China’s Succession Problem
Even in China’s hereditary dynasty, succession is a tricky issue as an emperor usually has quite a few male heirs who would fight fiercely for succession as there was too much power and interests at stake. The fight was sometimes bloody, for example, the Xuanwu Gate coup d’état on July 2, 626 in early Tang Dynasty (618-907), in which the emperor’s fourth son Prince Li Shimin (later Emperor Taizong of Tang (599-649)) killed his two elder brothers and forced his father, the then ruling emperor, to retire.
In Song Dynasty(960-1279), the founding Emperor Taizu’s death is a mystery. There is a story that he was assassinated by his brother who usurped his emperorship. It is a topic argued for more than 1,000 years without conclusion, but I would rather believe that story.
In Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), the dynasty founding Emperor Taizu’s successor his grandson and his fourth son fought a war for quite a long time for the throne and his grandson revolted in order to grab the throne from his great grandson.
In Qing Dynasty (1644-1912), the struggle for succession was so fierce among quite a few sons of Emperor Kangxi that Kangxi’s designated crown prince committed mistakes under pressure from the succession struggle and even tried to grab the throne from Kangxi. The crown prince was finally deposed by Kangxi. Kangxi carried out a reform in the succession system in the Qing Dynasty. He designated no other crown prince after deposing his crown prince. In order to protect the successor, for a few generations the name of an emperor’s successor was kept secret and was to be found after the emperor died in an imperial edict stored behind a certain inscribed board in the palace.
The most serious problem in such a system the successor had no powerbase when he came to throne. When emperor Xianfeng died, he had no sound powerbase to support his heir. His brother colluded with his widow to seize power from the regents appointed by him to act for his son. It gave rise to Queen Dowager Cixi’s half a century disastrous rule.
Mao’s Succession Problem
Mao’s successors were chosen by him alone in a way similar to that in China’s feudal dynasties. He first chose Liu Shaqi but when he saw that Liu became another power center, he launched the Cultural Revolution to seize back power from Liu and killed Liu. He then designated Lin Biao as his successor, but when Mao found that lots of high officials supported Lin Biao in disobeying his instruction, he was afraid that Lin Biao had established another power center rival to his; therefore, he wanted to punish Lin. Lin fled away and was killed in an air crash on his way.
Mao’s final chosen successor Hua Guofeng was brought down by Deng as Mao had not allow Hua enough time or tendered Hua any help to built Hua’s powerbase. As a result, Mao’s succession was entirely a failure.
What about Deng Xiaoping’s succession?
Smooth Succession of Jiang Zeming to Deng Xiaoping
According to Zhao Ziyang’s secret memoir, Deng had got powerful elders’ consent to let Zhao serve two full terms as CCP general secretary though due to Tiananmen Protests, Zhao was deposed and only served as general secretary for two years. However, Deng never showed any intention to have Zhao as his successor.
When Deng had replaced Zhao with Jiang Zeming, he made clear Jiang would be the core of the third generation of collective leadership to succeed him. He got the consent of other powerful elders for that. The elders helped Jiang maintain his status as core and establish his powerbase after Deng’s death. Jiang’s succession to Deng was a success
However, Hu Jintao’s succession to Jiang is not as successful as Jiang’s succession to Deng. He succeeded to Jiang as general secretary, Central Military Commission chairman and state president but not as the core.
When Hu just became general secretary, he was called the core of CCP collective leadership by some media but the media soon stopped doing so. I believe that Hu was aware that he had not really gained the status as the core so that he told the media not to call him the core. In fact, his ten-year reign proved that he was not competent enough as the core as he left behind lots of problems described in my preceding post. Anyway, Deng had never said that Hu should succeed Jiang as the core so that Hu’s succession to Jiang as general secretary, CMC chairman and president is quite enough. In this prospective, Deng’s arrangement of succession to Jiang shall be regarded as a success.
Jiang Selected, Groomed Xi Jinping as Successor to the Core
As Hu was not satisfactory to succeed him as the core, Jiang searched and found Xi Jinping as the successor to him to core. Xi performance since he took over the reign greatly satisfied Jiang. It was reflected in the headline news at the website of China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs on July 23 on Jiang Zemin meeting Henry Kissinger on July 3.
