The Ferrari Scandal

Another day, another scandal. The timing of this one is particularly disconcerting for the CCP, coming a few weeks before they are expected to hold the 18th Party Congress with a changing of the guard that takes place every ten years. This is an odd one with more questions than answers. Did the son of one of China’s highest-ranking officials really die when the Ferrari he was driving crashed into a wall in March 2011? What happened to the two female passengers who were reported to be in the car with him? Was his father demoted because of the embarrassing incident or were there other reasons? And then there’s the biggest question of them all: what was the son of a party official earning about $15,000 a year doing driving a half-million dollar car?

A fresh scandal has hit China’s leadership ahead of this autumn’s once-a-decade transition of power, with reports that a close ally of president Hu Jintao has been blocked for promotion or even demoted following his son’s involvement in a fatal Ferrari crash.

Photos of the horrific smash in Beijing were deleted within hours of appearing on microblogs and websites in March. Even searches for the word “Ferrari” were blocked on the popular Sina Weibo microblog – prompting widespread speculation that a senior leader’s child was involved.

Now unnamed sources have identified the driver of the black sports car as the son of Ling Jihua, who was removed as head of the party’s general office of the central committee this weekend, the South China Morning Post and Reuters reported.

Another article raises question about whether there even was a fatal crash:

Sources quoted by Reuters said at least one of the trio died but that the victims’ identities were unclear; one said the young man had survived….One of Ling’s room-mates at Peking University, from where he graduated with a degree in International Politics in 2011, said he had not been able to contact his friend since the crash.

“We have all been trying to get in touch with him since we heard about the car accident,” he said. “He was supposed to go to graduate school, but he has not been seen since the crash. The last time I saw him was in July 2011.”

“I really cannot tell what happened. But all of his friends said it happened, so I guess it must have,” he added.

While some reports say searches on Weibo for “Ferrari” are blocked, I saw some tweets from China this morning saying it’s not true. Needless to say, any mention of the story by the media has long been banned. The timing couldn’t be worse for the CCP, already beleaguered by the Bo Xilai-Neil Heywood scandals. The People’s Congress is all about harmony and unity, and that threatens to be overshadowed by an atmosphere of suspicion and outrage over the blatant corruption of the Party.The CCP is in a real bind, seeking to get out its message of harmony while people are seething over its lawlessness.

On a related note, I saw an opinion piece nearly a week ago that I think ties into the story above. It’s by perennial China critic Minxin Pei, who insists the bulk of the Chinese people are disgusted with their government while the overseas executives doing business there are utterly charmed.

One of the most glaring, if unremarked, oddities concerning China nowadays is how perceptions of its leaders diverge depending on the observer. In the eyes of the Chinese public, government officials are venal, incompetent, and interested solely in getting lucrative appointments. But Western executives invariably describe Chinese officials as smart, decisive, knowledgeable, and far-sighted – roughly the same adjectives that they once used to describe Bo Xilai, the disgraced Communist Party boss of Chongqing, before he was purged.

It is impossible to reconcile these views. Either the Chinese public is impossible to please, or Western executives are hopelessly wrong. But, given that daily experience places Chinese citizens in an infinitely better position than Western executives to evaluate Chinese officials and their conduct, one would have to conclude that they are almost certainly right. And that means that Westerners who have spent considerable time in China and consider themselves seasoned “China hands” need to ask why they have gotten it so wrong.

One obvious explanation is that Chinese officials are extremely good at seducing Western businessmen with friendly gestures and generous promises. The same officials who lord it over ordinary Chinese people often summon irresistible charm to woo Western investors.

You have to consider the source; I’m not sure how he measures most Chinese people’s attitudes toward the CCP. We need to remember that a 2009 Pew Research poll showed most Chinese are happy about the direction the government is taking the country, so who knows? From my own experience, which counts for little, I find the Chinese public’s attitude toward the government ambiguous at best: Yes, they’re slimy and corrupt and we have huge issues with them, but we can’t imagine China with any other kind of leadership. Meanwhile, these damaging scandals are not helping the party image, and one has to wonder if/when the Chinese say enough is enough. I remain pessimistic they will say this anytime soon. There is simply no alternative.

The Discussion: 42 Comments

The fact that someone’s son dying in a questionable way is enough to lose a Standing Committee appointment suggests one of two things:

1) The people drawing this conclusion are reading way too much into the connection theories here; the popularity of Ling Jihua in the Central Committee is a fabrication


2) Politics at the top of China is so divided, tense, and evenly balanced that even storms in a teacup, like this tragic accident, are enough to scupper careers like LJH’s.

