Beijing Diary

How corrupt Chinese ministers are leaving Communists red-faced

The Ling family's lavish ways shows how distanced the party elites have become from Mao's principles.

 |  Beijing Diary  |  3-minute read |   25-12-2014
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The story of the rise and fall of the Ling family is a neat snapshot of how China has come full circle since Mao's Communists founded the People's Republic in 1949. On Monday, the once powerful Chinese leader Ling Jihua was placed under investigation by new President Xi Jinping.

Over the past decade, Ling was among China's most influential politicians. He was the closest aide to former President - and Xi's predecessor - Hu Jintao, directing the Party's secretive General Office which coordinates meetings, appointments and security arrangements for the Politburo.

Ling's stunning downfall began shortly before Hu handed over the reins of the Communist Party to Xi. Eight months before the November 2012 leadership transition, Ling's son, Ling Gu, died in a car crash. This was no ordinary car crash - he was at the wheels of a Ferrari that smashed into the railings of Beijing's Fourth Ring Road in the early hours. In the car with him was a naked woman and another semi-dressed woman, both of whom survived.

ling-gu-ferrari-embe_122414081211.gif  Ling Jihua's son Ling Gu died in a crash as his Ferrari crashed into the railings of Beijing's Fourth Ring Road on March 18, 2012.

While the crash was hushed up - the girls' families were reportedly paid millions for their silence - it nevertheless scandalised the leadership, providing more fodder for a public growing increasingly angry at the lives of the Party elite. Ling's career was all but over. This summer, two of Ling's brothers, Ling Zhengce and Ling Wancheng, were placed under investigation. Zhengce was a top provincial official in the Lings' native Shanxi, while Wancheng was a well-connected businessman and regular on Beijing's exclusive golf circuit.

There is much that is fascinating about the rise of the Ling brothers, but perhaps most interesting are their names. Five siblings, they were born to a poor Communist medical care officer, Linghu Ye, who cared for Mao's revolutionary army in their headquarters at Yanan during the Chinese Civil War. Linghu Ye's blood flowed bright red: he named his five children using words from the Communist lexicon.

The oldest son was Ling Luxian, or "Direction" Ling. Then there were two more brothers, the now disgraced Ling Zhengce, or "Policy" Ling, and Ling Wancheng, or "Completion" Ling. The fourth -- the only sister -- was named Ling Fangzhen, or "Guideline" Ling. The youngest, who became the most powerful, was Ling Jihua, or "Planning" Ling.

The Ling family wasn't unique in sporting rather peculiar names: in Mao's 1950s, it was common to name your children to underline your Communist credentials. Indeed, across the current Chinese leadership, there are dozens of officials whose "Red" names reinforce their Communist faith.

There is Li Jianguo, or "Founding of the Republic" Li, who is the Vice Chairman of the National People's Congress or Parliament. There is also "Founding of the Republic" Qi, Lieutenant General Qi Jianguo of the People's Liberation Army. Ling Jihua's successor as the head of the General Office is the appropriately named Li Zhanshu or "Declaration of War" Li. The previous Politburo had "Red" officials aplenty: there was "Prosperous Country" Wang, or Wang Zhaoguo; the very suitably named head of the anti-corruption agency "Make the country stronger" He, or He Guoqiang; and the former head of Parliament, Wu Bangguo, or "Thriving Country" Wu.

Today, this fashion of naming your children after patriotic or Communist themes is fading away for the current generation of Chinese (it is fair to guess that among today's iPhone 6-wielding children in Beijing's prep schools, a "Founding of the Republic" Wang or "Guideline" Li is likely to have a tough time on the playground).

All things considered, this is probably a good thing. With rising public anger at corruption - and at an elite out of touch with the rest of the people - the unimaginably extravagant ways of an official named "Policy" Ling is perhaps an uncomfortable - and, for the Party, an unwanted - reminder of the stark contradiction surrounding Mao's "Communist" successors. Just ask Planning Ling, whose plans, it is fair to say, went up in smoke the day his son crashed his black Ferrari.

Writer

Ananth Krishnan Ananth Krishnan @ananthkrishnan

The writer is China correspondent for India Today.

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