In the meeting, Jiang said to Kissinger, “You know, a large country like China with 1.3 billion people needs a strong and vigorous leader.” “Xi Jinping is a state leader of great ability and wisdom. In such a huge country as China, undoubtedly there may be all sorts of problems, which are not fearful. The key is that the problems must be handled resolutely. Recently, some incidents of violent terrorist attacks occurred in China’s Xinjiang. Xi Jinping made decision resolutely and quickly controlled the situation.”
Moreover, Jiang Zemin told Kissinger that he talked with Xi Jinping over the phone not long ago and Xi asked Jiang to convey his greetings to Kissinger.
Jiang not only selected Xi but also groomed Xi by giving Xi instructions through the phone.
Article by Chan Kai Yee
Concentration of Party, Military and Government Power in the Core
When Deng Xiaoping advocated the system of collective leadership, The positions of Party leader the general secretary, military leader the Central Military Commission Chairman and administrative leader the State President were assigned to different people for division of power.
There was a Westernized trend of division of power between the Party and government advocated by Zhao Ziyang when he was in power.
After Tiananmen Protests, however, Deng changed his mind and believed that there had to be a core of the collective leadership to have final say. If the core shall have final say like Deng, the paramount leader, he shall be as powerful as the emperor in a dynasty. Deng proved that by his Southern Tour to restore his reform and opening up with his power as the core. Since then, he wanted the concentration of power in the core and set up the three-in-one system to enable his chosen successor to core Jiang Zemin to have final say.
Deng was well aware that the conservatives are very powerful and might put an end to his reform when he died so that he wanted Jiang to have final say to carry on his reform. He told Jiang that he would not rest at ease until Jiang had the final say.
The Establishment of the Three-in-One System
Deng first had Jiang replace him as Central Military Commission chairman and removed Yang Shangkun and Yang Baibing from their military positions to enable Jiang to control Chinese military. Jiang pleased Deng with his efforts to control the PLA through modernization of Chinese military.
In addition to having Jiang reelected as Party general secretary in 1992, Deng had Jiang elected as state Chairman in 1993. He had thus established the three-in-one system of concentrating party, military and administrative power in one person.
Deng wanted a strongman to be the core so that he chose Hu Jintao as Jiang’s successor as Hu was strong in ruling Tibet. Jiang obeyed Deng his mentor and had Hu succeed him as general secretary in 2002, president in 2003 and Central Military Commission chairman in 2004. Jiang has thus carried on the three-in-one system and groomed Hu to succeed him as the core.
When Xi Jinping has succeeded Hu as Party general secretary, Central Military Commission chairman and state president, the three-in-one system shall be regarded as soundly established.
However, Hu, though talented to have developed his Scientific Outlook on development, failed to be strong enough. Due to his weakness, he left behind excessive production capacity, local governments’ and some SOEs’ heavy debts, rampant corruption and serious pollutions. He was unable to carry out his planned further reform and was even challenged by conservatives led by Bo Xilai
He has thus failed to succeed Jiang as the core. Jiang found Xi and groomed Xi as his successor as the core while Xi is now carrying out further reform to the system of succession to the core. Those are topics of my next posts.
Article by Chan Kai Yee
China’s Core System (5) (Parts (1), (2), (3) and (4) are “The Conundrum of China’s Collective Leadership” dated January 28, “No 2nd Generation of CCP Collective Leadership in China” on January 29 “Fight for the Position of the Core when There Was No Core” on February 22 and “Jiang Zemin Has Maintained China’s Centralized Core System on February 24)
Sometimes, something obvious becomes unclear as it is something rare.
That is the case of Jiang Zemin remaining the core of the CCP Dynasty.
In my book “Tiananmen’s Tremendous Achievements”, I point out that the political system in China now is the CCP Dynasty. The dynasty is characterized by having a core with the power similar to an emperor.
Deng Xiaoping said Mao was the core of the first generation of collective leadership. As pointed out in Chapter 60 “The Conundrum of China’s Collective Leadership”, Mao typically acted as an emperor with absolute power. There was no collective leadership at all
Deng called himself the core of the second generation of collective leadership, but was regarded as the paramount leader by people outside China.
How paramount is Deng the leader? He alone was able to decide to send troops to suppress democracy fighters at Tiananmen. Though retired, he alone was able to save his reform and opening up by his Southern Tour when conservatives prevailed.
How paramount is Jiang, the core of the third generation? People seem to have no idea about that. They invented the story that Jiang was beaten by Hu Jintao in power struggle when Chen Liangyu fell into disgrace for corruption. Certainly, there were quite a few other stories invented by people who know neither the China at present nor Chinese history.