The reason I say this is because LJH is not touching any of the lucrative positions of the Chinese construction-development state–the banks, the SOEs, real estate. Indeed the only way he could make money off his office would be abusing his role as a gatekeeper to Hu Jintao and senior officials–a hugely dangerous game as that would mean he would be stepping on the toes of pretty much all the CCP brass. (I can’t imagine for the life of me someone as rules-bound (守规矩) as Hu Jintao would ever let his aide take cash for being a personal gatekeeper.)

September 4, 2012 @ 8:43 am | Comment

I think Pei is right to an extent: there is a strain in the West that buys into a certain mythology about the Chinese leadership, i.e.: the country is run by nine enlightened engineers who act as benevolent, Confucian authoritarian, and the next wave of leadership will be more Westernized in their worldview. The Tom Friedmans of the world are especially guilty here. I think Pei would do better to target that crowd with his criticism.

Pei’s assertion that “Western executives” have a positive impression of Chinese officials seems a bit wrongheaded. Any business person operating in China, where government relations can make or break an enterprise, is going to be extremely careful to publicly praise, or at least not openly criticize, the Chinese government. What these same “Western executives” say behind closed doors is often another story. I know of very few business people, Western or otherwise, who have had substantive dealings with Chinese officialdom/bureaucracy and have come away overly impressed.

September 4, 2012 @ 9:00 am | Comment

OR, totally agree about Western businessmen forced to smile and kiss the ring of government, making grandiose statements of how supportive the government is blah blah blah. I used to write their press releases. I don’t know how Pei researched this opinion piece, if he did at all.

t_co: even storms in a teacup, like this tragic accident

This is hardly a storm in a teacup. This is a story of gross corruption at the highest level of government, even if you ardently believe Hu would never allow someone so high up to loot the goody bag. The fact is his son was driving a $718,000 Ferrari. That reeks. There is criminality here, and the fact it’s so high up makes this no storm in a teacup. This is a major scandal, and I don’t know how you can see it any other way.

September 4, 2012 @ 9:11 am | Comment

Red Star, my dear friend, you really do add a whole new dimension to the concept of teh stoopid. This incident is not about people having accidents with Ferraris. It’s about high-level corruption, censorship, the People’s Congress and the Chinese people’s disgust with their leaders. The astonishing fact that you would put up a link to an accident involving a Ferrari in the US as if there were some sort of equivalence — well, suffice it to say that this is simply you being Hong Xing, as usual, as you have been for some five or six years now. At least you are remarkably consistent.

September 4, 2012 @ 11:30 am | Comment

Oh, come now Richard! We all know that a Ferrari accident in the US is approximately equal to a million Ferrari accidents in China! It should be painfully clear that the crash in the USa was caused by a legacy of Imperialism, warmongering and disrespect for other countries’ sovereignty!

Whereas the Ferrari crash in China was caused by the driver suddenly remembering the Century of Humiliation, the Opium Wars and all those unequal treaties. We’ll never know the truth, but it’s perfectly possible that the driver was prescient and foresaw China’s unfair treatment at the Olympics in 2012 and suddenly lost control in anguish.

September 4, 2012 @ 12:02 pm | Comment

Wouldn’t that be a riot if it was Xi Jinping and not Hu Jintao who was forced to enact Spartan sumptuary laws. Comrades, you already borrowed the diarchy. Why not reach for the whole hog? If less is more just think how much more more would be.


That’ll learn’em, HongXing. That’ll learn’em.

September 4, 2012 @ 12:17 pm | Comment

I agree with Other Richard. On the record, obviously “western executives” need to publicly kiss ass if their companies plan to do any business in China. If anything, it merely adds to the impression that China officialdom is but one big cesspool, such that even legitimate public criticism of Chinese officials by western execs is more than enough to kiss deals goodbye. It’s all about the face, baby. All about the face.

Red Star is really quite adorable. I mean, it takes quite an intellect to derive from the Ferrari scandal that the key point in question is merely crashing Ferraris. It’s to the point where I go ‘wow, I don’t think it’s humanly possible for someone to think that’ only to have red star surprise me again and again.

September 4, 2012 @ 12:44 pm | Comment

The whole thing with Ling Jihua just shows how nobody understands the inner-workings of the Chinese leadership.

Nobody knows exactly what will happen in the transition later on in the year.

