Chinese Tycoon Criticizes Leader, and Wins Surprising Support
Ren Zhiqiang was called a capitalist traitor when he derided what he called an authoritarian turn in Chinese politics under President Xi Jinping. But journalists, scholars and party insiders came to Mr. Ren’s defense. Credit Color China Photo, via Associated PressBy CHRIS BUCKLEY, NYT
MARCH 18, 2016
BEIJING — When a sharp-tongued real estate tycoon publicly derided President Xi Jinping’s demand for unstinting loyalty to the Communist Party from the Chinese news media, the party’s response was predictably swift and harsh.
His microblogs, which had tens of millions of followers, were erased overnight. Party websites unleashed an onslaught, calling the tycoon, Ren Zhiqiang, a capitalist traitor in language reminiscent of the Mao-era purges. The authorities vowed further punishment.
What happened next, however, was a startling departure from the standard script.
Journalists, scholars and party insiders came forward to defend Mr. Ren. A professor at the party’s top academy spoke up. A prominent magazine rebuked censors. A letter supporting him signed by a staff member at the state news agency spread online. A party newspaper warned about the risks of crushing all dissent.
The unexpected backlash sent a shiver through the political landscape here, exposing deepening unease about the adulatory promotion of Mr. Xi and his demands for unquestioning public obedience.