I point out in my book “Tiananmen’s Tremendous Achievements”, Jiang had a majority through his protégés in the Politburo Standing Committee (PSC) when he retired in 2002. In 2007, though Hu Jintao succeeded in promoting his protégé Li Keqiang into the PSC, Jiang promoted his Xi Jinping into the PSC as the successor to Hu Jintao and maintained a majority through his protégés.
That did not seem convincing enough.
Now before the major reshuffle at the 18th Party Congress, Jiang has done something absolutely convincing in the Bo Xilai saga.
Like the time before Deng’s Southern Tour, the conservatives are strong again this time. Bo Xilai as the leader of the conservative faction even dared to set a Maoist Chongqing Model to challenge the reformists in China’s power center.
It was only with the help of powerful elders headed by retired heavyweight, the reformists were able to put Bo under house arrest. However, they were not strong enough to punish Bo harshly to prevent his return to power later.
Through investigation, they found Bo’s and his wife’s crimes of taking huge bribes, abusing power, etc., but they were not strong enough to punish Bo for such crimes.
As a result, Bo’s wife was not accused of taking bribes when she was prosecuted.
In the trial of Bo’s former protégé Wang Lijun, Bo was clearly involved but the prosecutor and court refrained to mention Bo by name. Bo still seemed untouchable.
Soon afterwards, at the weekend of the week from September 16 to 22, Jiang Zemin made a rare public appearance in Beijing before quite a few high officials.
In its report on September 25, SCMP said that Jiang attempted to demonstrate his “lingering” influence.
Surprise! The timing of Jiang’s appearance demonstrated his dominant instead of “lingering” influence in deciding to punish Bo harshly.
SCMP finally realized that in its report later titled “Former China president Jiang Zemin played key role in punishing Bo Xilai, say analysts”.
However, it is hard for people to believe how a leader who has retired for 8 years, can maintain his dominant power.
That is precisely something with special Chinese characteristics.
We have now got used to China’s socialism with Chinese characteristics that in fact is capitalism. Why can’t we understand that a collective leadership with a core means the leadership of a core with the power of an emperor?
Even after the 1911 Revolution that put an end to China’s traditional hereditary dynasties, China has still been ruled by one dynasty after another.
Yuen Shikai ruled China with the power of an emperor. True, there was a democratic parliamentary election, but Yuen assassinated the majority leader soon after the election and maintained his dominance.
When Yuen died, no one succeeded him as the dominant emperor. China was in chaos of wars between various warlords.
Then another dynasty, Chiang Kai-shek Dynasty emerged but failed to be thoroughly dominant and lost to the Communists in the civil war.
Mao Zedong came to power and promised to establish democracy for the people and dictatorship against the enemy. He even wrote an article to tell people that they are allowed to disagree, but he turned out to be an absolute emperor who cruelly crushed whatever dissent.
However, he was certainly marvelously great! In spite of the millions of death due to the famine caused by him and in spite of “Great Cultural Revolution” in which he persecuted lots of innocent people and reduced China to a nation without culture and knowledge, he remained worshiped by lots of China’s Maoists and quite a few people outside China including US well-known politician Henry Kissinger.
Therefore, people have got the wrong idea that Mao era had put an end to China’s history of dynasties.
However, the fact remained that Mao era was itself Mao Dynasty with Mao as its dominant Emperor though it was not a hereditary one.
The Chiang Kai-shek Dynasty, though fled to Taiwan, remained a hereditary one. Chiang was succeeded by his son Chiang Ching-kuo, who should be credited for Taiwan’s democratic transformation.
Deng Xiaoping created the CCP Dynasty by his idea of a collective leadership with a core. As described in my book, it is not a hereditary one that belongs to a family but a dynasty that belongs to a party.
It is certainly good for the CCP if there is a core like an emperor to govern the country, but the core shall be wise and competent to maintain his dominance. If so, he will satisfactorily maintain stability.
Jiang has turned CCP a party of the whole people by the second of his Three Represents. Hu Jintao has written into CCP constitution his Scientific Outlook on Development centered on putting the people first. Xi Jinping Thought regards the principal contradiction facing Chinese society as that between the people’s ever-growing needs for a better life and unbalanced and inadequate development and wants the Party to strive to resolve that contradiction. CCP has thus made clear that it is a party that belongs to the people and strives for the people’s interests and benefits.
Therefore the government of CCP is a government of the people and for the people though not by the people yet.
