With unusual and vivid detail, the Chinese are beginning to expose the wealth and privilege enjoyed by top party leaders behind high brick walls at the center of this Communist capital.
Some parts of the official press, officially tolerated wallposters and private government reports obtained here have described private planes, expensive junkets and huge mansions enjoyed by a few top leaders living in the Zhongnanhai compound west of the old imperial Forbidden City.
One official in Anhui Providence was dismissed and ordered out of his house after he was found guilty of "extravagant" use of government funds, Chinese news media reported today. The official was identified as the deputy director of the metal industry bureau at Jingxian. Although he was a relatively minor official, the attention given the incident in the government press is seen as a warning to other, higher-ranking officials.
Although many of the revelations appear to be part of another struggle to weaken or oust a faction in the Politburo, Peking residents say they provide ususual glimpses at long-suspected differences between the lives of a few dozen leading personalities and the rest of China's nearly 1 billion people.
Two large wallposters left untouched by government censors, and pasted up just three blocks from Zhongnanhai, describe a mansion housing China's sixth-ranking leader, security expert Wang Dongxing. One poster said Wang's home, set up like others in the compound around a beautiful hidden lake, included 11 suites for his children, a movie theater, a gymnasium, double roofing and triple-glazed windows.
Wang's building in Zhongnanhai totaled about 48,000 square feet and cost about $4.4 million, a cost of about $90 a square foot, the poster said. Two months ago a poster accused Wang of embezzling the money. The poster said the Great Hall of the People and the Peking Hotel, the city's best, cost only about $40 per square foot. The average Chinese apartment cost only $7 a square foot to build.
Yesterday, an article in the official People's Daily complained of officials riding in huge motorcades with security vehicles in front and behind. The attack on overdone security procedures seems to relect on Wang, who for years supervised the secuity detail for the late chairman Mao Tsetung and other top leaders.
The group of veteran officials, led by Vice Premier Deng Xiaoping, who now appear most influential in China, have encouraged attacks on Wang before. Wang and other holdovers from the Mao era, like Peking commander Chen Xillian, are thought to be threats to Deng's effort to deemphasize ideology and let the country be run by technical experts.
But the attack have also touched people close to Deng, indicating genuine concern that unusual privileges enjoyed by top leaders of all factions may damage their influence and popular support for the government and the Communist Party.
A government report circulated privately among party leaders has criticized Vice Premier Chen Muhua, one of only two women of the ruling Politburo, for her use of a special plane on a trip to Romania earlier this year.
Chen, deeply involved in economic relations with foreign countries, reportedly was asked by some Chinese athletes paying an official visit to Romania if they could fly home with her because they had taken ill. She reportedly refused and insisted the plane's crew fly her home alone. Her action, some informed sources say, has resulted in vice premiers being denied special plane privileges.
In another case described in privately circulated reports, 500 prominent Chinese used state funds to sail to Japan a few months ago for visits to selected Japanese ports. Although the boat allegedly included delegates from "all walks of life," many appeared to be included because they were related to high party officials -- including the brother of Deng.
A long commentary in the People's Daily last week said "some regulations provide for a degree of privilege for officials far beyond what is necessary, far above the people's standard of living and not in keeping with the reality that our country is still very poor and backward.
"Some of these regulations were copied from the Soviet Union and form a strick hierarchy divorced from the masses. Some still bear the marks of the supply system, with everything taken care of by the state. Some even retain the characteristics of feudalistic special privileges."
The commentary also mentioned that "some comrades, although they have been promoted again and again, keep intact their glorious quality of plain living and hard struggle."
Some veteran leaders appear to be trying to create a more or less privileged image for themselves. When Deng took a vacation at Anhui Province's Yellow Mountain resort last month, his admirers passed the word that he had walked up the mountain on foot. His wife and daughter, someone said, however, had to be carried up by porters.
The main entrance to Zhongnanhai compound in Peking is guarded by soldiers and ordinary Chinese rarely enter. But some peasant demonstrators have gathered near the entrance in recent months to complain of poor living conditions.
Foreign diplomats, eager for a look inside, have been kept at arm's length. The last time any Americans are thought to have entered the inner sanctum was in 1976 when former president Richard Nixon visited Mao at his Zhongnanhai home, relatively modest by most descriptions.
But many foreign diplomats got a taste of the Politburo life earlier this year when they were invited to a ball held by Cambodian Prince Sihanouk in a mansion he occupied here. "The place was really luxurious, with olympic-sized pool, movie theater and ballroom," said one diplomat. "I can only surmise it was built for some unnamed Chinese leader."