In a tradition begun only last year, Xi Jinping gave his New Year speech sitting at his desk. Or ‘his desk’, since this could well be a stage set.
Interestingly, the bits that the commentariat generally picks up on as being dubious are the more believable aspects. It’s the parts that skip their notice that are oddest.
1. This year as last, everyone is surprised that the leader of the partially-free world doesn’t have a computer. Actually, this isn’t unusual. Party cadres and high ranking officials are notoriously tech-phobic. They tend to see computers as bits of specialist machinery manned by technical workers (secretaries). A tech-savvy Chinese official is one who knows how to open Win Solitaire without assistance.
2. The old-fashioned red and white phones. Again, less unusual than they seem. Organisations that take regular ‘advice’ from the government actually still have red telephones (and red faxes) by which they receive it.
3. If it’s a real office, that door at the back goes off to a private bathroom. The main door through to the secretary’s room is opposite the desk. I think this counts it favour of it being either real or an idealised replica of the real thing – if you were making a stage set would you add a fake bathroom?
4. The books look mostly like legal volumes. Clearly never used – not merely are they pristine, but you don’t put your family photos in front of books that you’re always consulting. Again, the bookshelves look fake but may not be – material that he actually needs to read will be brought in and taken away by his secretaries. On the other hand, in my experience, even when this is the case a lot gets left in situ, being referred to frequently. Either the real paperwork has been cleared out for the shoot, or it’s in the little cupboards at the bottom, or this is all fake anyway.
5. But the biggest red flag? No, not the red flag. The pot of pencils on his desk. I’m willing to believe that Chairman Xi has no computer and no paperwork. I’m not willing to believe that he writes everything in coloured crayon or black marker.