The above nature and goal of the dynasty make the core a very hard job. The core can never really retire. At the age of 86, Jiang as the core has to leave his home in Shanghai for Beijing to deal a crushing blow on the conservatives.
You may still wonder how a core can maintain his dominance all his life.
That is again something with special Chinese characteristics. You perhaps do not believe that, but it is something real for decades.
Mao maintained his dominance until his death. So did Deng Xiaoping and Jiang maintain their dominance even after their retirement.
You may wonder why even Mao was in a coma before his death, no one dare to challenge him. It was not until one month after Mao’s death powerful generals dared to arrest Mao’s protégés the Gang of Four.
That is again something with Chinese characteristics. In order to maintain his dominance all his life, the core has to skillfully apply China’s traditional art for being an emperor.
Mao applied the art taught in China’s classic “Han Fei Tze” to rule China with awe, tricks and intrigues. Jiang, however, has applied the more advanced art for being an emperor developed in the 2,000 years after Han Fei Tze’s art proved unsuccessful when Emperor Qin Shihuang applied it and caused the collapse of his Qin Dynasty.
That is a long topic, but I have given some description of the art in my book “Tiananmen’s Tremendous Achievements”.
Article by Chan Kai Yee
China’s Core System (4) (Parts (1), (2) and (3) are “The Conundrum of China’s Collective Leadership” dated January 28, “No 2nd Generation of CCP Collective Leadership in China” on January 29 and “Fight for the Position of the Core when There Was No Core” on February 22.)
How Jiang Zemin dealt with Qiao Shi and Li Peng’s challenges
Could Jiang hold a PSC meeting to have PSC members vote on his position as the core to have the final say? Jiang was not sure he had the majority votes as most likely the other PSC members wanted equal power so that each and every member was one of the first-ranking leaders. If there was a core that had final say, the core would be the first-ranking leader while all the other members would be second-ranking leaders. Who would cast his vote to support Jiang as the first-ranking core and thus reduce himself to second-ranking? Jiang certainly knew very clear that he could not rely on the collective leadership to vote for him to have the final say.
By that time Jiang had made great efforts to establish his powerbase and was quite successful though had not obtained dominant power. Without Deng, the core of the second generation of CCP leadership, Jiang was not even sure that he was strong enough to ensure that the new central committee to be elected a few months later in the 15th Congress would elect him into the new Politburo or the new Politburo would elect him into the new PSC if he would be elected into the Politburo.
Jiang was entrusted by Deng to carry on Deng’s reform. Deng gave him instruction to gain the power to have final say as the core. Deng set an example in person by his Southern Tour to show the power of the core in forcing all other officials to obey his order to carry on the reform in spite of their opposition to the reform. Jiang had been assigned by Deng to carry on Deng’s reform after Deng died; therefore, it is imperative for Jiang to gain the power as the core of leadership. Jiang realized the urgency for him to maintain his position as the core and overcome Qiao and Li’s challenges.
CCP Elder’s Power
Jiang knew that the election at CCP Congress was controlled by the remaining four of the eight powerful elders after the death of the major elders Deng, Chen Yun, Li Xiannian and Peng Zhen. Among the four, Bo Yibo was the most powerful as Bo was very close to Deng. According to Zhao Ziyang’s secret memoir, Deng entrusted Bo to make preparations for 13th and 14th CCP Congresses. Bo prepared for the congresses the lists of the members of central committee and Politburo and candidates for high official posts and submitted them to Deng for approval. As a result, Bo had great influence among Politburo and central committee members and high officials and could easily control the voting in the 15th Congress in 1997.
Jiang sought Bo’s help. With Bo’s help, he made Qiao retire at the 15th Congress and exploited the conflict between Li Peng and Qiao Shi as Qiao Shi said that the State Council under Li Peng’s control should report to Qiao. At that time, Qiao though ranked the third below Li was popular among reformists. According to China’s constitution, Li though ranked the second above Qiao was to be appointed as the premier by the NPC controlled by Qiao. If Qiao had not contended for the position to be the core, Li would have had to contend with Jiang only. Now Li had to deal with Qiao in addition to Jiang in order to become the core. That was too much for him.
By that time, Li has served two terms as premier and had to resign from the post of premier. Jiang cleverly offered Li Qiao’s post. Li, though could not become the core, would rank nominally higher than premier and could appoint the premier. That was at least a promotion. Jiang had thus won over Li and along with Li’s protégés in the State Council and the conservatives behind Li.
