Questionable fortune of Wen's family


By He Qinglian on Oct 28, 2012.

Right at the time when the 18th CPC Party Congress is set to “victoriously commence”, New York Times' report of the hidden fortune of premier Wen's family on October 26 cast a shadow on this hard-won victory. 

Originally, the Chinese people have always found corruption despicable. Whenever the issue of dignitaries amassing money is discussed, they sound as if they hate that inexplicably. Every time foreign media exposed insider information on corruption of senior officials, those individuals who could see read these news race to spread them across. But the reaction toward this New York Times story is somewhat different. 

The first thing to look at in this exposure of the hidden fortune of Wen's family is that, a lot of Chinese people are concerned not about the truth of the fortune of Wen's family, but about political correctness, which is irrelevant to the corruption. As a result, in the eyes of some of the Chinese people and Chinese media, the New York Times has become rumormongers, and a tool used by Zhou Yongkang and Bo Xilai. A Chinese website simply deliberately said the reporter who wrote the story, David Barboza, an American who is known in Chinese as Zhang Dawei, to be the Chinese man Zhang Dawei, president of Chicago Chinese Tribune, who once touted Bo Xilai's politcal campaigns with great fanfare. The website argued that it was a conspiracy of Zhang the Chinese man. That article was taken down hurriedly after Aboluowang, another Chinese website, debunked its claim. A Taiwanese professor, too, joined in and expressed his belief that Wen advocates reform and would absolutely not be corrupt. 

Comments of netizens inside China are in a great variety. Some of them said that Premier Wen might not know what his family has done; he looks like a gentleman, he speaks in a refined manner and he advocates reform—well, let's just forget all this. Others said that New York Times reporter has received a huge commission to act as a hit man for someone; some others simply concluded that it is very unfair to expose only the Wen family and not others. Twitter user @ericzhun wrote that:— 

Relatives of dignitaries exploit the influence of their loved ones to serve themselves is practically the norm in China. Why attack only Wen Jiabao, the one who possesses some universal values and political conscience? Obviously the people who spread this news have some ulterior motives and they intend to block Wen from attempting to reform the political system.

These are part of what I experienced when I browsed the Internet and exchanged views on Twitter.

The reactions of this Chinese netizens illustrate their need for political analgesics. What the truth is does not interest them. It is true that Wen Jiabao is not like other Chinese leaders: throughout the last ten years, whenever a disaster took place, Wen Jiabao the Premier would always be on the site to comfort the hearts of the Chinese people with his tears and soft words. Since 1976, the year Zhou Enlai, the people's good Premier, passed away, the Chinese people have not seen another Premier who acts in such a “people first” manner. They would willingly accept Wen's self-fashioned images of getting close to the people and of anti-corruption, and strongly repel any information that does not fit in with this image, even if that information is completely true. 

These responses indicate the quality of loving the truth more than everything else is one that scarcely exists among the Chinese people. This is the mentality behind many Chinese who see Mao Zedong, a man who committed state crimes upon state crimes and took away numerous lives, as the “great savior”. They need Mao to exist as an ideal figure that saved thousands of thousands people from perils. They are not interested in learning what kind of person Mao truly was, and what he had done. 

I cannot ascertain how big the proportion of Chinese people with this mindset is in China. Yet I do know that so long as half the country is people like this, China is very far away from modern democratic politics. If corrupt officials are treated differently based on political correctness, then the attitude of the people is essentially the same as the CPC, which uses corruption as a tool of power struggle. Their logic is: those corrupt officials could be forgiven if they share our views; and those who do not must be punished without mercy. Could a society constituted with a people and a government like this be healthy? 

The other thing to look at is the reaction of Wen's family to the New York Times report. 

The fortune of Wen's family had been exposed before. In June 2004 21st Century Business Herald published an investigative report about Zheng Jianyuan the “puppet tycoon”, an indirect major shareholder of Ping An Insurance. Based on text at the end of that report, people guessed that the boss behind the scenes is Wen Yunsong, Wen Jiabao's son. Since then, all kinds of rumors trail this noble son like shadow. On January 25 Reuters published from Hong Kong a story that exposed Wen Yunsong's New Horizon company; on March 10, the Financial Times ran the story “China: to the money born”. And the jewelry business run by Zhang Peili, Wen Jiabao's wife, is a recurring topic in Hong Kong media from time to time. 

