(a new word in Bird's vocabulary), a ‘great power.’ But it was going about achieving this goal in a relatively quiet, deliberate, and businesslike way. It was hard, really, to put any kind of definite face on China. The old Soviet Union with its squat, warty leaders banging their shoes on the UN podium and threatening thermonuclear extinction, all those vodka-swollen, porcine faces squinting from under sable hats atop Lenin's Tomb as nuclear missiles rolled by like floats in a parade from hell — those Commies at least looked scary. But on the rare occasion when the nine members of China’s Politburo Standing Committee, the men who ruled 1.3 billion people — one-fifth of the world’s population — lined up for a group photo, they looked like a delegation of identical, overpaid dentists….After days of studying photographs of the individual Politburo members, Bird still could barely tell one from another; though the one in charge of state security did at least look like a malevolent overpaid dentist.”—American novelist Christopher Buckley, They Eat Puppies, Don't They? (2012)
Tensions between China and the US are the highest in my lifetime, what with questions on the origin of COVID, allying with Russia, making threatening moves towards Taiwan, and surpassing the US as the world’s dominant economy. Xi Jinping’s consolidation of power into his own hands, in a way not seen in that country in decades, doesn’t make matters any easier.
Now, you can read this very serious Brookings Institution explanation of the latest members of China’s Politburo. But I must confess that it’s hard for me to think of this motley crew in the same way after reading Christopher Buckley’s satiric take on them in the above passage.
After more than a decade, however, Buckley might want to return to the subject of China. This time, with Xi’s continuing grip on the drills of power, he might want to show the Chinese Politburo of “dentists” themselves left toothless.
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