Xi Jinping: slave to the CPC political system

By He Qinglian on November 9, 2013
Source article in Chinese: 习近平:中共政治制度的奴隶

There was no signal that a political reform would be initiated before the Third Plenum of the 18th National Congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC) convened. Nonetheless, overseas media outlets still sought to speculate Xi Jinping's political motives from the suspension of publication of the Little Red Book, and Xi's stopping short of paying homage to Mao's ancestral home in Shaoshan and the like. Some of those who have high expectation of Xi thought that, the General Secretary hasn't found a direction after he assumed office more than one year ago and his swaying political attitude upset the leftists, the rightists and the princelings alike—a judgment that seems to indicate the top leader of the CPC has made many enemies in both the government and the public. This remark has got the situation wrong in that its premise erroneously mistook autocracy that worships power for democracy and assumed that those disgruntled members in the ruling clique could become Xi Jinping's opponents.

Who are Xi Jinping's contenders?

The liberals (commonly known as the rightists in China) who advocate constitutionalism has long been under repression from the CPC. Xi Jinping's crackdown on this group could not be described as upsetting those individuals when the Party wouldn't care less about how they feel. The leftists, on the other hand, have always fawned over those in power. In the last few years when this group went too far and crossed the line with the Party, the authorities cracked down on them all the same. And the leftists would not think that the authorities has upset them, they would simply adjust themselves after awhile and refrain from saying what the authorities don't want to hear. Now, although Bo Xilai has been imprisoned, the left-leaning Utopia continues to exist. They are allowed to so long as they carry on dismissing universal values, democracy, constitutionalism and foreign capitals. And the leftists would actively seek to get close to the Party Central and the General Secretary. Of the three factions mentioned above, only the support for Xi from the princelings matters to the politics of the city of Beijing, which resembles the politics of the royal families and aristocrats during feudal dynasties, a kind of politics that is characterized by its subtlety. When those elders who helped found the republic were still alive, the politics of Beijing could, at some critical junctures, influence the political decision of the highest authorities, as was the case in 1978.

It should be said that whether or not the Princelings—or to be less specific, the “Red second generation(R2G)”, to which the princelings, descendants of high-ranking elders belong—support Xi Jinping is no longer in question. The recent symposium that marked the birth centenary of Xi Jinping's father, Xi Zhongxun, could be seen as a landmark event. The “R2G” showed that they had submit themselves to Xi Jinping by attending the symposium. Even if some in this group do not approve of Xi's authority, they could only keep these thoughts to themselves. Since Xi Jinping personally arranged and organized activities to commemorate Xi Zhongxun, naturally quite a number of local governments across the country “voluntarily” started their own activities and the participants of the commemoration held at the Great Hall of the People were those of high status. Offspring of various elders took part in it to show their allegiance to the new leader. Since each family could only send one representative, those “R2G” members who could not go there actually felt disappointed.

Through this commemoration, Xi Jinping manifested his strong position: he possesses an uncontested status that neither Jiang Zemin nor Hu Jintao truly had, no one inside the Party dares to challenge his personal authority. From now on, Xi Jinping's personal dictatorship would replace the “collective leadership” of the Politburo Standing Committee of the Hu Jintao era. Back in those years when Deng Xiaoping ruled from behind the curtains, there was Chen Yun, another elder of the Party who matched Deng's qualifications to constantly keep him in check. Today, who inside the Politburo Standing Committee dare to disagree with the General Secretary?

Among the “R2G”, Xi Jinping could be deemed as the youngest member. In a few years' time, those “R2G” members who currently hold positions in the government, the military and the financial sector would age over 70. The clout of this aristocrat circle in Beijing would dwindle when these individuals pass away one by one. And members of the “Red third generation” (“R3G”) have only just begun their climb on the political hierarchy. They are now working at prefecture and department levels, which are a long way from the ranks of provincial and ministerial levels. If members of “R2G” want to ensure a smooth takeover by the “R3G”, then apart from not challenging Xi Jinping, the “R2G” would have to hail Xi as their political spokesperson in a respectful manner.

