Shanghai welcomed a visit from Hu Jintao last month. Nothing unusual about that, you might think. After all, it should be the most regular thing in the world for China's president and the communist party secretary to drop in on the country's most dynamic city.
But, as it turns out, the visit was anything but regular. When the local media announced that Hu had visited the city – in typical fashion, they did not announce the trip until he had left! – they also revealed he had not been in Shanghai for four years.
Fat Dragon, for one, was gobsmacked, to use a British expression. Why hadn't Hu been in Shanghai for four years, and what was he doing here now?
There are some obvious answers to the first question. Hu hadn't needed to visit the city while Jiang Zemin was in charge because Shanghai didn't need him. They had all the support they wanted in Beijing and the many policies rolled out to allow the city to develop showed that.
The Shanghai Gang is not known by that moniker for nothing. The city often sends senior officials to other cities to work their magic, but trawl through their own top ranks, and you will see that this favour is not reciprocated. Shanghai rarely if ever accepts officials from outside the family into its own senior ranks. The flow is all one way, which allows the Shanghai Gang to consolidate its own networks and protect them from any dilution.
Hu, however, owes nothing to Shanghai, something that Fat Dragon believes was starting to worry city leaders. Last year, a scandal over real estate bought the city some unwelcome attention in Beijing and prompted fears of a Hu-led purge of the city leadership. And this year, Shanghai has suffered like everyone else in Beijing's credit squeeze. After more than a decade of stellar growth and praise from all quarters, Shanghai has not enjoyed this one bit.
Theories abound about Hu's visit – that he was here to read the city leaders the riot act about the credit squeeze; that he was asserting his authority over the Shanghai Gang, and so on.
Much of the commentary about Chinese politics, especially through the feverish Kremlinologists in the Hong Kong media, depicts all events through a prism of constant warfare between the Hu and Jiang camps. Fat Dragon is no innocent abroad but believes that the Hu-versus-Jiang prism is limited and probably mostly wrong for looking at day-to-day happenings.
For the most part, the two factions (Hu's power base is in the Communist Youth League) co-operate, because they need each other to keep China's economy ticking over.
Bearing that in mind, Fat Dragon believes that Shanghai was desperate for Hu to come, and after leaving them dangling for a while, the president deigned to drop in.
The visit was more about rapprochement than rancour. It also paid immediate results for Shanghai. About a week after his visit, the central government approved the construction of the tunnel and bridge to Chongming Island, something that, until then, Beijing had been refusing to approve.