Nobody knows for certain what the policies of the next leadership will be.

Those who do speculate as to what is going to happen do so based on their own ideologies, agenda and interests.

September 4, 2012 @ 3:41 pm | Comment

Far lower-level officials are sending their kids abroad for expensive study and opulent lifestyles. A friend involved in helping Chinese students adjust to life in Britain sees the offspring of mid-tier city quzhang or small-town cops buying BMWs and living in high-end apartments. No word on if they actually study.

September 4, 2012 @ 3:54 pm | Comment

@Slim – That’s why London Metropolitan had it’s international status revoked – they didn’t bother to confirm whether international students were actually going to class.

September 4, 2012 @ 8:16 pm | Comment

To slim,
I guess there are a bunch of Bo melon melons running around. Sure would be interested to know how these officials can afford to send the little princes and princesses abroad.

September 5, 2012 @ 8:42 am | Comment

The century of shame is a nice thought, but it was alcohol, “My dad is a fixer for Big Specs Hu” and the close proximity of hot willing female flesh.

By the way, a great photo of the wreck here.

Trust John Garnaut to get the money shot.

No sex aid could survive that prang.

Sort of like the Ferrari is fast becoming the death car of choice for garbage offspring of the power elite.

September 5, 2012 @ 10:09 am | Comment

I am always told that the gallant leaders of the CCP are the dog’s danglies when it comes to their foresight and sheer cleverness. You know the sort of cleverness I mean…like Zhou Enlai’s “It’s too early to tell” type cleverness (though I have read that his interpreter said Enlai wasn’t actually referring to the 1789 French revolution…). Then this happens…and this sentence in the linked article sums it up:
“Professor Miao Di, of China Communications University, said those in power were not helping themselves by covering up scandals that could be exposed on the internet and mainstream media. “But it seems the Chinese Communist Party hasn’t thought of any better ideas,” he said.”

September 5, 2012 @ 10:17 am | Comment

Apologies, to continue. I think we should applaud young master Ling’s democratic ambition to exchange his precious bodily fluids with Uighur and Tibetan girls from the far peripheries of the Sino Empire.

Nah, that won’t fly.

The girls could be progeny of parents who turn up in colourful costumes at the Parliament ie opportunistic turncoat scum. In which case, they wouldn’t be hard to silence: “Shut your cake hole, or lose the driver, car, apartment, etc and a fast return to your humble origins and the hatred of your neighbours”.

Lets hope, their paymasters are ponying up with wheel chairs and attendants.

September 5, 2012 @ 11:13 am | Comment

The Communist Party are the arch-traitors of the Han nation. If there was any justice, they and their entire immediate families would be exterminated just as in China of old. The fact that so many of the corrupt venal Hanjian are fleeing for safe haven’s in the West is no longer upsetting to me. I consider it a good trade, a few million dollars here and there for erasing such traitorous and useless garbage from the Chinese gene pool and the eventual extermination of their lineages through the miscegenation of their daughters. I hope the UK, Australia, Canada, and the US enjoy their new loyal citizens.

September 5, 2012 @ 11:44 am | Comment

Wow Jing, you are certainly the new age eugenics king. In that sort of realm, there’s really no such thing as a “CHinese gene pool”. I wonder if you’re one of those who might advocate purifying the Han gene pool of ethnic minorities, Third Reich style. You seriously would look good in a white outfit with pointy hat, and that burning cross would be a great looking accessory item.

September 6, 2012 @ 1:17 am | Comment

Chinese from the south look quite distinct from their northern compatriots. They tend to be smaller, darker-skinned and some of them almost look Malay. I’m not quite sure how they would fit into Jing’s vision of a pure Han gene pool. Rather than nasty Balkan-style ethnic cleansing, it might simply be easier to let them go their separate ways? Hong Kong could certainly function as an independent state, even more so if it could take Guangzhou Province with it.
Taiwan has lots of brown aborigines and mixed-race people, so I’m guessing he probably doesn’t want it back either.

September 6, 2012 @ 6:19 am | Comment

I dunno – how is it that sinicisation is OK but miscegenation is not?

September 6, 2012 @ 7:28 am | Comment

Interesting Wikipedia entry….

September 6, 2012 @ 7:29 am | Comment

@Jing. I know you are having a field day of late and people are paying you attention by responding to your sententious drivel, but lookout for the figures on capital flight when wealthy Mainlanders decide it is time to jump ship and use that Western passport. Far more than a mouldy few million according to your cavalier calculation.