Xi Jinping's rival: the bureaucracy that systemically churns out corrupt officials

It is true that Xi Jinping has had an incessant string of political moves in this one year. From each of his moves analysts would pick up signs that the Chinese president would steer to the right or left. I would never decipher Xin Jinping's moves like this. The theme of the so-called “Chinese Dream” remains “building up the country's wealth and its military might”, essentially the same with the visions of Mao and Deng; and the slogans of cleaning up “spiritual pollution”, standardizing the public opinion and Maoist rectification movement targeting the people's thoughts are chiefly directed at the “peaceful evolution strategy” of the West and to uphold one-party dictatorship under the CPC; the anti-corruption slogan of “catching both tigers and flies” aims at the severe corruption of the bureaucracy. All these illustrate just one thing: Xi Jinping wants to maintain China's crony capitalism using Maoist iron fist.

However, in the hearts of the princelings and the R2G, the aristocrats who are entitled to enjoy the benefits of crony capitalism should not have included bureaucrats from a humble background. This sentiment, though wouldn't be expressed in the organ mouthpieces of the Party, had grown increasingly apparent in the politics of Beijing dominated by R2G since Hu and Wen began their second term. Between March and April 2010, the Financial Times ran a series of articles on China's princelings. The article entitling “Red-blooded’ veterans versus ruthless arrivistes” illustrated the conflict between old and new princelings very clearly. The term princeling originally referred specially to the sons and daughters “of senior leaders of China's Communist revolution - the veterans who joined Mao Zedong on the fabled Long March or were members of the inner circle at the time of the 1949 Communist victory.” The offspring of recent generation of technocratic leaders (the Jiang and Hu eras) are new princelings who monopolized China's equity business that can turn lead into gold. In the early 1990s, former chairman Jiang Zemin arrested several business people who were closely related to the children of Deng Xiaoping and shut down their companies in a bid to consolidate his power.

That article contained these lines: “The old revolutionary royalty...regard this country as belonging to them in a very real sense”; “[t]hey see the newer generation of princeling as more ruthless, and some even go as far as saying that when the eunuchs become powerful it means the end of the dynasty is near”. The reporter who wrote this report pointed out clearly that these were words of an insider in Beijing. I believe this statement because only those who are from that circle would despise leaders from a technocratic background like this.

The recent Xi Zhongxun commemoration can be used as evidence of this rift in that many R2Gs from revolutionary families were invited, including the widow and son of Gao Gang, who was purged by Mao long ago, Xi Jinping feels a sense of kinship with them. By contrast, no media outlets reported news of members of new princelings getting invitation to the activity. If there were, media outlets from Hong Kong should not have missed them.

The Southern People Weekly published on November 6 an interview with Marshal Chen Yi's son Chen Xiaolu and Ma Wenrui's daughter Ma Xiaoli, who became an active figure in the R2G circle because of her family ties with Xi Jinping's family. They both clearly expressed their R2G mentality: “the Red country must not be destroyed in our hands”. The group the Financial Times reports called as new princelings was to Ma Xiaoli “second generation of officials”: “We are not like not them. A line must be drawn! Most of the R2G have not much power or money...we too hate corruption, we too hate those arrogant 'second generation of officials', must prevent these people from ruining the Party”.

With an understanding of the mindset of the R2G, one would see that the political mission of Xi Jinping is to prevent the Red regime from changing colors, and he would absolutely not abandon the one-party dictatorship system. His anti-corruption campaign targets chiefly the corruption of the bureaucracy and is a necessary means to maintain the Party's ability to govern. The CPC has done the same thing in the past. In the last decade or so, all those provincial and ministerial officials sacked were with a civilian origin, some even came from impoverished families. And to me, the observation that Xi Jinping is swaying between left and right is superficial. I think Xi Jinping does so with an intention to tell a certain political faction to mind their own business, he himself decides the future political path of China and he would not let anyone to interfere.

However, the politics of Beijing would only affect officials at higher levels, local governments across the country are run by bureaucrats with a civilian background after all. Unlike those R2G members, these officials do not see the CPC regime as their own flesh and blood. Most of these people joined the party and took public office in order to pursue interests and they would become “naked officials”, transferring their family and fortune abroad while they stay in the country to continue to make more big money. Because of this, how Xi Jinping would manage this system laden with corruption is a problem.

With this, it can be concluded that the real enemy of Xi Jinping is actually the political institution that systemically churns out corrupt officials. And this political institution is precisely what he and R2G members strive to protect at all costs. There is no way Xi Jinping can change the operational inertia of this massive bureaucratic apparatus, and he is in fact nothing more than a slave to this political institution.