Dynastic politics seem to make a comeback in East Asia. First, Kin Jong-un took over North Korea after the death of his father. Then, Xi Jinping, the son of a communist politician veteran Xi Zhongxun, was announced the new leader of China for the next 10 years. On this past Sunday, Shinzo Abe, Japan’s ex-prime minister from 2006 – 2007 and grandson of Nobusuke Kishi, prime minister of Japan from 1957 to 1960, was elected again to lead the country. Just yesterday, Park Guen-hye, daughter of South Korea’s longest-ruling dictator Park Chuang-Hee, was elected the country’s new president.
Political dynasties aren’t new in the history of East Asia, but in modern time when some countries adopted democracy and the others claimed to practice “socialism,” this is probably the first time when all four most-talked-about countries in the region follow father-son/daughter leadership at the same time.
An era of Pin Die
In China, people call such father-son culture 拼爹 (pin die), a competition of family background, or literally, a competition of fathers. It means that a person’s standing in society and his/her accomplishments in life depend, by large, on the family s/he was born into. Many Chinese believe that their country is now in an era of Pin Die in which individual talents, skills and hard work mean nothing, and all that matters is who one’s father is.
Along with a culture of Pin Die come second-generation-rich (wealthy people’ offspring) and second-generation-Red (politicians’ offspring), who are the target of much social criticism and resentment. In Mao era, the Chinese were told that a socialist China was a country without classes. After China opened up, everybody was made to believe that they would have equal chance of climbing up the social ladder because China, as it’s still said in textbooks today, was and would continue to be a socialist country. But in reality, people realize that the rich only get richer, the powerful only get more powerful, and the proletariat, who are said to rule this country by constitution, remain proletariat. The bitter realization and the sharp contrast between what people have been told in school and what people face in society have made the word “pin die” an equivalent of corruption, because just like corruption, a culture of pin die harms the interest of each and every one – there is always someone who come from a more powerful family.
The ruling class always rules
As always, the Chinese netizens are much more critical about the situation in their own country. The discussions of Shinzo Abe’s inauguration pretty much emphasized on the potential of a more aggressive Japan towards China under his leadership; and the focus of Park Guen-hye’s victory was primarily on the fact that she is the first female president of South Korea. Some netizens commented that an era of political dynasties in Asia has come. But at the end of the day their reactions to what happened in China were much more cynical.
China’s powerful censorship makes it hard for ordinary netizens to criticize Xi Jinping, the country’s new leader who comes from an influential politician family. As a result, all fingers easily point to Li Xiaopeng who was just appointed as acting governor of Shanxi province yesterday. His father Li Peng was China’s fourth Prime Minister and the face of Chinese government during the Tiananmen Square protests in 1989.
Most netizens thought the appointment was another triumph of an influential father. Netizen 人大总统 commented on the power of the Li family: “Coal and electricity now go hand in hand [Shanxi is rich in coal]. Li Peng now effectively rules China. His son governs Shanxi province, controlling national coal supply. His daughter Li Xiaolin is the CEO of China Power, controlling national power supply. Now that’s a POWERFUL family.” Netizen M华_罗生生_17 asked a question that many netizens share: “Without his father, would he be appointed to this position?”
Some netizens even pointed out that Li doesn’t deserve the position because his father was a “criminal” who backed the use of force to quell the Tiananmen Square in 1989. Netizne 七格福礼德是吧 commented: “The son needs to pay back his father’s debt.”
Even CCTV (China Central TV), the official voice of the Chinese government, was pulled into the criticism of Li. After Shinzo Abe was elected Japan’s new Prime Minister, CCTV used the following dialogue from a popular Japanese cartoon “The Famous Detective Conan” to mock Japan’s hereditary politics:
“…is an epitome of the hereditary political culture in Japan. Sons of politicians grow into politicians; and sons of CEOs grow into CEOs. The mistakes of human beings will only keep being repeated.”
Apparently, when Chinese netizens saw the clip, they had something else in mind. Netizen_kururu_ suggested: “Li Xiaopeng was appointed acting governor of Shanxi. CCTV can use the same commentary.” Netizen 和皮皮同在的乐子Seo pointed out CCTV’s hypocrisy: “CCTV is a big joke. Who is Xi Jinping’s father? Who is Bo Xilai’s father? And who is Li Xiaopeng’s father? They are all sons of politicians.” Netizen 完美大象 commented: “Leave Japan alone. Look at China. We are perfect example of hereditary politics.”
Clips from the Japanese cartoon used by CCTV