Qiao had been honest and upright all his life so that it was not likely that he had the ambition to become the core. Perhaps, he simply wanted the NPC to constraint Jiang Zemin and avoid the repetition of an autocracy like Mao’s.
Anyway, Qiao’s democratic idea that regarded the NPC instead of the Party as the only power centre may weaken CCP’s political power. He certainly could not get powerful elders’ support in his power struggle with Jiang. However, when he chaired the NPC, the NPC acted less like a rubber stamp. Since his retirement, no NPC chairman has ever challenged the Party’s leadership again and the NPC has fully resumed its role as a rubber stamp.
No Collective Leadership when Jiang Zemin Was the Core
Jiang learnt from Deng’s example and has obtained top power through the help of powerful elders, especially Bo Xilai’s father Bo Yibo. With the help of Zhu Rongji, he obtained the prestige in CCP by his successful reform to make China’s loss-making State-owned enterprises profitable. By the time he retired from PSC, he had soundly established his powerbase. Hu Jintao was not his but his mentor Deng Xiaoping’s choice as his successor. Out of his gratitude and respect for Deng his mentor, Jiang had to appoint and groom Hu Jintao as his successor. However, Jiang’s first priority was to carry on Deng’s reform and opening-up. As Hu has not established his powerbase to succeed Jiang as the core, Jiang had to maintain his control to keep on the reform.
He appointed his protégés into PSC to control PSC majority and thus controlled PSC’s decision making. As a result, PSC made decision by the majority controlled by Jiang. That gave the false impression that there was collective leadership in PSC, but in reality, the decisions had been made in accordance with Jiang’s instructions to the PSC members controlled by Jiang.
At first, Deng Xiaoping wanted to establish a system of collective leadership in the Party, but after Tiananmen Protests, he changed his mind and wanted the collective leadership to have a core. The idea about a core is perhaps realistic for the Party because for thousands of years, China has to have a highly centralized power center.
Article by Chan Kai Yee
China’s Core System (2) (Part (1) is my post “The Conundrum of China’s Collective Leadership” dated January 28)
What about the second generation of collective leadership which according to Deng, he was its core?
From 1977 after Mao’s death to 1987 the Politburo Standing Committee (PSC) of CCP Central Committee was controlled by powerful elders Ye Jianying (who died in 1985), Deng Xiaoping, Chen Yun and Li Xinian, which to some extent can be regarded as leadership of three elders, an oligarchy instead of a collective leadership. When Deng, Chen and Li retired from the PSC in 1987, through Bo Yibo Deng told Chen and Li and got their consent that there should be only one mother-in-law for the new PSC that took office in late 1987, said Zhao Ziyang in his secret memoir. It made clear that Deng was the only one who had the power of leadership and all the other members of the so-called collective leadership had to accept Deng’s leadership faithfully, i.e. Deng was the core who had the final say.
What about the new PSC?
As Zhao Ziyang, the demoted CCP general secretary, pointed out in his secret memoir, all the PSC members were but “daughter-in-laws” who had to obey the instructions of Deng who regarded himself as PSC members’ “mother-in-law”. There was no collective leadership of the PSC after the three powerful elders Deng, Chen and Li had retired from the PSC. The general secretary and the PSC simply did what Deng told them to do. Deng was the real leader behind the scene.
Before Tiananmen protests, Deng consulted other elders in making major decisions for the PSC. If there had been collective leadership, it must have been the collective leadership of powerful elders led by Deng. However, powerful elders differed in their opinions on the way to deal with Tiananmen protests so that Deng had to make the hard decision of armed suppression alone. Deng realized that there had to be a strongman as the core of CCP collective leadership able to make hard decision alone like him.
That was why Deng appointed his successor Jiang Zemin as the core of the third generation of CCP collective leadership. He wanted there to be a strongman like him. As an experienced politician and general, Deng certainly knew that the core had to have the power as the core, which could not be transferred by him but had to be established by Jiang on his own. However, he had to set the example what power a core should have.
He used Mao as an example but it was not good enough. Then he set his Southern Tour as an example to Jiang that a core had the power to tell all officials to act in accordance with his instructions no matter whether the core hold any official position or not.
Deng said during his well-known Southern Tour that those who would not carry on his reform and opening-up should be fired. At that time there was serious backlash due to the Tiananmen Protests. Conservatives’ resistance to the reform had almost put an end to Deng’s reform. Jiang Zeming, though a true reformist, appeared like a conservative as Deng had given him the instruction that Jiang’s priority was to establish his powerbase. At that time nearly all China watchers outside China regarded Jiang as a conservative.
