Ten years ago, when Hu Jintao became the general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), there was much uncertainty mixed with hope about who Hu would turn about to be.
Since then, much ink has been spilled about who is the real Hu. At the 18th Party Congress held last month, Hu gave his final answer: Hu Jintao is a loyal adherent of the CCP who always put the Party’s interests first.
Only in the last few months of his tenure did Hu Jintao seem to emerge from out of the shadows of the previous Party head, Jiang Zemin. In any case, prior to the Party Congress, Hu Jintao was undoubtedly in charge, and in the Congress’s conclusion, Hu’s handiwork was put on display.
At the Congress’s first plenum on Nov. 15, the new members of the Politburo Standing Committee—the seven men who run China—were announced.
Some people were surprised that candidates they believed could bring positive change to China were not selected. Some were disappointed that those who were selected included hard-line communist ideologists, a propaganda czar, and a North Korea-trained bureaucrat.
The source of the respective surprise and disappointment is the hope that people in China and the West had continued to invest in Hu Jintao, right up until the end of his reign.
Who Is Hu?
Hu Jintao, as is common with those of his generation, grew up witnessing the brutality of the communist rule of China. Hu’s father died in depression and disgrace after he was accused and jailed as a capitalist during the Great Cultural Revolution.
Twenty-five years ago, Hu tried to invite the local officials of his hometown to a dinner so his father’s case could be reassessed and name rehabilitated. None of them came.
Hu must be very grateful that the Party did not hold his father’s case against him, but instead trusted him with all kinds of important positions: chairman of the All-China Youth Federation, general secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Youth League of China, Party chief of Tibet, and most recently, secretary general of the Party and chairman of China.
Like many in today’s China, Hu Jintao must have developed Stockholm syndrome, a psychological condition in which the victim develops an emotional bond with a perpetrator who, while holding the power of life and death over the victim, shows the victim what he or she takes to be kindness.
Acting out of such pathological gratitude, Hu has never disappointed the Party. When he was the Party chief in Tibet, he wore a helmet and stood up in a tank, taking a position in the front lines of the crackdown he had ordered on the Tibetans. Hundreds of Tibetans are said to have been killed.
Ruling in Fear
Despite wishful thinking in both China and the West about what Hu might do, he contributed little to change China into a modern civil society.
Hu Jintao probably never developed ownership of the Party he putatively led because of his family origin. He always feared making a wrong move and being perceived as disloyal to the Party.
Like many in today’s China, Hu Jintao must have developed Stockholm syndrome.
Hu witnessed what had happened to Jiang Zemin’s predecessor, Zhao Ziyang, who was held under house arrest for decades after he refused to support the Party’s massacre of the pro-democracy students in Tiananmen Square.
He also saw what happened to Zhao’s predecessor, Hu Yaobang, who died soon after being removed in disgrace and humiliation after advocating independent thinking. Both were Party chiefs at the time of their demotion.
Hu therefore learned his lesson and stayed carefully within the Party line. He basically made no effort to change and every effort to maintain Party policies.
During his tenure, the brutal persecution of Falun Gong practitioners that his predecessor Jiang Zemin initiated in 1999 has continued until this very day. According to the Falun Dafa Information Center, millions of practitioners have been detained and tortured, thousands killed by torture and abuse, and tens of thousands killed through forced, live organ harvesting.
Hu followed Jiang’s strategy of nipping in the bud any potential threat to the regime’s power by the use of any means necessary. As a result, Hu’s cost of creating a “harmonious society” was very high. In 2011, the Chinese regime spent more on internal security (US$110 billion) than on national defense (US$106 billion).
Consider the results of this spending: The number of mass incidents—large-scale protests or riots against the regime—has gone up rapidly. In 2005, the last year for which there are official statistics, the regime recorded 87,000 mass incidents. According to professor Sun Liping of Tsinghua University there were 180,000 mass incidents in 2010. Other estimates are much higher.
During Hu’s 10-year tenure, China’s economy eventually showed how unsustainable it is. Labor costs have risen, natural resources have been depleted, buildings and houses have been overbuilt, environmental pollution has become more and more extreme, and the quality of goods has become poorer.
Hu’s core belief in communist ideology has made business people and wealthy families nervous. The exodus of the wealthy fleeing China is exploding. Nearly half of China’s millionaires are thinking about leaving the country, while 14 percent have been or are in the process of applying for emigration, according to a Hurun Research Institute and Bank of China report.
Hu, however, did one thing that won him praise from the public and even from the West: He did not hold onto power for an additional two years as head of the military as his predecessor Jiang Zemin did.
Hu hardly deserves credit for this. He retired because he had to. He was never able to establish himself as the paramount leader as Deng Xiaoping and Jiang Zemin did. All in all, he was only a humble servant to the Party, never good enough to rule the Party.
Expelling Bo Xilai
Hu Jintao was selected by Deng Xiaoping because of his proven loyalty to the Party’s interests. After Wang Lijun, Bo Xilai’s police chief in Chongqing, attempted to defect in February, Hu learned of a coup Bo Xilai was plotting to seize power after the 18th Party Congress. This discovery gave Hu the ammunition he needed to take Bo down.
However, Hu was already at odds with Bo because of Bo’s behavior in ruling Chongqing.
Hu did not oppose Bo because Bo started a Mao-style social and political campaign in Chongqing, but because Bo’s actions broke the code of behavior of Party officials, which is to follow instructions from the top.
Hu expelled Bo from the Party and decided to subject him to a criminal trial because Bo was a threat to the stability of the Party leadership.
Hu’s Political Testament
In Hu Jintao’s official farewell, his opening speech to the 18th Party Congress, he gave clear political instructions to the next leadership: no return to a closed Maoist society, which would lead to the demise of communist rule as happened in other parts of the world, and no embrace of democracy and political freedom either, which would mean the end of the one-party dictatorship.
Hu Jintao could not bring new life to the Communist Party.
Hu did his best to protect the regime’s interests and keep the angry masses from having a revolution. He succeeded, even if just barely.
In his first public appearance after retirement, Hu once again expressed his loyalty to the Party by visiting the site of the Zunyi Conference. During the Long March, the CCP Politburo met in January 1935 in the city of Zunyi in Guizhou Province in southwestern China.
Recent military defeats had intensified an ongoing struggle for power within the Party. The result of the meeting was that Mao triumphed and left ready to take over military command and become the leader of the Communist Party.
Hu Jintao was paying homage to the beginning of the line of dictators that he obediently continued for 10 years.
However, everyone, including Hu, knows the Chinese regime is in crisis. Hu could not bring new life to the Communist Party, but he did prolong its process of dying.
Now it is the turn of Xi Jianping, Hu’s successor. Xi and his team are scrambling to find ways to keep the old monstrosity going while the clock keeps ticking.
Michael Young, a Chinese-American writer based in Washington, D.C., writes on China and the Sino-U.S. relationship.
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Editor’s Note: When Chongqing’s former top cop, Wang Lijun, fled for his life to the U.S. Consulate in Chengdu on Feb. 6, he set in motion a political storm that has not subsided. The battle behind the scenes turns on what stance officials take toward the persecution of Falun Gong. The faction with bloody hands—the officials former CCP head Jiang Zemin promoted in order to carry out the persecution—is seeking to avoid accountability for their crimes and to continue the campaign. Other officials are refusing any longer to participate in the persecution. Events present a clear choice to the officials and citizens of China, as well as people around the world: either support or oppose the persecution of Falun Gong. History will record the choice each person makes.