It is because, in the context of the CCP’s long term political struggle, an individual, once they have entered the party, and especially when they have become part of the power mechanism, no longer act in an individual capacity, and no longer make decisions based on their personal wishes or express their own political standpoints. They have, in other words, subjugated their individuality to the party machine.
When an individual joins a system, then, they cease to be an individual, they become the system, or someone who works in line with the system.
This system also exhibits what we might term the party-centrism of power relations in the CCP. The political discipline of the party derives from the fact that the individual is invariably subjugated to the interests of the party. This is an important way in which the CCP has managed to maintain its hold on the state.
Historically, anyone who has sought to exert their personality over the CCP has been unceremoniously toppled, as happened in the case of former CCP general secretary Zhao Ziyang (趙紫陽).
The expectations the outside world has on people like Xi and the rest of the current crop of communist leaders in China derive from accounts of what influenced their individual traits.
In Xi’s case, for example, some say they were shaped by the influence of his father, Xi Zhongxun (習仲勛), one of the founding members of the party. Others might feel that the current generation of leaders is to be more enlightened because of their past experience.
No doubt these traits do exist, but they can in no way compete with the system or the CCP’s party-centrism. If we are to deal with the existing political mechanisms of the CCP, we cannot pin our hopes on individuals.
Wang Dan is a visiting associate professor at National Tsing Hua University’s College of Humanities and Social Sciences.
Translated by Paul Cooper