Deng alone without official position recovered the reform by his power as the core of CCP leadership.
Where was CCP’s collective leadership?
There was no collective leadership at all. There was only the leadership of the core. Deng had no need to call a meeting of PSC to discuss and approve his instruction. He simply gave his instruction. What the PSC should do was to discuss the way to carry out Deng’s instruction.
That was why I said in my book “Tiananmen’s Tremendous Achievements” that China’s political system was CCP Dynasty and the core of CCP Dynasty was in fact the emperor of the dynasty.
It seems bad, but is in reality good. If the core does not remain in power there will be no continuity of his wise policy. In Deng’s case, China’s reform and opening-up would not have been carried on after Tiananmen Protests.
A leader with wisdom and integrity is very rare, if a country has found one it shall keep him as the leader until the time he is unable or unwilling to bear the heavy burdens of leadership.
It will be much better if such a leader is found and appointed when he is young. There will be much more time for him to play his wonderful role as a leader to bring prosperity to his country and happiness to his people. China’s well-known prime minister Zhuge Liang was appointed top advisor to Liu Bei (later emperor of the Empire of Shuhan) when he was only 27. He helped Liu set up the Empire and was its prime minister for more than two decades until he died at the age of 54.
The problem now is that a man with wisdom and integrity is appointed leader when he is about sixty years old and can only serve 2 to 3 terms. Therefore, it is good that he will remain the core and continue his leadership after his retirement. That was the case with Deng Xiaoping. It is also the case with Jiang Zemin.
Deng became the core in 1978 and retired from all official posts in 1990 but had to remain in charge after his retirement though he was succeeded by Jiang his chosen core of the third generation of CCP leadership. As Jiang had not established his powerbase as the core, when conservatives had almost put an end to Deng’s reform, Deng conducted his Southern Tour in 1992 to bring China back to the course of reform and opening-up.
What power did Deng have to make the whole CCP and country obey his instruction to carry on his reform? His power as the core of CCP leadership. In 1990, Deng retired from his last official post as the chairman of Central Military Commissions but had not retired from his position as the core of CCP leadership. China is lucky Deng though became leader in 1978 when he had already been 74 quite old to bear the burdens of leadership, he lived a long life and could rule China for nearly two decades till he died at the age of 93. If Deng had become Chinese leader earlier and ruled China longer, Jiang would not have encountered so much difficulty in establishing his powerbase as the core of the third generation of CCP leadership.
Deng told Jiang he would not rest at ease until Jiang had actually become the core. He helped Jiang obtain control of PLA (the People’s Liberation Army) by removal of Yang brothers’ control of PLA. Still by 1997 before the 15th Congress Jiang was challenged by PSC members Qiao Shi and Li Peng. As Deng was dead by that time, Jiang sought powerful elder Bo Yibo’s support to maintain his position as the core.
Jiang was chosen as the core in 1989 but by 1997, he still had not fully established his position as the core. He had really gained the power as the core but we do not know the exact time when Jiang had really established enough powerbase as the core. If we assume that he really became the core by 1997, he only ruled China as the core for about 2 decades till now when he was succeeded by his chosen successor Xi Jinping.
Hu Jintao has never gained the position as the core though he has set up his very strong CYL faction.
As Jiang remained the core and remained in charge, the PSC with Hu as the head was not a collective leadership; therefore, there was no third generation of collective leadership either. This will be elaborated in my next post.
Article by Chan Kai Yee
Some China watcher believes that Chinese President Xi Jinping is nearly as powerful as Mao. In fact, they do not know how powerful Xi is compared with Mao.
How Mao Gradually Lost Most of His Power
Mao has absolute power before he made the mistake of the Great Leap Forward. In fact, if he was not so powerful, he simply could not launch the stupid campaign for unrealistic fast economic growth as most of the officials in charge of economic development in China advocated a moderate balanced economic growth. Before Mao’s Great Leap Forward, they achieved a growth rate of more than 10% p.a., quite fast in the world.
As those officials were led by powerful veterans Zhou Enlai and Chen Yun, Mao denounced Zhou severely as a conservative and scared Chen Yun. He had thus finally obtained consensus in CCP for his Great Leap Forward. Unfortunately, Mao’s Great Leap Forward was a disastrous blunder.
