How a Ferrari Crash May Have Unsettled China’s Leadership Transition

There is still much that is unknown about the March car crash, but it seems to have caused some serious political drama

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Andy Wong / AP

Ling Jihua, an ally of Chinese President Hu Jintao, second from left, looks on as Hu signs a document after attending the closing ceremony of the National People's Congress in Beijing, on March 14, 2010

During a Beijing spring filled with salacious political gossip about the downfall of senior government official Bo Xilai, the March 18 crash of a Ferrari on the outskirts of the city was just one more shocking episode in this cloistered capital. As the rumor mill in Beijing worked overtime, I heard scandalous but totally unconfirmed whispers from Chinese journalists employed at government-run publications and other well-sourced insiders. The driver of the black Italian sports car was the son of a high-ranking government official, they alleged. There were two young women in the car. Astonishingly, the ladies were not members of China’s Han-ethnic majority, but Tibetans. One (or more) of the car’s occupants had perished in the crash.

Each tantalizing, unprovable detail prompted further questions. How had the son of a Communist Party official, whose salary is relatively meager, managed to acquire a Ferrari? Tibetans have been so despondent over Communist control over their land that dozens of local youngsters have self-immolated in recent months, sparking a massive security crackdown by the Chinese government. So what were members of this oft oppressed minority doing in a vehicle supposedly driven by a party scion?

(MORE: Murder, Lies, Abuse of Power and Other Crimes of the Chinese Century)

There is still much that is unknown about the March car crash. But months later, the political fallout from the possibly fatal accident appears to be this: Ling Jihua, formerly President Hu Jintao’s political lieutenant and the purported father of the young male driver in question, has been transferred to a lesser position as the head of a department dealing with China’s relations with various nonparty and overseas organizations.

The job change, which was announced over the weekend, added fresh fuel to rampant conjecture on how the country’s upcoming leadership transition will play out. Already, what was supposed to be a choreographed, once-a-decade exercise was thrown off-script by Bo’s arrest and the suspended death sentence given to his wife for murdering a British businessman last year. Now, the handover from President Hu to his presumptive successor Xi Jinping has been further shaken. Analysts believe the pair has spent the past few months jockeying to place men loyal to them in key leadership posts. Ling’s replacement as the head of the blandly named (but very important) General Office of the Chinese Communist Party’s Central Committee is Li Zhanshu, a man seen by some as an ally of Xi.

The Hong Kong–based South China Morning Post, which on Monday named Ling as the father of the Ferrari driver, reported that one of the women in the car was Tibetan (as I had been told earlier) but said the other was Uighur, a member of another restive minority group, in China’s northwest. Another source, who claims to know a relative of one of the young women, has said the girl’s family is a privileged Tibetan one who profited from government connections. Tibetan discontent with the Han has grown with an influx of Han migrants into Tibet and a sense that locals aren’t able to share in the wealth generated from natural-resource investments. However, a portion of the Tibetan community has grown rich from these business deals. The South China Morning Post said both women were students at Minzu University in Beijing, which educates members of China’s ethnic minorities. (The other source was unable to confirm this fact and maintains that both were Tibetans.)

(PHOTOS: Race Riots Continue in China’s Far West)

Rumors that Ling’s son was involved in the March wreck emerged quickly on exile-Chinese websites, which also played a key role in first airing some of the juiciest details of the Bo scandal. In early June, Boxun, a website that is run by a Chinese émigré in the U.S., reported that the trio in the car, one of whom it identified as Ling’s son, were engaged in sex games before the wreck. Boxun said that high-level officials, including someone from Ling’s General Office, were rapidly dispatched to the crash site.

Intriguingly, a day after the accident, the Beijing-based Global Times, a populist newspaper with links to the Communist Party, initially reported on the crash even as online speculation quickly led China’s censors to block even the word Ferrari from local Web searches. The Global Times story, titled “Ferrari Crash Information Hushed Up,” reported that “almost all online information about a car crash on Sunday, in which a man driving a Ferrari was killed and his two female passengers injured, has been deleted overnight, triggering suspicions as to the identity of the deceased driver.” That article, which relied on reporting and photography from a Beijing Evening News journalist, is now no longer easily available on the Global Times website.

The nexus of rich youngsters and Ferraris has proven particularly deadly this year in Asia. On Tuesday, the 27-year-old Thai grandson of the businessman responsible for energy drink Red Bull was arrested for allegedly crashing his dark gray Ferrari into a motorcycle-riding policeman, then using his car to push the man’s body down the road before driving into family’s gated residence. In May, a 31-year-old Chinese investor plowed his red Ferrari into two other vehicles in Singapore, killing three people, including himself, and galvanizing local anti-mainland-Chinese fervor. The crash, which killed a Singaporean taxi driver and a Japanese tourist, also prompted criticism of the Singaporean government for allowing large-scale mainland-Chinese immigration to the city-state. The politics of wayward sports cars, it seems, isn’t limited to China.

