There’s some interesting stuff rumbling in the background to the NYT’s expose of the Wen Jiabao family firm.
On October 25, the New York Times published the article Billions in Hidden Riches for Family of Chinese Leader by their Shanghai-based reporter David Barboza. You would think that the non-state overseas Chinese-language media would pick up on this huge scandal. According to past practice, they will even magnify the case with unsubstantiated rumors. But no, the non-state overseas Chinese-language media are also uniform in expressing skepticism about the New York Times report. This is really unthinkable that the Chinese state media and the overseas non-state Chinese-language media would converge on a major issue such as this one.
At issue here are allegations that Barboza, got his original steer from neo-Maoist groups in the Party. Shen Yachuan, a reporter with the liberal/reformist Southern Metropolis Daily later tweeted that Barboza attended at least one leftist faction meeting, with the implication that this is where he got the goods on Wen.
Fine by me. Figures in the Right milieu inside and outside the Party have been glad to operate as confidential sources and provide info on their factional enemies, so there’s no earthly reason why the hacks shouldn’t cultivate sources on the Left as well. They’d get a fresh perspective and anyway, what matters are the goods not the salesman. Sceptical readers will just have to discount the 'advocacy posing as analysis from anonymous sources' bits from a different quarter.
It is quite remarkable to see the People’s Daily line up with the gonger outlet Epoch Times, albeit presumably for different reasons. It’s also noticeable that principals in the story and Wen supporters in the Party hierarchy have no qualms talking to ostensibly dissident media about their problems with the story: in fact, dissident media seem to be the outlet of choice for detailed refutations of the NYT story. But then this seems to be the pattern in China. Both left and right are more interested in working with the Party against each other than in working together against the Party.
Nonetheless, criticism from ostensibly dissident quarters may cause trouble for the Times. It’s one thing to bask in the disapproval of the Party, and no-one outside China is going to listen to whatever complaints people associated with the Party may have. It may be a different matter when the same complaints come endorsed by various dissident media. This would provide cover for other western papers to investigate the Times’ scoop, without appearing to give credibility to the CPC.
The Times has been whooping up their story as the most devastating thing since the pentagon papers, which is frankly ridiculous. I mean, it's a great story, but Wen’s on his way out, he never punched at his ostensible weight especially as a 'reformer', and while the detail is rich and fulfilling, it fills in the blanks on what was widely suspected anyway about the Wen family rather than being a set of devastating revelations.
To my mind, the Bloomberg piece on Xi Jinping’s family finances was more consequential: all the more so since associates of China’s incoming president issued death threats to the family of the journalist who wrote it. But that story doesn’t seem to be getting any traction at all.