Due to the blunder, he gradually lost power to his chosen successor Liu Shaoqi and had to start the Cultural Revolution to grab power back from Liu. As most communist veterans supported Liu, Mao used first Red Guards and then Rebels to deprive veterans of their power.
To ensure success in his power struggle against Liu and Liu’s supporters, Mao needed the support of the troops so that he replaced Liu with the then Defense Minister Marshal Lin Biao as his successor and gave Lin the control of Chinese troops. When he found that Lin had grown as powerful as him, he brought down Lin. Then he had doubt about the loyalty of his powerbase Chinese troops in the face of Soviet attack.
Mao was wise to ally with the US to counter the Soviet Union. However, in fighting CCP civilian and military officials, he had used up his political capital and became unable to control the rebels. As a result, he was no able to put an end to the chaos caused by his Cultural Revolution.
Mao said that Cultural Revolution had to be carried out about every 8 years. He started his Cultural revolution in 1966 but by 1976 when he died, he was still unable to finish his Cultural Revolution. Disruption of production continued in most areas of China. As a result, there were nothing to shop except aluminum pots and enamel ware even in Hangzhou, a prosperous city before the Cultural Revolution well-known in the saying “There is paradise above in heaven while there are Suzhou and Hangzhou below”.
By that time, Mao’s power was quite limited. Xi would have been unable to achieve anything if he had had as limited power as Mao. As powerful as Mao? Nonsense.
Deng Xiaoping was powerful to order conservatives to obey him, but he did not have conservatives’ support for his reform and opening-up.
Jiang Zemin had established very strong powerbase to be the core of CCP’s third generation of leadership, but like Deng he could only silence conservatives’ opposition to his reform but had not won over their support.
In his reign for a decade, Hu Jintao had promoted lots of the members of his CYL (Communist Youth League, Hu’s powerbase) to high official posts, but he was challenged by Bo Xilai, head of the powerful conservative faction. Hu lacked the power to punish Bo when Bo’s crime of serious corruption was discovered. It was Jiang Zemin, the core of the third generation of CCP leadership, who was able to make the decision to punish Bo severely.
In spite of the decade of his rule, Hu had not become the core of CCP leadership, but Xi obtained the position as the core of CCP leadership in five years.
How has Xi succeeded in obtaining the power?
First, as soon as Xi took over the reign, he had gained the support of both reformists and conservatives by his China dream.
A couple of weeks after he took office as CCP General Secretary, Xi gained popularity by his surprise closure of all the black jails local officials set up in Beijing to imprison petitioners.. By so doing he dealt a heavy blow on powerful local officials.
He then announced that he would scrap the unpopular reeducation through labor system. Though the system was officially abolished about one and half years later, it had ceased operation soon after his announcement on abolishing it. Due to the system, police had the excessive power to imprison people in reeducation labor camp for as long as four years without any legal procedures. Before Xi’s surprise attacks at local officials and removal of the excessive power of the police, the police used the excessive power to protect corrupt officials and persecute those who dare to expose officials’ crimes of corruption. By abolishing the system and removal of police’s excessive power, Xi had dealt a heavy blow on Chinese police and laid foundation for his fight against corruption.
You may ask why Xi was able to deal heavy blows on the powerful vested interests of local officials and the police when he had just taken over the reign and had not yet set up his powerbase.
In September 2012 before Xi succeeded Hu Jintao, Xi disappeared mysteriously for two weeks. In that period, he visited all the powerful elders to gain their support for his fight against corruption and tightening of party discipline. In spite of their differences, all the elders supported Xi as they had the consensus that the rampant corruption would cause CCP to collapse. They had the experience that in spite of its larger military and US support the KMT lost the civil war to CCP due to its serious corruption.
Due to powerful elders’ support, Xi had real power as soon as he took over to enable him to deal heavy blows on local officials and the police. However, his sound powerbase was built in the five years since he took office through his successful fight against corruption, enforcement of party discipline and reorganization of Chinese military.
As a result, Xi has now become the most powerful leader in CCP history, much more powerful than Mao when Mao launched the Cultural Revolution but perhaps as powerful as the Mao before Mao made the mistake of the Great Leap Forward.
The most important battle Xi has won in obtaining absolute power is his fight against rampant corruption. As corruption has been an evil in China for centuries, it is too long a topic to discuss here.
You may wonder what about China’s collective leadership. It will be discussed in my next post “The Conundrum of China’s Collective Leadership”.
