Recent political events in China, that have exposed infighting in the Chinese regime’s leadership cliques, have also stirred up many commentaries in the overseas Chinese media, who are discussing which Chinese cadre might best be suited to become the next Chinese leader, and what their impact would be on China’s future. Such discussions are of no value.
In the aftermath of the commotion created by Wang Lijun–the former vice mayor and police chief for Chongqing in central-western China, who asked for asylum at the U.S. consulate in Chengdu on Feb. 6–overseas Chinese media have become embroiled in discussions as to whether senior cadres from the “princeling” factions or the “populist” factions should become the next Chinese leaders. They have presented various arguments for both sides, trying to give readers the impression that the reason they oppose a certain faction is because that faction would bring “great disaster” to the Chinese people.
In my opinion, such discussions are of no value. Life will be the same for the Chinese people–including the minority groups in Xinjiang and Tibet–regardless of whether officials from the princeling or the populist factions rule China. It’s just like the Chinese saying: putting the same medicine into different broths, there’s no difference in the outcome.
Media discussions generally focus on three areas to determine which faction would better benefit the people: economic advocacy, political advocacy, and how incorruptible each faction is.
Given that most third-generation leaders (Jiang Zemin) and fourth-generation leaders (Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao) came from a commoner background, i.e., their parents were not of the communist elite, they ought to understand the importance of the people’s livelihood needs. In recent years, however, despite the country’s soaring GDP, Chinese people have suffered from every kind of pressure: housing, medical, and education costs, unemployment, lack of clean water, safe food, and clean air, as well as inflation caused by over-issuing of currency.
Evidently, the background of those in power is irrelevant to whether or not they will take the wellbeing of the people into consideration.
Then, would an administration headed by the princelings–children of the communist elite–care more about the people’s livelihood?
Currently, only Bo Xilai’s “Chongqing Model” can be used as a reference, and opinions on this model have been extremely polarized. My personal opinion aside, such a model has no chance of long-term implementation. It’s because Bo’s “singing the red” (Mao era songs) campaign is funded by his “hitting the black” (cracking down on corruption and organized crime) campaign. But economic growth and an adjustment of China’s economic structure cannot be realized merely through a “singing the red” campaign.
Bo Xilai advocates “splitting the cake” before “making the cake.” This is pure nonsense. Distribution of the “pieces of cake” obtained from “hitting the black” campaign is just like back in the days when the communist Party launched the land reform campaign; after distributing and spending all the landlords’ land and money, they still were not able to ease the poverty of the majority of peasants.
Those princelings, who seek to implement a new administration after the 18th National Congress, have not declared any political proposition, except perhaps for the so-called “new democracy,” which advocates state monopoly of resources but allows private business ownership. This means that the people will have food on the table, but it’s not much different from how things are now.
Monopoly on Power
Strengthening the Communist Party’s monopoly on power is the common principle among all the factions, only their strategies differ somewhat.
Let’s take a look at the political advocacy of the third and fourth generation of leaders, who came from a commoner background. Chinese people now have over 20 years experience with this “populist” leadership group.
During Jiang Zemin’s rule, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) did not criticize the Western democratic system too aggressively. They allowed the international community some room for a little imagination and let people believe that economic development would surely push forward China’s democratization, commercialization of media would ultimately bring freedom of speech, and that rural grassroots elections would be the prelude to general elections in China.
During the Hu-Wen era, the CCP politically shifted back to the left. Ensuring the Party’s ruling power has been elevated to “a core national interest” that other nations must respect.
Those people who are still holding on to the last illusion [that the regime would reform itself into a democracy], should take note that in 2011 Wu Bangguo, chairman of the National People’s Congress affirmed China’s “five NOs”–NO multiparty elections, NO diversity in guiding thoughts, NO separation of powers, NO federal system, and NO privatization. With that, Chinese people have entered a political dreamless era.
Princeling Bo Xilai’s launching of “singing the red” and “hitting the black” campaigns make it clear that he aspires to bringing back the [extreme leftist policies from Mao’s] Cultural Revolution. It shows that he not only worships the CCP’s monopoly on power, but also worships lawless totalitarian rule.
The so-called “new democracy” advocated by writer and thinker Zhang Musheng, who is supported politically by princeling Liu Yuan, son of former chairman Liu Shaoqi, also proactively affirms the Communist Party’s rule, and is therefore no different from the political principles of those of the third and fourth generation leaders.
Regarding abuse of power and corruption, not much difference can be found between the populist and the princeling factions. Both factions are corrupt, and only differ in their methods.
The strategies the princelings use to become superrich through the influence and resources amassed by their fathers has always been a hot topic in overseas media, which Beijing cannot control. Widely circulated data says that 90 percent of China’s billionaires are the children of high-ranking officials. The British Financial Times’ March 29, 2010 article “To the money born” is worth reading.
Officials from the populist faction are not much better when it comes to corruption. Some small county-level directors of Land and Resources Bureaus have amassed hundreds of millions of yuan.
Liu Zhijun and Zhang Shuguang, who were involved in the high profile Ministry of Railways corruption case last year, both come from a humble background. Zhang was able to funnel US$2.8 billion into his offshore bank account.
Huang Songyou, formerly vice president and judge of the Supreme People’s Court, was removed from his post and detained on charges of corruption. He was also said to be a sexual predator who preyed teenage girls. Huang also came from a poor family.
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In summary, as long as the CCP’s filthy political culture exists, anyone who comes to power under that system will not bring blessings to the people. The factional struggles within the CCP only focus on solving their internal affairs of who will come to power.
Rather than discussing which faction will win and rule China, it would be more useful to discuss how to establish a democratic system that restricts political power and respects the rights of the people.
He Qinglian is a prominent Chinese author and economist, currently living in the U.S. Among the books she has written are: “China’s Pitfalls,” about corruption in China’s economic reform of the 1990s, and “The Fog of Censorship: Media Control in China.” She also writes regular commentaries on contemporary Chinese social and economic issues.
First published in Chinese on the website Chinese Human Rights Bi-Weekly (biweekly.hrichina.org) with abridgement.