BEIJING - To outsiders, Chinese politicians and officials are probably as dull and boring as they come, like they were all cut from the same cloth.
It’s different when it comes to their names, which can tell an interesting story. The name that a Chinese newborn is given often carries the hopes and ambitions that their parents or grandparents harbour for them.
It has thus become one of my favourite pastimes to spot standout names while reporting or reading about the Chinese leadership.
Starting from the top, Chinese Communist Party chief Xi Jinping’s name means literally nearby (jin) peace (ping). Interestingly, his younger brother is called Yuanping – faraway (yuan) peace (ping).
The name of Mr Liu Yunshan, the fifth-ranked member of the Politburo Standing Committee (PSC), evokes poetry – cloud (yun) and mountain (shan) often figure in the works of Chinese poets.
When it comes to Communist Party official Ling Jihua, the Chinese character for his surname stands for “order” while jihua means “plan”.
His four siblings – three brothers and one sister – also have unique names: Luxian (route or itinerary), Zhengce (policy), Wancheng (complete or completion), and Fangzhen (blueprint).
Once a top aide to former President Hu Jintao, Mr Ling was head of the party’s powerful General Office and had been tipped for promotion into the 25-member Politburo last November.
But an alleged attempt to cover up his son’s death in a car crash dashed those hopes and he was transferred to a less influential post. I guess you can say Mr Ling’s “plan” fell through.
The person who took Mr Ling’s old job, Mr Li Zhanshu, stepped up the game. No “plan” but a written war challenge (zhanshu) for him.
Here’s another batch of interesting names: Public Security Minister Meng Jianzhu – build a pillar; Commerce Minister Gao Hucheng – tiger city; Mr Li Wusi, a member of the Communist Party’s disciplinary commission – “five four” because he was born in 1954.
Among the leaders who just stepped down, former Premier Wen Jiabao, who comes from a commoner background, was probably the “family treasure”.
In China, one-word names are common, but many, when combined with the surname, take on a whole new meaning.
The deputy party boss of southwestern Yunnan province is called Qiu He, which mean revenge and peace respectively. The Chinese character for the surname is the same as that for revenge, pronounced “chou”.
The name of coastal Fujian province’s party boss, Mr You Quan, is pretty special too. You stands for special or outstanding and quan means authority. Talk about being destined for bigger things.
Another provincial party boss, Mr Qiang Wei, of central Jiangxi province, looks more like a scholar than protector, as suggested by his surname, which means strong, and wei, to protect.
Then there’s Mr Shi Shenglong, a member of the Guangxi autonomous region’s standing committee. His surname is the character for rock, while Shenglong means to give birth to a dragon.
Communist Party Central Committee member Leng Rong’s surname stands for cold while Rong means melt. Makes me wonder if the president of the China Institute of Communist Party Literature Research has an ice-cold personality to match.
The list is endless.
Clearly, anyone hard put to come up with a name for their children can perhaps draw some inspiration from the names of Chinese politicians.
I already have a few recommendations for friends who may need some help – and perhaps for my own children in the future too.