The new exposures in the New York Times report are mainly about two things. First, Wen Jiabao's mother, Yang Zhiyun held shares of China Ping An Insurance Company that valued at $ 120 million (about 760 million yuan) in 2007. Second, Wen Jiabao's younger brother, Wen Zhihong and his brother-in-law Zhang Jianming and others have in possession a sizable fortune—after calculation, Wen's family has a total wealth of $ 2.7 billion. 

A fortune of $ 2.7 billion is still a long way away from the tens of billions possessed by the families of top Chinese officials as rumors say. Yet if compared to the $ 360 million owned by Gu Kailai's elder sister exposed by China Newsweek and $ 380 million of the family of Xi Jinping's elder sister disclosed by Bloomberg, this is a considerably huge figure. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has already condemned the New York Times for slander. But people believe that, being a man who treasures his reputation, Wen Jiabao would not sit back in silence. He would definitely take some actions over this. Secretary of former CPC General Secratary Zhao Ziyang, Mr. Bao Tong for one expressed hope that Wen Jiabao could explain how big the fortune exactly is and whether or not those are obtained lawfully. 

As expected, Premier Wen did not let the people down. Two Chinese lawyers issued on behalf of Wen's family a statement that refuted the New York Times report. The key points of the statement are that the hidden fortune mentioned in that report does not exist; and that immediate family members of Wen Jiabao are engaged in nothing other than legitimate business activities. Apart from pension and wage that is in compliance with regulation, Wen's mother has no other source of income; and she has no property. The Chinese version of this counsel statement has been widely circulated and is permitted to upload to domestic forums like Kaidi. Netizens drawn to read the statement sympathized with Wen and denounced the gang of Bo Xilai for having ulterior motives; and they criticized the New York Times for acting willingly as a proxy. With these, Wen Jiabao regained the moral high ground. If he and his family read what are written on Kaidi forum, they would surely believe that they have the hearts and minds of the people and so their own heart would be at peace. Wen Jiabao could continue to be "the people's good Premier." 

Interestingly, this counsel statement, both the Chinese version and the English one, has not been delivered to the New York Times. The New York Times found it in the South China Morning Post, an English-language media in Hong Kong, and it published on October 28 an article, Chinese Premier's Family Disputes Article on Riches. That article stated that the reported information on the wealth of Wen Jiabao family was accurate, and that the paper has at hand a Xerox copy of the company registration materials, which stated that Wen Jiabao's mother has in possession approximately $ 120 million yuan of stakes of Ping An Insurance Company in 2007. On those Xerox copies was her signature and identity card number. 

Even more interestingly, someone—no one knows who—uploaded to the Internet the Xerox copy of her identity card and the proof of that equity ownership, so that other netizens could catch a glimpse of those. 

To those compatriots who scold the "New York Times" for having ulterior motives, I want to say: there have been many foreign media that kowtowed to Beijing in order to enter the Chinese market, Murdoch and the Deutsche Welle Zhang Danhong incident are typical examples. To cover this story, New York Times sacrifices its China market and huge advertising revenue. What Chinese media fail to do—rack the muck of the dignitaries, New York Times do on behalf of the Chinese people, we Chinese should thank New York Times for adhering to the values of media. 

To Premier Wen I'd want to say a few words of consolation. The New York Times report would not cause changes to the personnel arrangement in the 18th National Party Congress, and it would have no impact on your political reputation after you retire. Why? 

First, your fellow Politburo Standing Committee members are fully aware of their own things, everyone's more or less the same; the only difference lies in whether it is $ 2.7 billion or $ 7.2 billion. To protect you is essentially protecting everyone else. 

Second, you have already resorted to “legal means”—no, your lawyers issued a statement clarifying that you had never profiteer for your relatives, and that the revenue your family get from running business is lawful. The Party will accept this clarification for sure. 

Third, inside China, you've lost nothing. Your Party is effective in Internet blockade and censorship. When you're upset, go and read what are written on Kaidi and similar forums. You would see that the people know you, and they trust you. In the event that you are on state visit to other countries in future, screen the reporters, let none of those foreign journalists with ulterior motives attend your press conference, and everything will be fine. If such things happen in the United States, they would cause serious consequences, though. For example, New York Times made President Nixon resign in disgrace [as a result]. But this is China, a U.S. media report is nothing more than a gently blowing breeze, the people take no heed of it, and you still remain the 'good Premier of the people', aren't you?