A Response to a Reader’s Queries on Factional Struggle in China

By Larry Ong, Epoch Times
October 3, 2016 8:39 pm Last Updated: October 6, 2016 5:35 pm

An Epoch Times reader and self-identified Sinophile who wished to remain anonymous—we will call him “James”—recently reached out about the ongoing factional struggle in the Chinese communist regime, peppering a reporter with a series of detailed questions about elite politics, and our interpretation of them.

First, he called attention to reports about what has been identified as a Communist Youth League faction, as well as a “Zhejiang Clique,” a faction that Party leader Xi Jinping supposedly leads. He also sought to clarify a detail in an earlier report about former Party chief Jiang Zemin being removed from his home, as well as the current status of Jiang’s elder son Jiang Mianheng, whom we earlier reported was under some form of house arrest.

Given the broad relevance of the queries and the likely interest in the topic, we decided to publish the correspondence—four emails in total—edited for clarity and brevity. We hope readers find it useful.

Larry Ong

***

Hi,

I came across an article by Reuters that claims to have three sources within the CCP government, tied directly to the top leadership (Xi Jinping and his cohorts), and they revealed information under total anonymity.

The article says that there are three factions within the Chinese government, a Zhejiang Clique helmed by President Xi Jinping; the Tuanpai Faction (or Youth League) currently helmed by Premier Li Keqiang; and the Shanghai Gang which is led by former Paramount Leader Jiang Zemin, and according to the article, still wields considerable power.

There was an article in Epoch Times which described the Tuanpai faction as a ‘political zombie’, casting doubt on its existence at all, but according to Reuters, the Tuanpai is extremely visible and powerful. One of the sources for the article says that at least one member of the Tuanpai faction is going to be elected to the Politburo Standing Committee next year, no matter what Xi Jinping does. Not to mention that Li Keqiang will remain in power, having not reached ‘retirement age’. So Premier Li is expected to have at least one ally in the all powerful Standing Committee.

Sincerely,
James

***

Dear James,

We haven’t written about a “Zhejiang Clique” because justifications and evidence for its existence are thin. Unlike Jiang Zemin, Xi Jinping appears to have been less inclined to build up a political faction in his fledgling years in Zhejiang or Fujian (and this apparent lack of ambition is probably what aided his entry to the highest level of politics). Talk of a “Zhejiang Clique” also only recently entered the political discourse.

It is true that Xi has recently promoted those whom he had worked with in those provinces, but it seems more to be the case of “the devil you know” than Mafia-type allegiances.

We were quoting Li Datong, a former editor at China Youth Daily, in describing the Communist Youth League as a “political zombie“; its a view that we share. Many Party leaders, including Xi Jinping, once served in the Youth League. Are they all members of the Tuanpai Faction then?

It is not unusual, however, for former Youth League elites Hu Jintao and Li Keqiang to be allies; both Youth League leaders, after all, are successful “guanerdai,” or officials that climbed the ranks by their own merit and not by virtue of having a revolutionary father.

We’ve addressed the political alliance between Hu Jintao, Wen Jiabao, and Li Keqiang, three supposed Tuanpai faction members, and Xi Jinping.

Best wishes,
Larry Ong

***

Hello Larry,

Thank you for your informative reply. …

Over the summer, there was a series of articles (based upon anonymous informants like those cited by Reuters/Business Insider) which posited that the Jiang family was being rounded up to be purged.

First, there were articles saying that Jiang Zemin and Jiang Mianheng were under house arrest. Then, most notably of all, there was an article saying that Jiang Zemin had been detained by People’s Armed Police and handed over to the Central Military Commission. I wanted to believe the story that President Xi finally decided to arrest Jiang Zemin. My own personal bias is that Jiang Zemin is one of the most evil people to ever walk upon this Earth, however funny he can be at international meet and greets or photoshoots. There were immediate problems with this story though, ‘red flags’ which cast doubt on its authenticity.

For one thing, the article stated that the People’s Armed Police arrested Jiang Zemin and brought him to a military facility belonging to the Beijing Military Region (BMR). The problem is, this was said to have occurred in June of this year, but there is no Beijing Military Region anymore, not at that time and not now. President Xi had abolished the military region system (of which there were seven in total) and replaced it with a ‘theatre command’ system. The BMR had already been superseded by the Central Theatre Command by June.

For another, although this is said to be from a difference source, the detention or house arrest of Jiang Mianheng can be proven wrong. Jiang Mianheng remains the President of ShanghaiTech University, where he has been very active, participating in international forums and university functions and photo shoots every month. You can go to the ShanghaiTech University website and see photos of Mianheng from events at the school throughout the year, including meeting with scientists from Europe and America. I have not seen any indication that Jiang Mianheng’s mobility has been restricted or that he is under house arrest. His abrupt resignation, in 2015, from his position as President of the Shanghai branch of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, despite his age, doesn’t appear to have something to do with being under investigation or scrutiny. Rather, it seems to have been precipitated by a desire to focus on his functions at the newly created ShanghaiTech University, which he founded.

