Politics

Children of the Beijing-friendly unite

Beijing is so obsessed with remaining in power that even sperm donors have to be of the right political stripe.

To be eligible, men who wish to bequeath their seed in return for cash must “love their socialist motherland and embrace the CCP,” demanded a donor recruitment ad posted by the Peking University No. 3 hospital a few years ago.

DNA alone won’t ensure that Beijing will be able to secure allegiance from the offsprings of its loyalists, though. Pan Rui, the British-educated son of the mainland real estate mogul Pan Shiyi, is known for his unwillingness to toe the party line; among other things, he has posted the iconic June 4th man-standing-in-front-of-tanks photo on his social media; blurted out statements like “stability shouldn’t be built on lies; even the tallest high-rise will crumble if it is constructed on a foundation of falsehoods.” More recently, Beijing had to take the trouble to ban the news of Chloe Zhao winning the Oscar for Best Director; the Mount Holyoke-educated scion of a mainland steel magnate worth billions is widely remembered for having once called China out for being “a place where there are lies everywhere.” Closer to home, there’s  Stefani Kuo, the Yale-educated niece of former Chief Secretary of Hong Kong Henry Tang Ying-yen, who filmed a video two years ago voicing support for the anti-extradition law protesters.

And then – for what it’s worth – there’s me, writing for CCP arch-enemy Jimmy Lai and his readers even though I was born to a family with CCP ties; the last time I counted there were two national-level CPPCC (Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference) members and two province-level ones. At one point I was even groomed to take over the CCP mantle: before I headed to Oxford for my studies, I was introduced to Elsie Leung, then the Secretary of Justice for Hong Kong; in the air was the idea that after I graduated, I could be a potential CCP chess piece. Obviously, the CCP track didn’t work out, or you wouldn’t be reading this column. What’s less obvious is why would I act against my “self-interest.” Elsewhere, I’ve described how working for the CCP side is like for someone who has received a decent education: I’d feel like a hostess who, after noticing a guest has drunk the contents of his finger bowl, drinks from her finger bowl too, to give his breach of etiquette a sense of normalcy.

My hunch is it wasn’t a coincidence that Pan Rui, Chloe Zhao and Stefani Kuo all dramatized how lying was a hardship for them: in the past, every time they caved in to the pressure to lie, they must have felt they were drinking from a finger bowl. It was only when they spoke truth to power that they liberated themselves from their sense of shame.

Coming from money means you grew up never knowing want, and this affects your relationship with money for life. In “The last of the aristocrats” (最后的贵族), mainland author Zhang Yihe (1942 – ) recounts her encounters with the daughter and the granddaughter of Kang Youwei (the reform-minded ally of Qing Dynasty emperor Guangxu), and provides an insight into the ambivalence these patrician holdovers from pre-CCP China had towards money. “In order to live according to the style they’re used to,” Zhang writes,  “they must have funds at hand. Yet they’re not exactly materialistic, for deep within them there’s this aversion towards money, an aversion that manifests itself in their inclination to regard as second-rate money-oriented people like tradesmen and middlemen.” 

In the context of our day – in a world where the CCP uses China’s economic clout to intimidate businesses into submission – among the well-educated children of wealthy pro-CCP people, this aversion towards money as described by Zhang can take the form of an instinctive distaste for having to subjugate themselves to Beijing in return for material gain. In this respect they may differ completely from their parents, who may have lived by the dictum that “drinking from the finger bowl” is part of the bargain of making money. This clash of values between generations come about not necessarily because the later generation is morally superior, but because their privileged upbringing has cultivated in them a different attitude towards money.

One reason Beijing blocked news of Chloe Zhao’s Oscar win from hitting the mainland airwaves may have been it didn’t want Chinese people to know they can achieve success without the Party. Which brings me to my next point. In a way, life is more difficult for the independent-minded children of the rich: money is worthwhile only when it’s earned in a non-tacky manner, success is sweet only when it was attained without Beijing’s “help,” and life has the most meaning only when one is in pursuit of these two goals. Whether this mentality is too extreme is a moot point, but what’s not in any doubt is this: the sperm donor ad was wrong after all. The fact that the CCP got one generation in its clutches doesn’t mean it can go on enslaving the next.

I'm Michelle Ng (吳若琦), an Oxford-educated bilingual political writer and English writing coach based in Hong Kong. I'm currently an English columnist for Apple Daily and Ming Pao, and a Chinese columnist for 眾新聞. I have written for Hong Kong Free Press, The Wall Street Journal and The Vancouver Sun. 

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