Many observers see Chinese Communist Party General Secretary Xi Jinping alternately offending leftists, rightists, and princelings (the offspring of China’s founding generation) and believe he is still looking to find his way. These observers misunderstand Xi’s position, which is in fact independent of and superior to these factions.
The CCP has always strongly suppressed the liberals (known in China as the “rightists”), who advocate constitutionalism. When Xi suppressed them, whether or not they were upset was irrelevant.
The leftists have a history of going to any ends for their own interests. In the past few years, when they went too far and crossed the line with the CCP, the authorities cracked down on them. But leftists did not see it as offensive. They just adjusted themselves and refrained from saying things the authorities did not want to hear so they could make a comeback.
Now, although former Politburo member and leftist leader Bo Xilai has been imprisoned, the website of the political movement Utopia is still up. And as long as the leftists continue to criticize universal values, constitutional democracy with foreign capital, and other anti-China forces, they will continue to feel that they are somewhat useful and will take the initiative to get close to Xi.
At one time, only the princelings’ support mattered, as they could actually affect Beijing’s politics. When the founding fathers were alive, in some critical periods, they could even influence the political choices of the highest authorities, such as in 1978.
However, whether or not the princelings—or the red second generation, to which the princelings and descendants of high-ranking elders belong—support Xi doesn’t matter anymore. The recent conference marking the birth centenary of Xi Jinping’s father, Xi Zhongxun, regarded as a landmark event, proved this.
The offspring of China’s elite showed their submission to the general secretary by attending the event, even if some still felt dissatisfied.
Xi Zhongxun was a key leader during the Cultural Revolution. The commemoration of his 100-year birth date was organized by Xi Jinping personally, so it included both the public and private spheres.
Those attending the event at Beijing’s Great Hall naturally came from high levels of society. Various children of senior statesmen (including Bo Xilai’s allies) attended the celebration in order to show their allegiance to the new monarch. Offspring of China’s elite who were not invited were disappointed.
Through this celebration, Xi Jinping demonstrated that he possesses the solid and undeniable authority that neither former leaders Jiang Zemin nor Hu Jintao truly acquired. Xi Jinping’s personal dictatorship has replaced predecessor Hu Jintao’s era of “collective leadership.”
Among the offspring of China’s elite, Xi is considered one of the youngest. In a few years, these offspring of China’s elite, who still serve in the government or military, will be past the age of 70. The influence of this circle will increasingly weaken as they retire or pass away.
The red third generation is currently just starting in politics from the county office and up. They still have a long road to travel from the provincial and ministerial levels up the political hierarchy.
If the second generation wants the third generation to smoothly succeed them and continue to have political influence, they definitely cannot antagonize Xi Jinping and must humbly serve him as a representative of the descendants of high-level officials.
The chief emphasis of Xi’s banner slogan, the so-called Chinese Dream, is still for the country to gain wealth and for its military to become stronger—it is the same as in Mao’s time.
Xi hopes to clean up “spiritual pollution” and to unify public opinion in accordance with the “Mao-style” of thinking. The “Chinese Dream” is also directed against Western ideology in order to help maintain the one-party dictatorship.
Xi’s anti-corruption campaign targets serious corruption among the bureaucracy. All of this just makes one point clear: Xi Jinping wishes to use Mao’s iron rule to safeguard China’s crony capitalism.
However, the princelings believe that they should be entitled to enjoy the wealth of crony capitalism, but that bureaucrats with civilian backgrounds should not. Though CCP newspapers and other mouthpieces would not reveal this attitude, it became very apparent during Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao’s second term, when the offspring of China’s elite became very active in Beijing’s politics.
In March and April of 2010, the British Financial Times successively published several articles on China’s princelings, including “Red-Blooded Veterans Versus Ruthless Arrivistes.”
One section in the latter highlighted the conflict between the new and old princelings: “The term ‘princeling’ was coined to refer specifically to the children 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.
“Today it is used more broadly to include the offspring of later generations of technocratic leaders [the two generations of Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao]—but a distinction remains between them and the truly “red-blooded” revolutionary families … especially since there is a recent precedent of senior leaders cracking down on the business activities of their predecessors’ children.
“When he was consolidating his power in the early 1990s, Jiang Zemin, former president, shut down companies and arrested a number of business executives with close ties to Deng’s children.”
The article also noted, “The old revolutionary royalty, like the family of Deng Xiaoping, are still untouchable and they regard this country as belonging to them in a very real sense.”
The reporter stated that the information was provided by Beijing insiders. I believe it because only people in that circle would despise the authorities born as technocrats so intensely.
Evidence of this rift is found by looking at the invitees to the recent centenary commemoration. Many offspring of revolutionary families attended, 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 an invitation to the activity. If there were, media outlets from Hong Kong wouldn’t have missed it.
The Southern People Weekly published an interview on Nov. 6 with Marshal Chen Yi’s son Chen Xiaolu and Ma Wenrui’s daughter Ma Xiaoli, who, in recent years has become an active representative of the offspring of China’s elite due to her close ties with the Xi family.
Those whom the Financial Times called the “new princelings,” Ma Xiaoli referred to as the “second generation of officials,” saying, “We are not like them; a line should be drawn!” “Most of the offspring of China’s elite have little power or money!” “We too hate the corruption and the wild and arrogant second generation officials as well. We cannot let these people ruin the Party.”
By understanding the mindset of the offspring of China’s elite, one will grasp that Xi Jinping’s mission is to preserve the one-party dictatorship. His anti-corruption campaigns mainly target bureaucracy and are necessary to maintain the CCP’s ability to govern.
The CCP has done that before. Even in the past 10-plus years, it has sacked dozens of provincial and ministerial level officials with civilian origins, some even coming from impoverished families.
As for the outside world’s belief that Xi is wavering back and forth between leftists and rightists, this observation is superficial. I believe this is Xi’s way of warning the different political factions that he alone will decide China’s future political path, that he knows what he’s doing, and that no one should try to influence him.
However, Beijing politics only affect high-level officials. After all, local governments are managed by officials with civilian origins, and those bureaucrats do not feel that the CCP is their own flesh and blood as China’s elite do. They entered the Party for their own interests, becoming “naked officials,” making big money while sending their families and fortunes oversees. How Xi Jinping will manage to drive this already severely corrupt political train is quite a problem.
Xi’s real enemy, in fact, is the political system that endlessly produces corrupt officials. And this political system is the red regime that he and the elite’s offspring strive to protect at all costs. There is no way Xi Jinping can change the operation of this huge bureaucratic machine while preserving it. He is ultimately just the servant of the political system.
He Qinglian is a prominent Chinese author and economist. Currently based in the United States, she authored “China’s Pitfalls,” which concerns corruption in China’s economic reform of the 1990s, and “The Fog of Censorship: Media Control in China,” which addresses the manipulation and restriction of the press.
Translation by Irene Luo. Written in English by Katy Mantyk.
Read the original Chinese article.