Why Do Political Families tend to Appear in China

Written by He Qinglian on Sept 13, 2011
Translator could not be identified (yet)
Slightly modified on Oct 14, 2011

Breeding the Political Family (Original Title given by the anonymous translator)
Reproduced from http://www.sammyboy.com/showthread.php?102414-Breeding-the-Political-Family
Post Posted by "nin-nao-hiah"

A report, “Investigation of Political Families in Zhong County,” was published by Southern Weekend on Sept. 1. The author, Feng Junqi, is a Ph.D. candidate in Sociology at Beijing University. He was once a vice mayor and assistant to the mayor in a county in central China. This experience gave him the opportunity to observe the county’s intertwined political relationships.

Based on how many cadres a family produced, the author categorized these “political families” into “large clans” and “small clans.” Families having more than five cadres with ranks higher than deputy chief of section are classified as “big clans,” and those between two to five are “small clans.”

There were 21 large political clans and 140 small political clans in Zhong County.

The monopolization of political resources by a few families has been a serious phenomenon in China since the 1990’s. In my book “The Pitfalls of Modernization,” I told the story of Shi Qingfeng of Woyang County, Fuyang District, Anhui Province. The Shi clan, which consisted of three families related by marriage, had over 40 members who were section-level officials, and close to 10 members who were county-level officials. [It was with this huge interpersonal network that Shi Qingfeng could do whatever he felt like to in the county]

Another article published in Southern Weekend on Jan. 27, 2011 reported how the upper management of Qingyuan Salt Industry General Corp., a state-owned company in Guangdong Province, is dominated by a complicated nepotistic network. Out of the 45 employees of the company, 28 work in managerial positions, and 15 have relatives working in the same company, which includes three couples, two sisters, uncle, nephew, niece, and so on.
In modern politics, if a country’s political resources are monopolized by members of certain families, it is a sign that the recruitment of the country’s talent and elite has seriously gone wrong.

Taking a sweeping view of the history of the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) 60 plus years of rule, it has never broken away from selecting the elite based on blood relationship, except during the brief period between the 1980’s and early 1990’s, when “the principle of achievements” was followed.

Let me explain why there are so many political families in China.

Firstly, political families have existed for a long time in China’s history. From Yin to Wei, Jin and the Northern and Southern Dynasties, political power was distributed in a hierarchical structure, and succession was hereditary. In the Sui and Tang Dynasties, hereditary succession was replaced by the Imperial examination system, except for emperors and a few aristocrats.

This semi-open sociopolitical system ensured a narrow passage for talent to climb up the ladder. However, this only applied to the recruitment of officials above the county level. Local governments were still dominated by local prominent families who were in control of political and economical power. 

Secondly, the CCP has never really established any meaningful mechanism for recruitment of talent and elite. As I summarized earlier, during the 60 years of the CCP’s rule, its recruitment of talent and elite has developed approximately through three stages.

The first stage was Mao’s era, during which the most important factor for selecting a “red heir” was pedigree.

The second stage was from 1976 until the early 21st century, when recruitment of talent and elite was no longer based on just pedigree, as wealth and achievement also came into play. That was because the higher education system then was not yet commercialized. Many mediocre children of officials couldn’t enter college, and therefore couldn’t pass the first doorstep of becoming candidates for recruitment of talent. Talented children from civilian families, however, were able to enter the job market after acquiring professional knowledge in college.

The third stage began with the commercialization of higher education until the present time, during which a dominant society based on status has returned. With colleges lowering their admission standards, many mediocre children of officials are able get a college diploma and hence a ticket for becoming candidates for recruitment of talent.

However, the national examination for admission to civil service positions is opaque, making it easy for those in power to maneuver their way in. Except for positions demanding complex professional expertise, pedigree is still the main principle for selecting candidates for replaceable, non-specialist positions in the Party and in government organizations. This explains the serious degeneration in the quality of China’s elite.

Thirdly, laws are just empty words on paper in China. In the “Provisional Ordinance for Civil Servants,” implemented by the CCP since October 1993, a whole chapter is dedicated to avoidance of nepotism. It stipulates that civil servants who are husband and wife, next of kin, collateral relatives within three generations, or relatives by marriage, are not allowed to hold posts under the same supervising officer in the same unit or have a direct supervisor-subordinate relationship, etc. Similar regulations can also be found in the “Temporary Regulation for Avoidance of Nepotism on the Appointment of Party and Government Cadres.”

However, laws have never been the basis for the CCP to restrain its own power, but are always considered the tool to control the people. The characteristic of the CCP’s political system is that [he who has] power is above the law. Therefore, the regulation regarding nepotism is just empty talk that is not implemented at all.

The root of political corruption in a society is actually the corruption in the mechanism for recruitment of talent and elite. The misbehavior of the “second generation,” children of privileged government officials, which is often exposed by Chinese media, illustrates that China’s political elite doesn’t have the endowment of being the elite in society. Thus, the monopolizing of China’s political resources only serves to undermine the current political foundation. In the long run, however, it is a big retrograde step for China’s political modernization.