Article by Chan Kai Yee
No Existing Road or Model to Follow
As pointed out in Chapter 53, Deng Xiaoping and Zhao Ziyang switched to capitalism as communism had proved a failure while the development of the private sector in China since the reform had created jobs, increased tax revenue and brought about economic growth. Their pursuit of capitalism was readily accepted by those who jointed the CCP first of all for national salvation including the first generation of Chinese communists and the majority of 38-style cadres. Like Deng, they also lost confidence in communism and wanted to try capitalism. However, compared with dogmatic communists, those reformists were after all a small minority in CCP.
They became aware that the ideals previously pursued were either not suitable to China’s national conditions such as Western democracy or entirely unrealistic such as the communist ideal. They realized that for such a huge and complicated nation as China there are no foreign or theoretical models to follow. Their previous pursuits of foreign and theoretical models have only brought misery to China. They have to pursue real and practical progress instead of ideals. However, the administration of a huge country with complicated national conditions is very difficult. There may be lots of risks and dangers. A wrong decision may have disastrous consequence that provides leftists the excuse to conduct another Cultural Revolution to revolt against “capitalist roaders” and bring another round of chaos to China. According to Mao’s instruction, Cultural Revolution shall be repeated about once a decade to prevent restoration of capitalism!
In addition, China has a history of being divided into several autocracies when the central government collapses. The danger of division is especially strong at that time due to foreign instigation and assistance as some foreign powers believe a split China will be a less threat to them.
Wading a Stream by Feeling the Way
To avoid those risks and dangers, China shall be very careful in pursuing economic growth and prosperity. That is especially true as there are no specific models for China to follow. As a result, Deng described Chinese way of seeking progress as “wading a stream by feeling the way”. He wanted his successors to be very cautious in achieving economic growth.
It also indicates that China only knows its destination of prosperity but does not know the road leading to the destination. It has to explore its way.
Serious Obstacle to the Wading – Dogmatic Communists’ Opposition
The younger dogmatic communists began to denounce Deng Xiaoping’s reform and opening up for its capitalist nature as soon as Deng began his reform. However, Deng has the support of most of the powerful elders and the educated CCP members a generation or two younger who like him were first of all patriots. Zhao Ziyang, Jiang Zemin and Zhu Rongji were talented ones among them. Like Deng, they regard making China rich and strong as their priority. They were Deng’s loyal followers and dedicated themselves to Deng’s reform to make China rich and strong.
Compared with the large number of leftists, they were but a small minority. Knowing well it was impossible to win the debate with the dogmatic communists and make them accept capitalism, Deng resorted to the trick of delay. He told his leftist opponents to refrain from debate but wait and see the results of his reform and opening up.
However, the leftists did not obey. Instead, they kept on attacking Deng’s reform vehemently.
How can reformists justify the pursuit of capitalism?
Article by Chan Kai Yee
According to Marxist theory, a person’s political status is determined by his economic status. A landlord or capitalist who has got his assets taken away and who has lived on the income from his labor shall have his class status changed from landlord or capitalist to that of a laborer after he has been a laborer for three years or longer. That was the case in the Soviet Union but not in China. Some years after deprivation of landlords’ and capitalists’ assets, the Soviet Union announced that there were no landlord or capitalist classes in its society.
China denounced that Soviet practice as revisionist. In China, a landlord or capitalist remained a landlord or capitalist after his assets had been taken away by the communists long ago. In fact, in Mao era, he was to remain labeled a landlord or capitalist and be politically discriminated and persecuted all his life.
That was the case with Deng Xiaoping and Zhao Ziyang’s relatives and friends. Deng and Zhao supported the communists in taking away their relatives and friends’ assets and expected that their relatives and friends would become laborers and enjoy the good life China’s socialist construction would bring them. They were sad to see that their relatives and friends had been labeled as landlord or capitalist and discriminated and persecuted though they were entirely innocent and had lived on their own labor for a long time while China did not become rich and remained poor in spite of the assets it has got from landlords and capitalists.
To put an end to such social injustice and switch the nation’s focus onto economic growth, Deng declared termination of class struggle and removed all the discriminating political labels.
As a result, with labels removed the landlords and capitalists who were mostly well educated began to make their contributions to China’s economic growth. Lots of them wrote to their successful entrepreneurial relatives and friend abroad and even went abroad to visit them in order to make them invest in China. Most of foreign investment that helped China’s economic development came from those overseas Chinese.
It makes the Chinese Communist Party understand China’s traditional wisdom of seeking harmony.
Article by Chan Kai Yee