Chapter Eight – Passage One
“Banishment to the end of the world is not without its perks,” Jack says to me over a tub of greasy fried chicken. As the fifth richest man in China, you might have thought that Jack Bao would’ve possessed a more sophisticated palate, a sense of taste more Per Se than KFC. But nope. No Michelin stars for Jack here.
The crowd roars as the contestants in the coliseum complete another lap around the track. I look around from our perch on the stone bleachers and take it all in again. The tumult is deafening and I marvel at simply how unbelievably gigantic the stadium is. Back in the day, way back when, the Romans had built a Colosseum for gladiatorial combat too, an effort by the noblemen and chief magistrate to give the plebians some entertainment to help them pass their miserable days. But the architectural skills of the ancient Romans were nothing compared to the architectural prowess of the modern-day Chinese. The Colosseum in Rome looks like a Lego play toy compared to what the Chinese have built here in Xi’an.
The Chinese Coliseum is at least four times larger than its Roman counterpart and spans an area of nearly twenty hectares. I’m uncertain but I’m pretty sure it’s even larger than the Rungrado Stadium in North Korea, which was once the largest stadium in the entire world. (It briefly crosses my mind that building gigantic venues for entertaining the unwashed and destitute masses appears to be a common autocratic strategy for keeping the peace.)
In Xi’an, after they instituted the “一年不科技程序”1 for all training cadets, the CCP quickly realized that no matter the culture, no matter how obedient, if you coralled tens of thousands of teenagers together for an entire year and didn’t give them a strict regimin of how to spend that time, you’re going to have chaos on your hands. It’ll simply degenerate into utter and complete pandamonium. Thus, a strict schooling and training curriculumn had been created. But additionally, entertainment was necessary. Even the Chinese people, with their insane study work ethics, couldn’t just hit the books all day. And thus, the Xi’an Coliseum was born.
In addition to being an architectural wonder, Xi’an Coliseum also hosts Training Contests every weekend. Tens of thousands of 18-year-olds arrive in Xi’an every year in order to complete their one-year of “no-technology” training. And upon arrival, like any good training program, they’re divided into teams and expected to perform at athletic competitions every weekend. The exercise supposedly fosters a sense of comradery and cooperation among the youths, all while instilling in them the many virtues of communism and why the west and its capitalist ways are decadent and lesser. It’s all part of the intricately planned Communist Youth League program that’s been at the core of China’s Communist Leadership for over 150 years now.
When you have a unitary state, such as Communist China’s, the question of generational turnover and leadership very quickly surface. Back in the US, I was so accustomed to democracy that political succession honestly never really crossed my mind. It just seemed obvious to me, back then at least, that every four years America had elections and that’s how we decided our leaders.
But in China, there are no elections. There is no democracy. The citizens aren’t allowed to, and do not, vote. So how does it work exactly? When I’d asked Alan about this, he’d patiently explained the intricate pipeline of the CCP politburo ascendancy to me. We’d been waiting in the concessions line at the Coliseum waiting for smoked sausages on sticks (a delicious snack popular among the commoners).
“So China is big, right?” Alan says gesturing with his hands to indicate the immensity of the country. “It essentially occupies most of Asia, the way the US occupies most of America.”
“Sure,” I say, “assuming you discount the entirety of Canada and Mexico. But okay, let’s roll with it.”
“So we may not have states like you Americans,” says Alan, “but China has provinces, which for all intents and purposes, function in a similar fashion. While everyone obviously ultimately answers to the seven-member Politburo Standing Committee, realistically, seven people are not going to govern the entirety of China’s 1.4 billion citizens.”
“Obviously. Doesn’t exactly take a super-genius to conclude that.”
“Patience, grasshopper. So, what you’ve got instead are 34 different provinces in China, each with its own provincial committee, committee secretary, and governor. The province’s governor is the local authority on the ground in the region. And the committee secretary is the interface between the CCP’s politburo and the governor. All are appointed positions. Following so far?”
Our smoked sausage line inches forward and I nod my head. “I think so.”
“So, I guess, crudely, you could call the system a Laboratory of Communism,” Alan says, “for lack of better words. Starting with the Communist Youth League, CCP leadership identifies promising youths who may one day transition to a higher seat within the party. To this day, that entire process remains fraught.”
“So we may not have formal political parties like you guys do in America. But that doesn’t mean we don’t have factionalism.” Alan looks around to make sure no one is listening and then says more quietly, “the current CCP power structure has been divided between two major coalitions for the past 150 years– the Princelings and the Populists.”
I nod. This makes sense, actually. In the west, whether it be the Chinse Communist Party, or the USSR before that, communism was always portrayed as some all-mighty, unitary, monolithic entity. But that of course would be overly reductive and simplified. The CCP, like any governmental bureaucracy was rife with warring factions, each with their own political ideologies, heroes, and villains. How else did you expect a government of 1.4 billion to function?
“The Princelings,” Alan explains, “are your typical heredity successionists. The current crop alongside Xi dates back to people who were at Mao’s side back in the 1930 when Mao’s Red Party first rose and seized power. Xi’s grandfather, Xi Zhongxun was literally at Mao’s side 1949 when Mao first declared the People Republic of China its own independent nation state having defeated Chiang Kai-shek and the KMT party for control over the country.”
“And on the other side?”
“Well, you’ve got the populists. It’s your usual story– people who believe political power isn’t the sole right of some royal bloodline.”
There is something inordinately absurd to me that one of the CCP’s main political factions is essentially an elitist, hereditary bloodline but I don’t say anything. I’m curious to see how deep this rabbit hole goes.
- Roughly translated: “One-Year-Without-Technology Program”