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Family, Corruption and Sage Words From a News Agency; The Chinese language is revealingly rich in mordant sayings about the nexus of family, officialdom and corruption

Family, Corruption and Sage Words From a News Agency

By CHRIS BUCKLEY

June 20, 2014

The Chinese language is revealingly rich in mordant sayings about the nexus of family, officialdom and corruption. When a man becomes an official, one saying goes, even his “chickens and dogs become immortals.” And a commentary by the state news agency Xinhua that appeared Friday, laced with similar phrases, was likely to be worrisome reading for Ling Jihua, once the powerful gatekeeper to the Communist Party’s leadership.

On Thursday, the party’s disciplinary agency announced that Mr. Ling’s older brother, Ling Zhengce — himself once a powerful provincial official — was under investigation on suspicion of violations of party rules and state laws, a euphemism for corruption. To make things worse for Ling Jihua, the Xinhua commentary singled out his big brother as an example of the dangers of clannish corruption.

“Having Someone in the Imperial Court Won’t Work,” was the title of the commentary, which spread quickly on Chinese news websites.

“Looking at the officials who have fallen over recent years, some have used lineage and marriage as the bonds for clannish corruption,” it said.

“Some people have relied on their place of origin to help themselves rise. Messing around must sooner or later get its comeuppance. If someone has stuck his hand where he shouldn’t, if someone has taken money when he shouldn’t, the party and the people will surely make him spit it out.”

Ling Jihua’s career was already battered by a scandal in 2012, when his son died after a Ferrari sports car he was driving crashed in Beijing. Two women in the car were severely injured, and one of them died months later. Since then, Ling Jihua has not been officially accused in public of any wrongdoing, but he has kept an unusually modest profile as head of the party’s United Front Work Department, which oversees policies toward nonparty groups such as ethnic and religious bodies.

The Ling brothers came from an official’s family in Shanxi Province, and their father was so devoted to the Communist cause that he named his five children after party jargon: Zhengce means “policy,” Jihua means “plan,” and they also have a brother named Luxian (line), another called Wancheng (complete) and a sister called Fangzhen (guiding policy), according to Gao Qinrong, a former Xinhua journalist from Shanxi who has followed the family’s rise and fall.

Ling Zhengce was a deputy head of the Shanxi Province People’s Political Consultative Conference, a toothless advisory body that, like similar ones across China, is often used to put semi-retired officials out to safe pasture. He previously ran the provincial development and reform office, which oversaw economic and industrial policy.

Ling Jihua, 57, rose furthest in the family. He became director of the party’s Central Committee General Office and head of the party leadership’s secretariat under Hu Jintao, the president and party general secretary who retired from all his posts last year. Those posts gave Ling Jihua great influence over Mr. Hu’s agenda, and over appointments and decisions across the entire party.

But Ling Jihua’s prospects for entering the Politburo, a 25-member council of top leaders, evaporated after the car crash that killed his son made the family a magnet for lurid rumors. The Xinhua commentary did not refer to that scandal, which has remained unreported in China’s party-controlled news media. Nor did it mentionZhou Yongkang, the former head of domestic security who is also mired in a corruption investigation with many members of his family.

But Xinhua cited the example of Liu Zhijun, the former minister of railways, who last year was convicted of graft that also involved his brother. The Xinhua commentary cited more of those old sayings to make its point that family patronage will be punished.

“The notion that it’s coolest under a big tree won’t work,” it said. “The new normal is that when a turnip is pulled out, mud also follows.”

But perhaps the commentary was too blunt for party officials’ sensitivities. Later on Friday, it began disappearing from Chinese websites, including Xinhua’s own. There is a saying for that too: “Men fear fame like a pig fears getting fat.”

 

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KB Kee is the Managing Editor of the Moat Report Asia (www.moatreport.com), a research service focused exclusively on highlighting undervalued wide-moat businesses in Asia; subscribers from North America, Europe, the Oceania and Asia include professional value investors with over $20 billion in asset under management in equities, some of the world’s biggest secretive global hedge fund giants, and savvy private individual investors who are lifelong learners in the art of value investing. KB has been rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as an analyst in Asian capital markets. He was head of research and fund manager at a Singapore-based value investment firm. As a member of the investment committee, he helped the firm’s Asia-focused equity funds significantly outperform the benchmark index. He was previously the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. KB has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy, value investing, macroeconomic and industry trends, and detecting accounting frauds in Singapore, HK and China. KB was a faculty (accounting) at SMU teaching accounting courses. KB is currently the Chief Investment Officer at an ASX-listed investment holdings company since September 2015, helping to manage the listed Asian equities investments in the Hidden Champions Fund. Disclaimer: This article is for discussion purposes only and does not constitute an offer, recommendation or solicitation to buy or sell any investments, securities, futures or options. All articles in the website reflect the personal opinions of the writer.

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