China’s new helmsman Xi Jinping scored points with reformers this week after taking what has been called the “Southern Tour 2.0.” The trip to Guangdong province, most notably Shenzhen, was a nod to late reformer Deng Xiaoping’s tour some 20 years earlier, when he reaffirmed China’s commitment to market reforms.
The tour was the most popular idea Xi had for kicking off his 10-year rule. Xi’s first suggestions, sending college students to wreak havoc in the countryside, or melting down all usable iron products in backyard kilns, met with less enthusiasm – although Mao Xinyu liked them. During a speech in Shenzhen, Xi proposed opening the southern city for Western-style economic reforms, the likes of which China had never seen. His advisors pointed out that they already did that, and Xi reminded them that he lived in a cave for much of his childhood.
Also during the tour, Xi said China must enhance openness and the rule of law. The word is that the new party secretary is eager to foster a freer internet after having too much difficulty googling his own name. Web censorship was eased that same day. Likely offsetting that move, however, was Liu Qibao’s promotion to propaganda minister. Liu recently reminded China what century it was when he said that “propaganda, ideological and cultural front lines … must serve the party.” China, along with Russia, also recently complained to the UN that it wants more control over its internet – because 10,000 internet censors and fake bloggers just aren’t enough.
Although out of sight during Xi’s trip to Shenzhen, inequality in China is posing a threat even greater than rampant access to information. A recent study showed the level of Chinese corruption is similar to that during the 1920s US. For proof, just look at the recent spike in speakeasys and riverboat gambling among farming communities in Henan and Anhui provinces.