with the current president of China, Hu Jintao.

First, let us see what the official biography on the People's Daily website says:

Hu Jintao, a native of Jixi, Anhui Province, was born in December 1942. He joined the Communist Party of China (CPC) in April 1964 and began to work in July 1965 after he graduated from the Water Conservancy Engineering Department of Tsinghua University, where he had a major in the study of hub hydropower stations.

Jixi, of course, is one of the poorer counties of Anhui, which is one of the poorer provinces of China. A very proletarian upbringing then - but wait, there's more - here's what the government of Taizhou, Jiangsu province says to say about the man they claim as their own:

This great man, one of the most influential in the world, is one of China’s most known faces. Currently, Hu Jintao is the Paramount Leader of the People's Republic of China, holding the titles of General Secretary of the Communist Party of China since 2002, President of the People's Republic of China since 2003, and Chairman of the Central Military Commission since 2004.

Born in Anhui province, 1942, Hu Jintao moved to Taizhou, Jiangsu Province, during his early years. At this time, he moved into the home of close relatives and studied. Schools of Taizhou, where Hu Jintao once studied, ate, read, played, and became the great man he is today are open to visitation.

So, Hu was born in Anhui but grew up in Taizhou - a city close to my heart ever since I visited it back in 2004 on a day trip, trying to make a bit of money on the side whilst I studied Chinese in Nanjing, the capital of Jiangsu province. I had been told that all they wanted was for me to have my photo taken in front of a school as proof that they had foreign teachers working there (a source of pride in Chinese schools even now). Instead, on showing up at the school (Taizhou Community College if I remember correctly) I was welcomed by a large crowd, with banners proudly welcoming the English "professor" who had come to visit - that being me! I then had to give an off-the-cuff speech to a crowd of hundreds, getting a standing applause when I praised the somewhat-ugly Taizhou tower. Sitting down to dinner latter my hosts proudly proclaimed that Taizhou was the laojia of Hu Jintao, the then newly-appointed President. Laojia is often translated as 'hometown', but its meaning is somewhat deeper than that which most English speakers would attach to that term, as it includes an allegiance to the place which can be passed on to the children of people born in that place even if born and raised elsewhere.

I exclaimed surprise, saying that I though he came from Anhui province, but my hosts said that Taizhou was his real home and place of birth, pointing to the rumour that Hu had secretly visited the city to take part in his father's funeral, and that he only claimed to come from Jixi because it was a poorer place, granting a kind of proletarian cool which Taizhou could not deliver. So is Taizhou his home then? Not so fast - here's what the anti-government China Affairs website has to say:


With an ancestral home and place of residence surprisingly similar to Jiang Zemin, Hu Jintao, of Anhui extraction, was born in Decemeber 1942 in Shanghai and grew up in Taizhou, Jiangsu province

Of course, there's no knowing what China Affairs' source is for that, but this website makes the same claim. Similarly, there is no knowing who it was who wrote on Hu Jintao's Wikipedia page that he was born in Shangyan, Taishan, Shandong province and where they got that information from. So where was Hu Jintao born? Perhaps someone should check his birth certificate?


Wukailong said...

At least Hu's place of birth, wherever it is, doesn't place any constitutional restrictions on what offices he can hold (of course, given the nature of how Chinese laws are enforced, it wouldn't matter too much in any case). I was mostly surprised by how nobody seemed to debate the requirement that the president of the country of immigration has to be born in the country.

Wukailong said...

Sorry if I sound like Charles Liu above, btw...

Joe Unlie said...

Not related to the above post, but I just read your post from September in Shenzhen and found it interesting. In Shanghai, while I talk politics with practically everyone I know (I was a poli sci student in college and plan to go to law school soon), I've met very few people who are opposed to CCP rule (though, admittedly, the Chinese international business class tend to be the most politically apathetic people I've met in my life), and practically no one who sees much political change coming in the next twenty years or so. That, and Jiang Zemin is still very popular here, as his tenure as local party chief (as well as Zhu Rongji's) was viewed as laying the groundwork for Shanghai's boom.

It sounds like the mood is very different in Shenzhen. I'm sure that's partially the proximity to Hong Kong, but at the same time I always tend to think of Shanghai and Shenzhen as being capitalist boomtowns of a similar stripe, and would think that the locals would have similar political attitudes. Is the Guangdong party that cut off from the mainstream of Chinese politics?

(That, and it sounds like there's more labor activism down there. Now, I assisted an American company with observation and translation of communications involving a major labor dispute at a factory in Chengdu, so I know how common that is in China, contrary to many outsider's beliefs... but I still see very little of that in Shanghai.)

Anyway, I'd be interested in anything you might have to say on this "split". I'm considering a move down to Shenzhen next summer, so I want to get an idea of the political "climate" down there first...

Gilman Grundy said...

@Joe - Shenzhen is different to Shanghai, not so much because of the proximity of Hong Kong, but because it is an entirely new city with fewer entrenched interests. Shangahi, despite being most emphatically an immigrant city, has a powerful and well-heeled local clique who monopolise power.

Guangdong on the whole I cannot comment on, except to say that the dialect and customs of the province have always put it a bit apart from the rest of the country, at least more than the average province.

Law school? My advice is to save up your money, and if you don't get a good score on the LSAT (I'm presuming you are an American) then you should think twice about it. 150,000 USD worth of debt is no joke if you are unable to gurantee a job capable of paying it off after finishing your JD. Hell, even if you come from the UK, Canada or Australia it is most certainly worth being careful given the amount of debt that you find yourself in on the other side, and perhaps without a guarantee of a job to pay it off with, especially in the current economy.

Don't let all this discourage you however, just be aware of how many others have come a-cropper on it. One more thing - simple knowledge of Chinese will not make up for graduating from even a relatively high-grade 2nd-tier law school. Don't fall into the trap of thinking that there is a shortage of Chinese speakers in western countries or that there is a great need for Chinese speaking lawyers that will make up for a so-so performance at law school.

Gilman Grundy said...

@Wukailong - True. But that's hardly the point, now, is it? I can find out fairly easily where every other world leader was born - they hardly make any secret of it - so why the secrecy about this?

Anonymous said...

FOAP, notice Tommy Friedman is lobbying hard in NYTimes pages recently to give NOBEL Peace prize to Hu and Ma next fall?


"Has anyone noticed the most important peace breakthrough on the planet
in the last two years? It’s right here: the new calm in the Strait of
Taiwan. For decades, this was considered the most dangerous place on
earth, with Taiwan and China pointing missiles at each other on hair
triggers. Well, over the past two years, China and Taiwan have reached
a quiet rapprochement — on their own. No special envoys or shuttling
secretaries of state. Yes, our Navy was a critical stabilizer. But
they worked it out. They realized their own interdependence. The
result: a new web of economic ties, direct flights and student

A key reason is that Taiwan has no oil, no natural resources. It’s a
barren rock with 23 million people who, through hard work, have
amassed the fourth-largest foreign currency reserves in the world.
They got rich digging inside themselves, unlocking their
entrepreneurs, not digging for oil. They took responsibility. They got
rich by asking: “How do I improve myself?” Not by declaring: “It’s all
somebody else’s fault. Give me a handout.”


Anonymous said...
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stuart said...
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Gilman Grundy said...

Dude, thanks for dropping by, but no need to triple-post, I heard you the first time!