The Coup

By Yaxue Cao

Mystery abounds. Suspense builds.

Millions in China, as someone on Twitter puts it, have been immersed lately in writing “movie scripts” of court intrigues in Zhongnanhai (中南海, gov’t headquarters in Beijing). Under normal circumstances, they can’t even get within 30 feet of its shining red gate guarded by soldiers with truncheons but, all of a sudden, it seems that scores, if not armies, of people live right under the beds of China’s supreme leaders, and are eavesdropping on all of their nightly whispers!

CCTV can’t be any happier. Its 7pm newscast sees a wobbling hike in viewership because its script, for once, becomes the most sought-after. Appearances are analyzed and then overanalyzed. Words are turned, over and over again, for hidden clues.

While I have stayed away from crafting my own version and drawing up a grand interpretation, I did enjoy seeing photos of tanks rolling on, purportedly, the streets of Beijing where people are seen to wear short sleeves in temperatures below 10 °C and trees are green and lush in March. Look out your window right now if you live in Beijing.

Never mind the “gunshots.”

The best script to date, now making rounds online, has all the markings of a Hollywood thriller in which nothing that has ever happened is accidental. Certainly not a wrecked Ferrari, a dead man and two naked women. (What idiot screenwriter would leave out stuff like that anyway?)

And to get around the censorship, all of the characters have assumed adorable names such as “Teletubby,” “the third young master,” “Senior Advisor Ling Hu,” and so on and so forth. Even “Tire” (yes, as in wheels and tires). Don’t ask me why, it’s spinning too fast to keep up.

I am not complaining.

Imagine you were me, an elementary school kid in a small town in northern China, waking up one morning in September, 1971. Green wooden loudspeakers, mounted on lamp poles, announced that Lin Biao (林彪), who until the day before had been the Deputy Great Helmsman, “closest comrade and designated successor of Chairman Mao,” was an anti-Party, anti-revolution, anti-Mao traitor who had just crashed to his death in–Ondorhaan.



The kid looked up at the sky, the blue, brisk September sky with outlines of mountains on the horizon, wondering whether all that she saw was real.

Next thing we knew, we were called to condemn Lin Biao and Kong Lao’er.


That was how Confucius was referred to at the time in the “Condemn Lin Biao, condemn Kong Lao’er campaign.”

Another girl and I, chosen for our quick memory and standard Mandarin, were assigned to memorize stories of Confucius’ “evil conspiracy to restore the reactionary old order,” well, 2,000 years ago. And forgive me, I have forgotten now how Lin Biao and Kong Lao’er were mashed together in our stories. We told these stories to the school assembly, to old men and women gathered in the courtyard of the Neighborhood Committee. Session after session.

By comparison, Season 2012 is so much better: Everybody gets to try their hand in script writing, all the names are pronounceable, and most thankfully, it is not a time-travel drama.

What a change.

All in all, I really like the word “政变” (zhengbian-coup).  It is quick, cutting, baked-dry. It hardens on your tongue and explodes on your lips the way the Monkey King launches himself into the air. With two successive fourth tones, it then lands resolutely on the ground.

Stylistically though, it’s hard to reconcile this wonderful word with those wax figures sitting motionlessly, expressionlessly, behind the rostrum.

Okay, time to go out and get on the street (via 阎克文th5 on Weibo):

“I was at a gas station a little bit ago to fill up the tank. There were about 60-70 cars in line, and ahead, there seemed to be some disturbance. A guy, who had been in line for almost an hour and still hadn’t reached the pump, finally lost his temper and was threatening to light up the gas station. I rushed up to help calm him down. I said, ‘Look, why burn things down here? I can take you to Beijing, and there you can burn down the buildings of Sinopec or CNPC. Wouldn’t that be more satisfying?’ Surprisingly at these words, the man fell quiet.”

10 responses to “The Coup”

  1. That says for itself. Isn’t it openness of gov’t the key? Then, of course, there is a deeply rooted problem of legitimacy for Chinese gov’t.
    I tell you this: in 1986, rumor about the downfall of “the gang of four” was way ahead in my ears before then Chinese gov’t said anything. For all these years passed, I see very little improvement, except, a little ease on money and porn.:)
    In any civilized system, Bo Xilai doesn’t have to be that way, he could quit, then campaign for any office, even higher up. Then, of course, he has to be honest about his own records, not having all those human rights abuses and corruptions, etc. to begin with.
    Military coup is never a good thing, doesn’t matter it’s China, Mali or previously Burma. What it does is that it destroys the progress of forming civil society.

  2. […] this week rumors of palace intrigue and a possible coup have been floating around most of them involving a possible split among the Standing Nine and the […]

  3. Meryl Mackay aka 马美丽 says:

    You are quite a character Yaxue! It is great to read this post and also to get George’s comment. Keep giving us this and “more power to your (writing) elbow!” Best wishes as always.

    • Yaxue C. says:

      Happy to hear from you, 美丽。Hope all is well with you and your husband.

      • Meryl Mackay aka 马美丽 says:

        I read everything you, Tom and Casey post and it gives me a most enjoyable break from nursing my husband, who is suffering with cancer. My interest in China is undiminished, even if my time restraints preclude me from (mostly) inflicting my comments on the erudite bloggers who follow Seeing Red In China!!!

      • Yaxue C. says:

        美丽,I am sorry to hear that. I pray your husband will get better.

  4. Meryl Mackay aka 马美丽 says:


  5. […] week Weibo was swept up in rumors of a completely imagined coup in Beijing (Yaxue covered the extent of the madness excellently). It seems that this week is bringing yet another wave of crazed speculation, again involving […]

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