I attempted to reach out to contacts in Australia, to try and get definitive confirmation of Jiang Zemin’s fate, such as with Australian journalist John Garnaut, but no one would or could confirm the reports of Jiang’s arrest. The only evidence in favor of this account is that the Chinese media ignored Jiang’s 90th birthday.

There is no one on this planet who wants to believe the story more than I do, because I want President Xi to wipe out the Shanghai Gang (or Shanghai Clique, though I prefer to call it the Jiang Taizidang) completely. China cannot move forward or progress with this faction or even the vestiges of Jiang Zemin, one of the worst political factions in history….

Sincerely,
James

***

Dear James,

With regard to our report in June about Jiang Zemin being removed from his home, our source indicated that he was moved to a military compound in the old Beijing Military Region. The Beijing Military Region was replaced by the Central Theatre Command this February, but this development doesn’t contradict the information we received because parts of the old Beijing Military Region, particularly Beijing, Tianjin, and Hebei, are part of the new Central Theatre Command.

We understand that a source wanted to provide some specificity to the whereabouts of Jiang at the time, but decided that there was a reason to keep things a little vague.

We did receive information about Jiang Zemin being whisked away from his home after publishing our first report. But we deemed that information less reliable than the first one.

We are aware that Jiang Mianheng had been spotted in ShanghaiTech University while he’s supposedly under some form of house arrest. But the younger Jiang making public appearances while being under house arrest shouldn’t be surprising. The Chinese regime has a somewhat different understanding and practice of house arrest than other countries. An individual may be allowed a degree of free movement to roam, or be allowed to speak with the press, but that doesn’t mean that he or she isn’t being watched or restricted from leaving the country.

Here are some examples of what we mean.

First, rumors of Zhou Yongkang being restricted or placed under “soft detention” first emerged in 2013; a Reuters piece in August 2013 is perhaps the most notable report on the matter. Yet Zhou appeared in public at least once after the Reuters report; Zhou had attended the 60th founding anniversary of the China University of Petroleum in October 2013. Zhou was finally put away for good when anti-corruption agency officially announced that he was being investigated in July 2014.

Human rights activists are dealt with more strictly under house arrest, perhaps because they’re more expendable. Gao Zhisheng has been under house arrest in his cave home since 2014, and still cannot visit the city to fix his teeth. Zheng Enchong the Shanghai rights lawyer, on the other hand, has given interviews with this newspaper and can leave his home (just not travel out of Shanghai or abroad), but remains under 24-hour daily surveillance.

Things in China have, however, developed to a stage where we don’t need secret sources coming out to verify that Jiang is indeed in serious trouble.

On July 21, Oriental Daily, a Hong Kong newspaper known to be aligned with Beijing, noted that Jiang didn’t send a wreath to the funeral of a late Party elder; I noted that right at the end of an article about Guo Boxiong‘s life imprisonment.

Next, Chinese media did indeed ignore Jiang’s 90th birthday, and according to the Financial Times, police have warned his supporters against celebrating his birthday.

After the Beidaihe conference, Xin Ziling, the former National Defense University editor said that Xi Jinping had the Party leadership informally agree to deal with Jiang and Zeng Qinghong. We believe that Xi will make this informal arrangement formal during the 6th Plenum; no, we don’t think that Xi will actually announce such an investigation just yet, but if such a move is made, it will trickle out via informal channels.

The allies of Zhang Gaoli in Tianjin have recently been purged, and Zhang Dejiang has found himself in an awkward position over the National People’s Congress election fraud scandal. Expect Liu Yunshan to run into trouble before the 6th Plenum. Our reading of this is that Xi is putting the two Zhangs and Liu in check so that they will have to go along and vote to investigate Jiang come the 6th Plenum.

Perhaps the biggest sign that Jiang is in real trouble can been seen from what Xi Jinping has done this year to signal that he is shifting the regime’s stance towards Falun Gong. We’ve documented this in several articles, but to briefly list, Xi has so far:

1) Hinted at righting the wrongs caused by the persecution near the anniversary of sensitive dates

2) The CCP General Office has a document that acknowledges that practitioners have been “treated unjustly” for the past 17 years

3) Human rights lawyers have defended Falun Gong’s core tenets (truthfulness, compassion, tolerance) in a Tianjin court (Tianjin is the epicenter of the persecution) and walked away unscathed.

Best regards,
Larry Ong