A Party for China's princelings

China's new leadership line-up is a victory for former doyen Jiang Zemin, and for the cohort of politicians descended from privileged revolutionary backgrounds.

Lowy Interpreter

Looking at the line-up of China's new leaders, two things stand out. First, Jiang Zemin, the 86-year old who was China's leader from 1989-2002, ought to be a very content man. Of the new seven-member Politburo Standing Committee, three owe political allegiance to Jiang, who almost literally returned from his grave to wield authority as Party elder in the selection of PSC members behind the scenes. (A year ago Jiang was reported to be dead or dying but obviously someone was jumping the gun.)

Outgoing leader Hu Jintao has only two allies in the new all-powerful group, the most important one being Li Keqiang, who will be the new Premier, and Liu Yunshan, who will presumably be in charge of propaganda. The new top leader, Xi Jinping (pictured), is neither directly a Jiang or Hu protg but acceptable to both.


The remaining PSC member, Wang Qishan, who has been given the task of tackling corruption, is closer to Jiang than Hu, but reputed to be very much his own man. He could prove to be a key figure in the new leadership. Though Li Keqiang will formally be in charge of the economy, Wang can be expected to weigh in on major economic decisions. Wang is a historian by training but has been a influential economic leader in recent years.

The second observation is that China has been taken over by princelings. 'Princelings' is a colloquial Chinese political term for the sons and daughters of revolutionary Communist leaders. They are strongly resented by many Chinese because they are looked upon as having advanced their careers and amassed fortunes because of their privileged backgrounds. The fall of princeling Bo Xilai exposed the extent of corruption which surrounds the offspring of those who founded the People's Republic of China.

In addition to Xi Jinping, two of the PSC members are princelings, and Wang Qishan is reportedly the son of a high-level official and married to a princeling. Regardless of whether princelings are competent leaders, they do not evoke respect or confidence, especiallyamong the younger generation of Chinese, who yearn to see their country reform into a more just and equitable society.

Both the opaque way in which the leaders of China were (yet again) selected behind closed doors and the outcome reflect how estranged the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party has become from the country's populace.

Originally published by The Lowy Institute publication The Interpreter. Reproduced with permission.

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