China Central Television, the golden mouthpiece of Chinese authorities, aired its routine program “Economic News” on July 11 with an empty co-host chair. That empty chair belonged to Rui Chenggang. Rui, a famous TV anchor and a 2005 Yale World Fellow, was detained by police earlier that week for alleged corruption.
But unlike cases of silencing of Chinese journalists and activists, Rui’s arrest had nothing to do with transgressing sacred regulations of Chinese state journalism. According to flagship party newspaper People’s Daily, Rui possessed illegal stocks in a Chinese subsidiary of Edelman, an American public relations firm. It was also rumored that Rui had unfortunate ties to the “tigers” — top ranking party officials who are major targets of the Communist Party’s recent wave of crackdown on corruption.
But what mattered most to people was not Rui’s corruption. Many people applauded his arrest because of the perceived downfall of his hypocritical nationalism.
There are plenty of people raring to climb the social ladder by selling their soul, but few have been as successful as the 2005 Yale World Fellow. Rui’s biography even claimed that former Yale president Richard C. Levin nominated him for the World Fellowship. In addition, Levin regarded him as “an energetic young standard-bearer of the New China” in an introduction to one of Rui’s books.
In a way, Levin could not be more perspicacious. Nowadays a standard-bearer of China is someone who succeeds and thrives in the system, no matter what he does. Many Chinese Yalies are considered successes by their countrymen for their education in a world-renowned institution. Unfortunately, more and more people in China are starting to believe in the way Rui succeeds.
Rui speaks decent English, always dresses handsomely and speaks eloquently. But while he chants patriotic slogans, he does almost nothing to serve the country.
Rui’s approach is straightforward: championing China’s economic and political systems whenever there is a chance. This approach includes disparaging Western systems and values, such as constitutional law and democratic ideals, as well as nationalistic rhetoric to resolve the “image problem” that Rui believes China faces.
There is no doubt that Rui is an official “standard-bearer” but I’m suspicious whether his role does any good to society. Patriotism, which literally means “country-loving” in Chinese, should involve concrete efforts of love, not malicious acts to incite hatred or devious machinations to secure personal benefits.
Rui caught the public’s attention in 2007 when he used his blog to kick off a populist campaign to remove a Starbucks in Beijing’s ancient Forbidden City, capitalizing on people’s nationalistic sentiments and loathing of western brands. However, Rui himself always drove a Jaguar to work and never stopped flaunting his Zegna suits. The standard-bearer may not have enough faith in China’s own brands, or even if he does, he still prefers western luxury brands.
Rui is also notorious for his question to Gary Locke at the 2011 World Economic Forum in Dalian, China. He shamelessly asked the former U.S. ambassador to China whether his economy class plane ticket reflected the fact that the United States owed money to China. Locke replied that it was common practice for American officials to fly coach. Clearly, Rui, representing CCTV, intended to embarrass Gary Locke viciously, but his folly and his bloated patriotism only helped expose the corruption of China’s first-class-flying officials.
What’s more, Rui also desires to “represent” more than he is. In 2010, at a press conference of a Group of 20 meeting in South Korea, when President Obama intended to reward the last question opportunity to the host country, Rui got up and said, “I’m actually Chinese, but I think I get to represent the entire Asia.” This World Fellow cannot even represent China. He only represents his own type, with vulgar nationalism and deep-seated hypocrisy.
People like Rui claim to love the country but in reality only love their own positions in the country and the privileges that come with it. They don’t love the people; they are afraid to empower the powerless in the country. Many people like Rui believe China has an “image problem,” but this so-called problem cannot be solved through smart aleck cover-ups and shameless doublespeak. If these people have the slightest sense of responsibility for their beloved motherland, they should work to put more children in school, push for environmental protection and advocate for expanded democracy and the rule of law.
And yet, Rui was only detained for his corruption. Therefore, despite the widespread cheers that followed Rui’s arrest, it is not a downfall of Rui’s hypocritical patriotism. In the foreseeable future, whoever wins Rui’s empty chair may have the last laugh, under the perfect system which Rui loved with all his heart.
Yifu Dong is a sophomore in Branford College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.