Such is the wealth divide.

@Peter They tend to be smaller, darker-skinned and some of them almost look Malay.

Crikey. I must check my passport…..thought I was in South China for all those years.

September 6, 2012 @ 8:25 am | Comment

Numbers in the article are…
“Chinese prosecutors say 18,487 officials, including executives from state-owned companies, have been caught during the last 12 years while allegedly trying to flee overseas with ill-gotten gains, according to this week’s issue of China Economic Weekly. The magazine described the typical “naked official” as a man in his 50s who was approaching retirement and had accumulated at least $13 million.

ThePeople’s Bankof China last year inadvertently made public a confidential study stating that 800 billion Chinese yuan ($126 billion at today’s exchange rate) had been siphoned overseas by thousands of officials in the government and state-owned companies from the mid-1990s until 2008.”

September 6, 2012 @ 9:28 am | Comment

You are incredibly short sighted. Productive capital is the creation of human individuals and what is lost is easily replaced by those with the skill and the will to do so. Germany had 7 million of it’s bravest and finest wiped out during world war 2. It was literally decimated as a full decile of it’s pre-war population was killed, leaving a nation of the sick, malnourished, and crippled; populated by women, children, and the elderly. Yet within a generation they had rebuilt their nation from a shattered remnant where their womenfolk sold their honor for chocolate and potatoes to the killers of their brothers, sons, and husbands to become once again the preeminent industrial power in Europe even with half their homeland occupied by foreign communists.

You can throw solid gold bricks from a helicopter to your beloved negro Tubby but it will not magically make them any more capable of sustaining let alone creating industrial civilization.

This is why all this talk of capital flight or corrupt officials is fundamentally irrelevant. It is akin to reading the shadow of a passing giant for portents of the future. The Communist party can take all 3 trillion dollars in reserves with them to Canada for all I care if it meant them out of my homeland for good because they are a poison that weakens us.

Goldethorpe, what ever gave you the idea that I support “sinicization”? The Confucianists notions of propriety have only served to weaken the Han people. Better Ran Min than An Lushan.

September 6, 2012 @ 11:11 am | Comment

Wow, Jing takes this whole deal about scorched earth then repopulating the homeland with pure Han seed rather seriously. That pointy white hat thing is suiting him more and more…same great concept, just with a different race. Man, this blog sure attracts all kinds…

September 6, 2012 @ 3:04 pm | Comment

SK, the bigger question of what range of people this blog attracts is what range of people China can live with. How do you integrate views from as wide a spectrum as one that spans Jing and Liu Xiaobo into an actionable, optimal consensus?

September 6, 2012 @ 4:41 pm | Comment

How do you integrate views from as wide a spectrum as one that spans Jing and Liu Xiaobo into an actionable, optimal consensus?

It’s interesting that you’d mention Liu Xiaobo and Jing in the same line, t_co. Here are two thoughts about Jing. He may be a humble little fellow who never dares to speak out in real life – there are many of them, and to integrate them isn’t much of a challenge. However, if Jing means what he says, you may as well ask how to integrate a gangster into a welfare board. Integration isn’t the issue in that case.

Besides, “integration”, in this context, is a term from a somewhat delusional branch of social engineering. I think it is the job of politics to set a framework for people to live with each other – if and how people want to “integrate” should be up to them, as long as they respect each others’ rights.

September 6, 2012 @ 5:09 pm | Comment

Okay, maybe that wasn’t the right way to put it.

How do you govern a country in such a way that neither people like Jing nor Liu Xiaobo will end up trying to foment a coup?

September 6, 2012 @ 6:27 pm | Comment

Is Liu Xiaobo trying to foment a coup? Do you believe that anyone would follow Jing if he tried to make a coup? Do you think coup-proofing should be the over-riding motive in government?

September 6, 2012 @ 7:10 pm | Comment

Is Liu Xiaobo trying to foment a coup? Do you believe that anyone would follow Jing if he tried to make a coup? Do you think coup-proofing should be the over-riding motive in government?

LXB is trying to change the government. Probably not a coup in the classical sense; definitely with the same end, however.

No one would follow Jing now. But I can Jing resonating with a China where economic growth has stalled and people are out of work, which concerns me.

Yes, yes, and yes. China has key moves to make in the next century if it is to reach its potential as the world’s largest economy and Asian regional hegemon. None of these moves can be made if political instability enters the equation… but things can’t be held down so tightly the entire country stagnates, either.

