China’s 19th National Congress came to an end on Oct. 24, concluding a week of political horse-trading to determine the new generation of Party leadership. 204 Chinese Communist Party (CCP) members were chosen to sit in the high-ranking Central Committee. Those high-profile party members who were conspicuously left out had one thing in common—their political affiliation to the faction opposing current Chinese regime leader Xi Jinping.
One exception is Han Zheng. At a press conference on Oct. 25, it was revealed that the incumbent Shanghai party secretary was chosen to be one of the elite seven in the Politburo Standing Committee, the Party’s top decision-making body. Han has a long political career in Shanghai that began in the late 1980s, when he established ties with Jiang Zemin who was Party boss there before becoming the leader of the CCP. The city has become known as a breeding ground for Jiang allies.
Han has a tainted political legacy in Shanghai. Two major disasters—a fire at a Shanghai apartment in November 2010 that killed at least 58, and a stampede at the Bund in 2014 that killed at least 36—have angered local citizens. According to Hong Kong magazine Cheng Ming, Han also used public funds and tax money to offer free, spacious housing to department-level or higher retired officials—though he stopped doing so when Xi was briefly the city’s party secretary in 2007.
Putting Han in and three Jiang faction officials—Zhang Dejiang, Zhang Gaoli and Liu Yunshan—out of the Standing Committee signaled that Xi has greatly consolidated his power. He can not only better exert his policies across the country, but also extend his influence in Shanghai, one of the most important cities in China. After Han leaves his Shanghai post to join the Standing Committee, Xi can choose Han’s replacement.
Zhang Dejiang, Zhang Gaoli, and Liu Yunshan were members of the previous Politburo Standing Committee, and they had risen to their powerful positions because of their loyalty to previous party leader Jiang Zemin. Though it might appear that they had stepped down naturally due to an unspoken party rule about retirement age—no one in the committee should be over the age of 67—their leaving was also a signal that Xi had further consolidated his power against Jiang. Since Xi took power five years ago, the two have struggled for control of the party.
Zhang Dejiang, formerly ranked third behind Xi and premier Li Keqiang in the Standing Committee, was also the deputy head of the National Security Commission. He had deep roots in Chongqing, a hotbed for Jiang faction activity, and was the city’s party secretary from March to November 2012. His predecessor Bo Xilai and successor Sun Zhengcai both had ties to Jiang and were purged in Xi’s anti-corruption campaign as a result. Just a few days ago, Liu Shiyu, chairman of the China Securities Regulatory Commission, openly accused Bo and Sun, among others, of plotting a political coup against Xi.
As for Zhang Gaoli, he won Jiang’s favor during Jiang’s sightseeing tour of Mount Tai in 2006. Zhang displayed his loyalty by sealing off the area from visitors, allowing Jiang to enjoy the scenery himself. Zhang was chair of the committee overseeing the One Belt One Road infrastructure project, an initiative by Xi to open up trade routes with countries in Europe and Africa. Chinese business publication Caixin Weekly has hinted that Sun was being investigated for corruption because he embezzled funds from the initiative. “
For years, Liu Yunshan, also a Standing Committee member and chief of the propaganda department, carried out Jiang’s agenda, including the persecution of the Falun Gong spiritual practice. His propaganda department launched smear campaigns in state media to defame Falun Gong and its adherents.
Falun Gong, also known as Falun Dafa, is a traditional self-improvement practice, with core principles of truthfulness, compassion, and tolerance, as well as a set of five slow, qigong-like exercise movements. Beginning in July 1999, Jiang launched a nationwide persecution of an estimated 100 million adherents of the practice, with hundreds of thousands thrown into jails, labor camps, and brainwashing centers, according to the Falun Dafa Information Center.
Liu has seen his political influence slowly getting chipped away by Xi. In October 2014, during the 4th Plenum of the Central Committee, Liu’s propaganda department did not host a key meeting until the day after the plenum concluded. China watchers noted that the delay in the meeting time was a strong indication that the propaganda department had lost its significance and political status.
In addition to the absence of powerful Jiang faction officials in the Standing Committee, several key allies of Jiang were also missing from new leadership roles. Meng Jianzhu, former head of the security apparatus and a member of the “Shanghai gang,” a group of officials who owe their careers to Jiang’s political patronage, was left out of the Central Committee.