NEW CHINESE LEADERSHIP THROWS OUT OLD FORMALITY

Georgie Anne Geyer

WASHINGTON -- We are now thankfully past the repugnant campaigns for political office in our beloved country. If there are any real rules about how our politicians should behave, one has to struggle to uncover them.

American candidates spin their pasts so much that one can only wonder about their futures. Expensive negative advertising apparently turns some Americans on as much as it turns me off.

So today I say, "Bless the Chinese." Yes, bless them all, from Shanghai to Shenzhen and beyond. I say this because the new Chinese leadership has put forward its "simplified" rules for political conduct, not in the old Forbidden City, but in the now apparently "Open City."

Here are my simplified versions of new Chinese leader Xi Jinping's rules:

-- Flower arrangements, red carpet welcomes and "empty talk" are banned as a way to clamp down on inefficient and showy bureaucracy. (Good luck!)

-- Cadres of the party are to spend more time visiting parts of the country suffering from "real difficulties." (Where to start?)

-- Cadres must "increase the effectiveness of meetings, have short meetings, give short speeches and (here, again!) avoid empty talk and avoid niceties."

-- They should work to further the anti-corruption campaign, a priority of Mr. Xi's.

-- News reports on the activities of Politburo members must be decided only on the basis of their newsworthiness and should be "shortened in frequency, number of words and duration."

Actually, Xi Jinping himself publicly hinted at these rules at a news conference on Nov. 15, his first as general secretary of the Communist Party. Among other things, he used the words "my colleagues," instead of the hoary term "comrades," used by three generations of Marxist-instilled leaders.

My memories go back to a journalists' trip to China toward the end of the 1990s. All of the old rules, dating to the 1930s and '40s, were still in bloom then. We were the subjects of numerous tasty banquets every night, wherever we were, where the Chinese talked well into the night on Marxism and "Deng Xiaoping thought," and the American guests found time to doze.

Every night as we would enter the private rooms for our dinners, I could not help but notice that on a table on the other side of the room, the Chinese had provided an alluring lineup of Western liquors: scotch, vodka, bourbon and gin. But no matter how late we stayed, no one ever offered us anything.

Finally, on the third night, when I felt confident enough to play a few harmless games, I had one of my male comrades, err, colleagues get up and get me some scotch -- without asking, and with just a nice smile for the Chinese, who responded only with silence.

I drank the scotch, and I did it every night after that. "They want you to know they have it, but they don't want to share it with you," one of the male journalists said. He may have been right.

I find this new man, Xi Jinping, extremely interesting. In the '70s and '80s, China went through the first phase of de-communization under Deng ("It is good to be rich") Xiaoping. This past autumn, at the big meeting of the new Chinese leadership, we began to see and feel the next step.

Even with Deng's economic changes, up till now, the forms of communism remained -- all those red carpets to impress visitors, all those outbreaks of violence and protests against the government that were never dealt with, and all those banquets with no scotch.

It is difficult not to see this new leader as a welcome breath of fresh air. One of the most interesting things about him is that he studied in Iowa as one of the first groups of thousands of Chinese sent to America for education. He was, by all accounts, so happy there that he went back last February, when he was visiting the States, to see his "family."

There were smiles all around out in the cornfields, and we can see from his itinerary that he, as well as the other Chinese who came and learned from our example, found more than smiles in America.

For instance, he went to a Los Angeles Lakers basketball game without a tie (good lord!) and included a pop jingle in his speeches. He has been wearing open-collared shirts and casual jackets back in the homeland, and The Washington Post reports how he has also included in his speeches references to "the Chinese dream."

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