For too long, we had grown accustomed to seeing the CCP appoint those with questionable academic credentials as legislators and councillors. So, recently, when it changed tack and served up mainland-born Ivy-league educated folks to take over the legislature – the newly-formed Bauhinia Party has set its sight on eventually becoming a 250,000-strong force – many of us were understandably wowed.
Yet, in a sense, the glitzy CVs of these newcomers are still all smoke and mirrors.
Take for example Li Shan (李山), the party’s founder. Tsinghua and MIT-schooled, he has worked for a string of western investment banks – the usual suspects like Goldman Sachs, Lehman Brothers, UBS and Credit Suisse. Plus, he displays in his office a photo of the former premier Zhu Rongji shaking hands with him. If this isn’t sterling pedigree, nothing else is, right?
Well, ask those who have known Li way back.
Li Hengqing (李恒青）, a mainland-born New York financier who was Li Shan’s schoolmate at Tsinghua, has this to say about that Zhu Rongji photo.
“I can attest that Li is being economical with the truth when he claims Zhu Rongji as his mentor. The truth is Zhu’s post at the university was merely honorary – he hardly appeared at all.” 6:30 at
Indeed, anyone familiar with the workings of mainland society would know this: getting photographed right next to an eminent figure can merely mean at one point in time, someone whom the eminent figure is acquainted with introduced you to him, and he happened to not mind being captured on film with you. Whether you can turn that brief one-time encounter into a win-win alliance and earn money as a result is an entirely different matter. Li Hengqing thinks this is where Li Shan has fallen short of.
“When I met Li Shan in New York (in the early aughts), by then he had already realized due to his humble background (“布衣出身”）he had hit the ceiling. Since he was already a pro in launching IPOs, his plan at the time was to set up a boutique investment banking firm and compete with the big-name investment banks for mainland businesses. I never heard further updates from him about his venture.”
According to Li Shan’s resume, five years after he launched his firm, he began another stretch of stints at investment banks, job-hopping four times in nine years.
Veteran China watcher He Pin (何频）said since the 1990s, he has followed the career trajectory of those who are cut from the same cloth as Li Shan: offsprings from ordinary families who, by dint of superior intelligence and diligence, studied at the most prestigious universities in mainland and US in the 1980s and 1990s. With little or no family funds to rely on, they paid their way through school by waiting on tables. Yet even when they reach the prime of life, their unremarkable family background continues to have an impact.
“Western investment banks try out these well-educated mainlanders. They think, you’re Chinese, you must have guanxi (connections). Before long, the banks discover these mainlanders don’t have enough guanxi to bring in business…Hence, employment-wise, the Li Shans are an unstable lot.”
The exclusion of the best and brightest from the uppermost echelon of mainland society on the grounds of lineage is a deliberate CCP ploy. After the Tiananmen Massacre, the infamous words of party elder Chen Yun (陈云）set the tone for the governing style in the days ahead: “we can only trust our kids; they won’t desecrate the ancestral grave.” Since then, the division between party aristocracy and the rest of the population has become more and more entrenched. The most dependable route to wealth and power for those without CCP blue-blood flowing in their veins lies in subjugating themselves to that small clique of people who do: use your expertise to execute the tasks they give you long enough, and you may become a dog that gets to eat the crumbs that fall from its master’s table. Herein lies the irony of the life choices of Li Shan and others like him in the Bauhinia Party: the CCP has kept them in their place, but not only do they not resent it; they work on maintaining their place in the CCP hierarchy by keeping freedom-loving Hong Kong people in their place.
Li Hengqing thinks little of the halo effect that proximity to the CCP elite brings.
“As an investor, why can’t Li Shan see that the CCP is on the wane, that whatever the short-term gains he can get out of venturing into Hong Kong politics aren’t worth the long-term risks？I have a feeling that Li Shan will persuade several people in our circle to join the Bauhinia Party. I”ll contact them first and tell them not to stake their future on a Titanic.”