Towards the end of 2015, a phrase started appearing on the Chinese Internet that was once made famous by Chinese author Lu Xun [1881-1936]. From there, it resonated from the hilltops to the seas, going viral immediately.
This phrase—"the Zhao family" and its opposite, "the non-Zhaos"—is the most vivid expression of the relationship between the rulers and the ruled, officials and the public, the elite and the ordinary people, "them" and "us," to have emerged in recent years.
Of course, the Zhao family has its origins in Lu Xun's "The True Story of Ah Q." In the story, old Grandpa Zhao spits out, when Ah Q (who shares the same surname) dares to cheer along with the Zhaos: "You think you're worthy of the surname Zhao?"
As Qiao Mu points out on the website of the Eastern Daily News, the popularity of this playful form of deconstruction comes at a time of political regression and ever-tighter Internet censorship.
But what's wonderful about the Zhao family meme is that it explains a good many Chinese political phenomena, and, in doing so, stands in opposition to official ideology.
For example, it neatly encapsulates phenomena relating to the government, the people, and different ethnic groups to the point of being revelatory
A family empire
Our National Security Law is a Zhao family security law. National sovereignty is Zhao family sovereignty, while someone suspected of subversion is suspected of subverting the Zhao family.
State-owned enterprises are Zhao family businesses; the People's Liberation Army is the Zhao family liberation army, and the rule of law is the rule of Zhao family law.
Core socialist values are core Zhao family values, while faith in communism is faith in the Zhao family. In other words, China is the Zhao family empire.
Seen in this way, it becomes clear that, for a long time now, the Zhao family has presided over everything, creeping in to take the emperor's spot under another guise, and ripping off the Chinese people.
Once people figured out this scam, the non-Zhaos were in an uproar.
People have figured out what it means to be a member of the Zhao family, and what it means not to be a member. It's hard to find a neater way of describing this situation than these two oppositional concepts.
Let's look at who profits, for example.
In the past three decades or more, the Zhao family, even those in the lower ranks, have seen the wealth pour in to the tune of tens of billions of dollars. Meanwhile, ordinary people face all manner of hardship, and struggle to afford healthcare, education, housing and pensions.
The sums involved have been sufficient to create the distinction between the Zhaos and the non-Zhaos, the opposition between "us" and "them."
'Busy with projects'
And it seems that the Zhao family don't care about this opposition. In the past three years, they have been busy with three main projects: sorting out the [ruling Chinese Communist] Party, sorting out the military, and sorting out society as a whole.
Through the anti-corruption campaign in the military and the party, through the persecution of lawyers, journalists, scholars, and nongovernment organizations (NGOs), they have plunged the entire country into fear and anxiety.
As we enter 2016, how will the tension between the Zhao family and the outsiders play itself out? It looks as the Zhao family will continue to consolidate its monopoly on power and resources in its capricious, unreasonable, and arrogant way.
For example, it recently detained people in Hong Kong who had believed themselves under the protection of the "one country, two systems" arrangement promised to them by the Zhao family, just because it could.
The head of the Party school told a meeting recently that Party members should act like members of the Party.
Actually, they're members of the Zhao family, which has moved in to take greater control of higher education institutions, the judiciary, and the media, all of whom have been required to swear fealty to the head of the Zhao family.
Perhaps this year, the Zhaos will continue to work their magic, tightening the straitjacket still further. If so, then 2016 will be an even darker year, politically, and the gulf between the Zhaos and the non-Zhaos will deepen still further.
No interest in reforms
As for those long-awaited political reforms, the Zhaos clearly aren't interested, as they have too many drawbacks.
Those who want them, the ordinary people, aren't the ones who hold the power, and they lack freedom of speech and political participation, in spite of the endless discussion of reforms in the Zhao family media outlets.
The people lack confidence in the government, in the Communist Party, in the country's future, and ultimately in the Zhao family.
So, what changes can be expected in 2016?
I don't think even the Zhao family knows, in spite of all their talk of self-confidence in their political theories and system. They're not even sure if they can hang on in there.
They are terrified of a revolt by the non-Zhaos, which is why they've been doing their utmost in recent years to strike at their very backbone.
The scene is set; the battle lines are drawn. What will happen next?
Translated by Luisetta Mudie.
Wei Pu is a U.S.-based economist and a regular contributor to RFA's Cantonese Service.