Hence the challenge is to take extremist ideas like Jing’s and LXB’s and draw out the positives, then integrate them into the existing political process to propel Chinese strength upward into space, and outward into the Indochina and Siberia, and into the Pacific and the Indian.

September 6, 2012 @ 10:24 pm | Comment

Remember that thread, folks?

September 6, 2012 @ 10:54 pm | Comment

@t_co –

That’s ridiculous. A coup means the forcible change of government, not change through democratic or negotiated means which is LXB’s stated goal. No.

Jing is a nut. Neither he nor anyone like him is likely to become influential in China. Again, no.

Coup-proofing doesn’t work if it’s the primary goal of the government, since it does not address the motives behind coups. Three times no.

Guys, I’m thinking we’re about to see the return of MW. Again.

September 6, 2012 @ 11:15 pm | Comment

Just to avoid misunderstandings: I don’t think that t_co is actually MW. His ideas just seem to be somewhat closer to MW’s than I first thought.

September 6, 2012 @ 11:23 pm | Comment

I don’t think they’re the same guy either, but these conversations always draw him.

September 6, 2012 @ 11:36 pm | Comment

Does Jing even live in China? If not, he has no role in any consensus anyhow, so I wouldn’t worry too much about that. And if the end-product is a vision of a racially pure Han country even if it is penniless, I can’t imagine people flocking to that.

Though I would agree with t-co in the sense that, when times are tough, it’s easy for the racist/xenophobic scape-goating mentality to take hold. In that sense, Jing might be an anonymous manifestation of Yang Rui, but several orders of magnitude nuttier.

September 7, 2012 @ 12:42 am | Comment

Though I would agree with t-co in the sense that, when times are tough, it’s easy for the racist/xenophobic scape-goating mentality to take hold.

That’s true for any society, SK. The CCP’s mantra is that Chinese society were more “vulnerable” for all kinds of temptations, while it is them who continue to create the conditions for just that calamity. That’s handy, isn’t it? Stirr up nationalism, then turn to the outside world, point at the mob (of an unknown size) behind you, and say: “Look at those dangerous fools! They need a strong hand! Help us to keep them down, rather than empowering them!”

With that approach – which isn’t only corrupt, but also unsustainable in the long run -, it is also easy to equate people like Jing and Liu Xiaobo. I call that moral disorientation.

September 7, 2012 @ 12:56 am | Comment

I’ve been racially vilified…..appalling. I thought that sort of thing only took place on CS.

September 7, 2012 @ 5:01 am | Comment

@KT – If you fancy some more, I’m still bitter about the Bodyline tour 🙂

But yeah, no place for that garbage, hence everyone putting Jing down as a nutter.

September 7, 2012 @ 5:15 am | Comment

To JR #36,
agreed. The CCP’s fascination with “stability” is self-serving, when she positions herself as the only possible means to achieving stability in CHina. In fact, what she provides is enforced stability, which isn’t actually stability at all. So “stability” in CCP parlance is a circular discussion.

On the other hand, as you submit, stability predicated on economic progress is real, and is “true for any society”. So what CHina needs to keep xenophobic tendencies at bay is continued economic progress, and she doesn’t need the CCP for that.

September 7, 2012 @ 10:34 am | Comment

I think the CCP’s fascination with “stability” reveals a particular instability, SK. The dangerous thing is that economic growth is the only thing that “legitimizes” the CCP. Everything else is fear. That’s pretty unstable in itself.

Beijing’s sermons about “stability” remind me of an alcoholic preaching the virtues of teetotalism. If there was stability, there’d be no need to keep talking about it. An almighty alcoholic has no time for withdrawal treatment.

September 7, 2012 @ 1:36 pm | Comment

How the heck did we get from Jing(o) the Han tribal warrior to Liu Xiaobo, the mild-mannered constitutionalist?

China as currently constituted and with its present behaviour will NEVER win acceptance as the Asian regional hegemon — unless perhaps it tries to do it the 1931-45 Japanese way. Even its allies and clients like North Korea and Cambodia don’t trust Beijing very much.

September 7, 2012 @ 4:25 pm | Comment

In the broadest and most generic sense, Jing and Liu Xiaobo might be similar…in that they both don’t approve of China under the CCP as it is currently constituted/administered. However, the specifics of their disapproval, and the solutions they offer, are night and day.

September 8, 2012 @ 12:05 am | Comment

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