China’s new leaders paint a picture of totalitarian banality

This photograph of a triumphant party elite is an overt display of democracy’s opposite without any hint of self-reproach

The Guardian
By: Jonathan Jones

In this picture, the new rulers of China tell the world they really don’t care what it thinks of them.

'We are China, say these men, we are its past and future. And exhausted, penniless democracies nod a weary if-you-say-so.' Photograph: Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images
‘We are China, say these men, we are its past and future. And exhausted, penniless democracies nod a weary if-you-say-so.’ Photograph: Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images

Flaunting a corporate and totalitarian style, they stand before an ugly pseudo-classical painting of a mountain range straddled by the Great Wall, forming their own human wall of dark-suited conformity.

The newly chosen leader Xi Jinping, in the centre of the row of sombre men, is introducing his government team in a ceremony at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing. As well as identical suits, they all wear red ties except Wang Qishan, at the far right, who sports an individualistically blue tie. I’m worried about him. But as he is taking on the job of “discipline”, he will probably be all right.

Politically incorrect? Anti-China? Come on. This picture is funny. It is bizarre because it so casually refuses to play any game of western-style PR or political spin. You have to hand it to the Communist party of China – it is honest. This photograph reveals a regime with no interest in pretending to be any more democratic than it is. The message it sends out is, don’t even think about democracy in China: we are so remote from that path, we don’t even contemplate pretending to consider faking it.

Presumably this is political wisdom. The moment Mikhail Gorbachev started to make noises about reform in the USSR people demanded real change, real rights, and the entire Soviet system was finished. One lesson of Russian history is that no reformist path actually exists for a Communist party that has brutally controlled a society for a long time. To soften is to invite revolution. Behind that wan painting of misty mountains, millions of lives long for self-expression. Give them a millimetre and they would take revenge.     [FULL  STORY]