BEIJING -- Many observers of China's 18th Communist Party Congress regard the weeklong gathering in Beijing as a turgid affair at which cadres spend most of their time agreeing with one another about the party's accomplishments of the past decade and looking to the future. In fact, though, there's a fierce, almost Olympics-like competition among the more 2,200 delegates in at least one respect: Who can praise the party most effusively?
Party Secretary Hu Jintao kicked off the contest on Thursday when he delivered a 100-minute, 64-page keynote speech titled, "Firmly March on the Path of Socialism With Chinese Characteristics and Strive to Complete the Building of a Moderately Prosperous Society in All Respects." The address was filled with buzzwords and catchphrases, including "scientific development" (19 times), "socialism with Chinese characteristics" (79 times) and "reform" (84 times). "The People" were mentioned 145 times.
And with that, the delegates were off to the races. Some, such as Qi Zhala, party secretary of the Tibetan capital, Lhasa, have a technique that focuses on employing as many of Hu's catchphrases as possible.
"During President Hu Jintao's speech, he gave a report and he talked about people's well-being. It's a good report," Qi said at a group discussion Friday on Tibetan affairs. "He also talked about scientific development, socialism with Chinese characteristics and reform. It's a good report. We should think of how to implement it."
Others try to use humor to score points. Liang Wengen, a delegate from Hunan province and chairman of the heavy-machinery manufacturer Sany Group, quipped Sunday,
"If a young man is a [Chinese Communist Party] member, it'll be easier for him to find a girlfriend."
"Most of the CCP member's wives are more beautiful than the wives of non-CCP members," Liang told reporters at the media center. "Chinese girls love CCP members. Why? That's because CCP members are ambitious. That's why I dreamed about joining the party at a very young age. I tried to join the party persistently after graduating from college."
Then, in a move akin to a platform diver’s decision to add a twist to increase the degree of difficulty and win a higher score, Liang quickly shifted modes into saccharine devotion. "I will always put the party's interests as my No. 1 priority," he added. "All my assets, including my life, all belong to the party."
The competition is not only a domestic affair. During the party congress, the state-run New China News Service has published numerous remarks from foreign dignitaries and others extolling the achievements of China's communists. The agency recently quoted Inacio Arruda, a senator and member of the Brazilian Communist Party, as saying in a telephone interview that "China has now become Asia's newly emerging giant, and the second-largest economy in the world. China's rise is rooted in its adherence to the socialist road and the CCP's leadership."
But Chinese netizens seem inclined to hand this year's crown for most effusive display of praise for the party to delegate Ju Xiaolin, whose technique is all about emotion.
On Thursday evening, Ju -- a migrant worker from Shaanxi province turned railway repairman -- teared up at a group discussion as he read a poem he had composed after Hu’s keynote speech.
"I found it! I found it! I found the new hope in my heart!" he read, choking up. "At the podium in the Great People's Hall, in the powerful voice of President Hu and from the 38 times of claps echoing in the Great People's Hall, in the 64-page report of the 18th CCP congress, I finally found it! I found the new hope in my heart!"
Not only did Ju compose a poem, he also illustrated it with a drawing of a magnifying glass with a heart-shaped frame.
Beijing TV captured Ju’s emotional moment on camera, and interviewed him about his illustration. By midday Monday, the video had been viewed more than 62,000 times online. Of those who had watched, 230 gave it a thumbs-up, while more than 4,700 gave it a thumbs-down.
"Now you can finally enter the ranks of the 10 most shameless people in China," one critic wrote. Said another: "Wow, I'm really excited after watching your video. I have three feelings: disgust, disgust and disgust."
A third viewer, apparently a migrant worker himself, commented: "Please do not represent me. I do not need you to represent me. You have shamed the entire world of migrant workers."
With three days left in the party congress, though, Ju can't rest easy -- there’s still time for a come-from-behind victory from a dark-horse contender. May the best cadre win.
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Tommy Yang and Nicole Liu contributed to this report.