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Monday, July 2, 2012

China's Aristocracy

IN RECENT years China’s leaders have become increasingly concerned that the public’s awareness of the growing wealth gap could lead to social instability. In Beijing, displays of gratuitous overcompensation are a daily reminder that some people, in keeping with a famous dictum of Deng Xiaoping’s, have indeed got rich first. Officials last year even went so far as to try suppressing ads that promote “luxury lifestyles”—lest the have-nots be inspired to rise up and storm the local Lamborghini dealership.

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So one can only imagine the consternation caused by yesterday’s sensational exposé by Bloomberg, which details the financial assets belonging to the family of China’s president-in-waiting, Xi Jinping. Bloomberg was careful to note that no part of their investigation directly implicated Mr Xi, his wife, herself a famous PLA officer-cum-singer, Peng Liyuan, or their daughter, who is reportedly studying at Harvard University under an assumed name. The Bloomberg report suggests that other close relatives of Mr Xi have been blessed with abundant good fortune, to put it mildly. The article ties Mr Xi’s sister Qi Qiaoqiao, her husband Deng Jigui, and another brother-in-law, Wu Long, to assets worth hundreds of millions of dollars, or even billions. Their holdings are reported to include stakes in real estate and telecommunications, as well as the sensitive business of producing rare-earth minerals.

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It is often speculated that families of officials at all levels of Chinese government are benefiting financially from their access to power. In a country where even a state newspaper argues in favour of allowing a “moderate amount of corruption”, should it come as a shock if some of the people in power seek to monetise their positions through favours and largesse?

Probably not, but it’s pretty appalling all the same. With social tensions rising steadily, the public’s patience with the extravagance of the official class is wearing thin. Calls for greater transparency—not to be confused with any call for Western-style democracy—are growing louder. Many people in China have come to accept corruption as a fact of life, and feel that there is little that anyone can do to fix it.
Read the whole thing at the Economist.

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