There is an old Chinese saying that you can find golden treasures in books. Teachers and parents love to tell this to their children to convince them that studying is the best ticket to a rich and prosperous career.
I always thought this was a symbolic expression. But my recent shopping experience at some mainland bookstores showed the idiom is probably true in the literal sense.
Perching high on the shelves, there are volumes of glittering classics with solid gold bindings and covers, and gold-leaf pages. Adverts for them are everywhere.
Only a handful of titles are deemed suitable for such extravagant publication, including The Thoughts of Chairman Mao and The PLA Marshals on the Art of War.
If you ever doubt that anyone would pay up to 22,600 yuan for these unwieldy tomes, cast your suspicions aside. They sold like hot cakes, so to speak, during the Lunar New Year holiday.
So who are these free-spending bookworms? I found the answer to that question in the footnotes of the advertisement: 'A suitable gift for your friend working in politics.'
The truth of this statement dawned on me, when I considered the dangers involved for cadres in accepting gifts of diamond necklaces or Rolex watches. Their political adversaries could easily use the sincere expression of friendship represented by such gifts to attack their integrity. Or worse, they could face disciplinary action if found to have breached regulations, given the current stench of corruption.
More than 80 per cent of the corruption cases handled by anti-graft authorities in recent years have involved the taking or giving of luxury gifts. Presenting the wrong luxury gifts to your 'friend working in politics' could be as bad as not giving him or her anything.
Fortunately, we can always find a good solution in books. Who could question a virtuous comrade's zealous pursuit of Mao Zedong's golden thoughts? How could anyone doubt the scholarly love two men share for the wisdom of our republic's foundering fathers?
And not just books are involved. Overseas study tours, preferably to some scenic European cities, would work just as well.
Twenty years ago, the hot gifts for 'political friends' were colour televisions and fridges. Then, it was gold necklaces and Rolex watches. Today, it is 'culture'. Spending a fortune on a gift does not always work; you must learn to be subtle and clever, as well.
This brings me back to my school days. One professor of politics always told me that the thoughts of Chairman Mao were glittering, timeless truths. How young and naive I was to have ever doubted his words.