September 14th, 2012
Prompted by the disappearance from public view in recent weeks of China's president-to-be Xi Jinping, Jeremiah Jenne takes the opportunity to remind us that China has a long history of absentee leaders:
Before China watchers get their tweed in a twist, it's worth noting that Xi's only been MIA for a little over a week. Mao took naps that lasted longer than that.
Sure it's a different era with Weibo and an active foreign press corps speculating wildly about everything from an infected hang nail to alien abduction, but in the pantheon of Chinese leaders going AWOL, Xi blowing off the Prime Minister of Denmark isn't even top ten. In the early 1990s Premier Li Peng went missing for months on account of the sniffles (Read: "heart attack") and it barely registered. Of course, that may have been because Li Peng is a douche. [...]
Nor are missing leaders a purely 20th century phenomenon. Zhu Qizhen (1427-1464) was a young monarch who came under the influence of the eunuch Wang Zhen. When a group of Mongols threatened Beijing, Wang Zhen convinced Zhu Qizhen to personally lead his troops against the enemy. Despite outnumbering the Mongols by something like 50-1, the Ming armies were completely routed after a series of strategic blunders so impossibly stupid they make General Custer look like Sun Bin. When the survivors finally bled their way back to Beijing, they looked around and noticed they were short an emperor.
The Mongols kept him around for fourteen years until they finally got sick of him and booted him back to China. Meanwhile the Ming court had gone ahead and enthroned Zhu Qizhen's cousin as the new emperor which made his homecoming … a little awkward. [...]