China's new leader sets more informal style

 

Beijing

Just three weeks after taking over as his country's top leader, Xi Jinping is trying to give Chinese Communism a more common touch.

Out are the tedious discourses laden with Marxist-Leninist cliches and clunky references to "Deng Xiaoping thought" and "the Three Represents." In are short, punchy statements marked by plain language and an informal style.

Xi personally signaled the change at a news conference Nov. 15, his first as the Communist Party's general secretary, with brief prepared remarks that stood in sharp contrast to the lengthy, theory-heavy statement delivered by his predecessor, Hu Jintao, when he took the top job in 2002. Among the differences: Xi introduced his fellow Standing Committee members as "my colleagues," where Hu had used the old revolutionary term "comrades."

The more down-to-earth style, which is already affecting the way meetings are run, has now been codified in a set of eight new rules released Wednesday.

"Official meetings should be shorter and to the point," reads one of the new rules, "with no empty rhetoric and rigmarole."

The change also appears directed at the state-run media, which have long inclined to exhaustive, jargon-ridden coverage of even the most mundane activities of senior officials. Reporting on the activities of Politburo members "should be decided by its newsworthiness and should be kept as simple and clear as possible," another new rule says.

Also targeted are the familiar ostentatious displays by officials, whether at home or abroad, that have become a source of derision among the public.

Top-level meetings involving official motorcades should be curtailed in the traffic-congested capital, the rules say. During local inspection tours in the provinces, "extravagant measures are strictly forbidden" and "visits should be made as simple as possible," with "no welcome banner, no red carpet, no floral arrangement or grand receptions."

Foreign trips also should be reduced to those absolutely necessary and include smaller entourages, the rules continue, and "there is no need for a reception by overseas Chinese, institutions and students at the airport."

The new guidelines were greeted positively, to judge by reactions in Wednesday's newspapers and on Weibo, China's Twitter-like microblog sites. A People's Daily weibo report on the development was retweeted some 5,700 times within three hours of being posted, according to the Xinhua News Agency.

The new style is already being felt — or heard — in official meetings.

On Nov. 21, Li Keqiang, China's second-ranked official and expected next premier, hosted a conference on agrarian reform. When local leaders began to read their statements, according to the usual practice, Li interrupted them, according to CCTV and a separate account by Xinhua. "I've read all the reports," he said. "You don't need to read them again." Li then peppered the attendees with specific questions on issues not covered in the written reports.

On Nov. 30, Wang Qishan, the new Standing Committee member in charge of party discipline, held a meeting with anti-corruption experts that left at least one participant with "a brand-new and fresh impression."

First, said Ren Jianming, a professor, Wang chaired the meeting himself, a task that an underling would have taken on in the past. Then, Ren noted, "He asked us to say whatever was on our minds and not just read the notes." Finally, "He gave us time to exchange opinions."

Wang himself spoke without notes or jargon, Ren said, and told the group that he was introducing the more open, free-flowing meeting style at the specific behest of Xi.

The new leader has already put the new style on display in public, favoring a casual look and sprinkling his official statements with everyday rhetoric. During a U.S. tour in February, when he was vice president, Xi appeared tieless at a Los Angeles Lakers basketball game and included an advertising jingle and a line from a pop song in speeches.

Touring an exhibition in Beijing last week with several of his new Standing Committee colleagues, Xi wore an open-collared shirt and casual zippered jacket. In a speech on renewing "the Chinese dream," he warned, "Making empty talk is harmful to the nation."

To some outside observers, the changes represent an effort to repair the Communist Party's battered public image.

"It's encouraging to see these kinds of measures," said Cheng Li, an expert on China's elite politics with the Brookings Institution in Washington, adding that the leadership appears determined to restore public confidence. "We should give them credit," he said. "This is not superficial."

The state-controlled media seemed to agree Wednesday.

"These are not hollow slogans," the China Daily newspaper said in its lead editorial. "They point directly at problems that estrange officialdom from the public."

- - -

Washington Post special correspondent Zhang Jie contributed to this report.

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