MORE: How Bo Xilai’s Fall Will Affect China’s Leadership Transition

24 comments
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pingchenli
pingchenli

Obviously the media has gotten a gist of the truth but not entirely. Well that usually happens but i do believe that the media covered up the sports car incident in china. 

JP Lanham
JP Lanham

If I didn't know better, I'd say China is ripe for a communist revolution.

tma_sierrahills
tma_sierrahills

"Tibetans have been so despondent over Communist control over their land that dozens of local youngsters have self-immolated in recent month"

By flooding Tibet with people of a different ethnicity, Tibetans and their culture are being systematically demographically erased by central government elites. Glad something like that could never happen here.

pingchenli
pingchenli

It's sad. I heard one of the reasons why some of the other minorities in china are rebelling is also partly of practicing their own religion like the Muslim Chinese. I think religion is posing a problem for the government if they can't control it. Much explaining the incident of the government interfering with Catholicism in Beijing. 

tma_sierrahills
tma_sierrahills

What you say is very interesting, thank you. One defense that can be made of China in continually trying to spread the influence, culture and genetic stock of the Han Chinese, is that the government is favoring their own main ethnic group, which no matter how such policies might hurt others, represents the historical norm around the world. Whereas for Western European ethnic elites in America, Canada, Australia and Western Europe it has become fashionable to try to demographically erase their own people and conduct the never-approved-by-voters policies that will accomplish this suicidal goal. 

boonteetan
boonteetan

The bottom line is corruption in China has become such a fierce and practically uncontrollable wild fire, threatening to engulf the political fabrics in Beijing.  (mtd1943)

MIRIAM VALLE
MIRIAM VALLE

Find out more info about Ling Gu here http://fandaily.info/?p=32099 Shame on China politicians!! then again China might not be the only country covering this or even worse scandals, right?

sscarzz
sscarzz

They should of been driving a 62'   Chrysler Newport.

blogengeezer
blogengeezer

In China, the Buick has long been the most recognizable 'foreign' car. Dating back to before WWII and the Japanese occupation, Buicks were well known and envied as the vehicles of the Aristocracy. Now GM is using it's strong foothold in rapidly developing China, as it sets up manufacturing across the industrial zones of China. The GM source of funding for the 'expansion'? The Obama STIMULUS, 'given' to GM for a US tax Payer share, in the Govt owned GM. As Nancy Pelosi is famous for saying about Obamacare, "We have to Pass it, to see what is in it". BTW Ferrari offers a four passenger model...as noted by knowledgeable others. China is suffering it's growing pains as have all prosperous societies. 'Prosperous' or even Poverty infested countries are not immune from abuse of power and scandal. 62 Chrysler would have been a good 'political' choice... if still operating. Even Cuba wore out their Chryslers long ago. :>)

michelhb
michelhb

This whole story sounds a little implausible to me.  Every Ferrari I know of is a two seater with a manual transmission.  Even getting three people into the car is pretty tricky and would require somebody sitting in someone else's lap.  Even if you manage to accomplish this astounding feat of contortion, good luck playing any kind of sexual games.  While there may be some basis of truth to the story, I seriously doubt it is anywhere near as juicy as they are making it out to be.  Sounds like typical political mud slinging to me.  Not that I give a rat's backside about China or it's politics.

john hamm
john hamm

Maybe the Ferrari you know is only on Playstation 3 and Xbox.

spencer
spencer

I bet you are a republican who loves to eat shit right out of Faux new's hands.

phil hamilton
phil hamilton

you dont know ur ferrari's

F1 transmission, NOT a manual

Regular_SF
Regular_SF

FYI...Ferrari FF is a four seater.

michelhb
michelhb

Fair enough.  I'm not familiar with the model.  Though the article doesn't mention the model as far as I can see. 

hot_pants
hot_pants

You're a simple minded person aren't you

michelhb
michelhb

I don't see anything in my post that merited a personal attack by you or anyone else.

Bob_McRedmond
Bob_McRedmond

The Chinese Communist Party, nothing surprises me anymore about this monolithic authoritarian structure, it has internal workings that are part 16th century european court politics and another part that is seedy and corrupt in a far more contemporary way. One thing remains certain, as long as the Peoples Liberation Army is willing to shoot or crush under tank tracks any opposition to this corrupt regime, the spoiled brats of their top party bosses can smash as many Italian supercars as they want.

At least the princeling brat seems to be the one who died, not one of the women, so this story is not compeletly depressing.