While some offsprings of the founding fathers of the People’s Republic of China, commonly known as hongerdai (second red generation), continue to play a significant role in China’s political arena, others lead a more ordinary life.
Their names may sound perfectly banal until the links to their parents are revealed. As such, there is pressure on them to live up the standards of their forebears. However, not all feel bad about living ordinary lives. For the most part, they are still engaged politically, trying to uphold their parent’s legacies and radiate their own influence.
“We, of the second generation, have a common personality, a shared sense of responsibility. We all want to make some contributions,” said Lü Tongyu, son of Lü Zhengcao, one of the first generals who witnessed the development of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and the founding of the republic.
In Beijing, people of Lü’s background gather from time to time to hold various activities and discuss topics ranging from family history to domestic and international politics.
In a gathering organized by Lü on Labor Day in Beijing to commemorate a “mopping up” counter-campaign held in Hebei 70 years ago, more than 800 members of the second generation attended. Although most were elderly and retired, all remained concerned for the problem of the country.
“Social problems are very prominent. Some corrupt officials have damaged the Party’s reputation. We truly worry a little that the power gained by our elder generations through hardship will collapse and be taken away in a day,” Chen Renkang, son of Chen Shiju, another founding general of the New China, was quoted as saying by Nanfengchuang magazine on May 23.
“If the country is not well-managed and well-treated, this is entirely possible. This has been shown throughout history,” Chen said.
Chen, born in 1952, is now the director of the labor union office with the University of International Business and Economics. Lü was a member of the editorial board for Computer Engineering and Design, a magazine run by China Aerospace Science & Industry Corporation (CASIC).
For these hongerdai who are outside the top echelons of authority, their glory has almost faded away and they have been marginalized. The pessimists among them, except for complaining they have been treated unfairly, have kept on living their normal lives. The more upbeat ones have not accepted merely being onlookers and have tried to make a difference in their own way.
Giving lectures to officials
In February, Gu Junshan, a lieutenant general and vice director of the PLA General Logistics Department, was dismissed and investigated for corruption. The news spread quickly among the second generation who praised the move as being part of a crackdown led by Liu Yuan, political commissar of the PLA General Logistics Department, and son of former Chinese Vice-President Liu Shaoqi.
Given their family background, it is natural that these sons and daughters of the mighty cherish the CPC’s image and prestige. But only a few among them hold political office and can wield power like Liu Yuan. Thus, revolutionary offsprings like Chen Renkang, who failed to obtain a political post despite their famed background, regret coasting along during their younger years.
“If I was an official, I would also dare to do what Liu has done. At least I wouldn’t allow corrupt officials to get promoted. We dare to make open criticisms mainly because of our families,” Chen said.
Chen’s father was a counselor of the Central Military Commission of China until his death in 1995. At the time, cadres told Chen’s father that if any of his children wanted to enter the army, they could arrange it. It was almost a tacit agreement that at least one child of the founding fathers could attain the rank of general. But Chen’s family rejected these offers of nepotism.
Chen has lived a quiet life and is strongly opposed against the luxurious lifestyles led by some officials.
In May, when his mother died, some old friends visited him. One said that they had been newly granted an 800-square-meter apartment. The house was a fixer-upper and repairs would cost about 1.6 million yuan ($250,000). This compares to an average price of 2.4 million yuan for an 80-square-meter apartment within the Fourth Ring Road in Beijing, which would take 40 years for an ordinary worker earning 5,000 yuan a month to afford.
In order to instill officials with right values, Chen has initiated a special class with Jiangxi Cadre College to invite second generation members to give lessons to nationwide grass-roots officials every year from March to November.
To Chen’s joy, the lessons appear to be having an effect.
“I don’t expect my class will affect the entire lives of the officials. I will be happy if it works for only a period of time,” Chen said.
Chen is not alone among the second generation in urging Party officials to be clean and upright by giving lectures nationwide. Some can use their family background and connections to share their concerns directly to the top leaders. Nevertheless, there is no formal channel for them to submit advice within the Party.
Value of an ordinary life
This weakened influence has also resulted from change and division within the ranks of the second generation. Some have entered politics, some have become businessmen while others have remained anonymous.
Lü says that living an ordinary life should be no shame, since their parents came from normal backgrounds as well.
“China is a country of grass-roots people, instead of a country of noble classes. This psychological doubt is born from ignorance,” he said.
Lü joined an ground-to-air missile unit in 1965, together with several other sons of founding fathers like Chen Yi, Su Yu and Peng Zhen.
One year later he was transferred to CASIC, which was then home to many children of his status. However, as the environment changed, many of them used their connections to move on. But Lü stayed unchanged despite his father having successively been assigned to several key posts, including Minister of Railways and member of the Central Military Commission. Some cadres hinted they could offer him big promotions, but he rejected them after his father told him that “a man is not measured by how high his rank is, but by how many things he has done.”
Lü’s father was the last survivor of the New China’s first 57 generals, who died in 2009 aged 105.
“As we grew old and returned to an ordinary life, we became more interested in understanding history and society. When debating, we do not use empty words or sing red songs. The masses can tell between right and wrong,” he said.
Some second generation members have harshly criticized social changes and have blamed the leadership. However, Lü disagrees and asks that each problem be viewed objectively.
Although he has ties to many in the Party, Lü has steered clear of arguments.
“It’s searching for trouble to interfere in political affairs when you are not in a government post,” he said.
Debate of privilege
Many people still question whether the second generation is a privileged group, enjoying special rights and interests, and even able to abuse power. This kind of talk was revived by the Bo Xilai incident.
Bo, the former Chongqing Party secretary and son of Bo Yibo, who joined the CPC in 1925 and was a CPC Central Committee member and Vice-Premier, was removed from the CPC Central Committee for suspected involvement in serious discipline violations. His wife and a confidant are suspected of murdering British businessman Neil Heywood.
“The public has misconceptions about the descendants of the founding fathers. They demonize us as being privileged and far removed from the grass roots,” Cai Xiaoxin, son of Major General Cai Changyuan, was quoted as saying by Nanfengchuang.
Since 2005, Cai, a military history researcher and writer after graduating from the PLA Academy of Arts, has led a one-man crusade against “fake red descendants.” So far, he has uncovered 200 such fraudsters, although some of them turned out to be true second generation members living corruptly.
The CPC has launched several campaigns to crack down on crimes by children and relatives of high-level officials. In 1986, six men, all family members of senior Party officials, were sentenced for rape in Shanghai.
Some second generation members seem to believe that this privilege is natural and they should receive high positions today, based on their parents’ sacrifices in the past.
Ji Pomin, son of former Vice-Premier Ji Dengkui, despises this sense of entitlement.
”The original Party members fought for the people, not for themselves. The Party must now serve the people. Power doesn’t belong to one single family and cannot be kept from generation to generation,” Ji said.
After his father died in 1988, Ji moved back to a large courtyard residence in Beijing to take care of his mother. He views this residence as a symbol of aristocracy. Last year, his mother passed away and he stands ready to give up the house at any time.
“There should be a regulation. In the US, the president moves out of the White House once he steps down. China is not an aristocratic society. These preferential policies should be ended now,” Ji said.
Source: Global Times