Was the recent Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) 18th Party Congress really a victory for former Chinese president Jiang Zemin (江澤民) over his successor, President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤)? Did it really bring conservative factions to the fore? Did it really signal the death knell of hopes for reform in China? I would say no to all of the above. My feeling is that the combination of Hu, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao (溫家寶) and their respective successors, Vice President Xi Jinping (習近平) and Vice Premier Li Keqiang (李克強), is actually a historic victory against Jiang’s hardline faction. I say this for two reasons.
First, there has been a fundamental revision of the “guiding ideology.” Hu’s address to the Congress stuck very much to the party line, as was to be expected. He came out with platitudes such as the need to uphold “Marxism-Leninism, Mao Zedong (毛澤東) Thought, Deng Xiaoping (鄧小平) Theory and the important thought of Three Represents,” but this was just a mark of respect for previous leaders, following Deng’s exhortations that “we cannot discard the ancestors.” Yet who still pays any attention to Mao’s “centrality of the class struggle,” Deng’s insistence on “upholding the Four Cardinal Principles,” or Jiang’s “Three Represents?”
The central theme of Hu’s address was what is being called the “scientific outlook on development” as the guiding ideology within the party’s constitution. He emphasized putting the people first; considering both the needs of the state and the collective, and having comprehensive, balanced and sustainable development to create a democratic, culturally advanced, ecological, harmonious society with a market economy.
This is a fundamental revision of the anti-scientific outlook on development of the anti-liberalization, anti-democracy, and anti-human rights model of the special-privilege capitalist monopoly market devised by Deng and continued by Jiang. This has led to corruption, waste of resources, ecological damage, yawning wealth disparity and widespread social discontent.
Second, the transfer of power represents a major renewal. Xi has been elected the CCP general-secretary and the chairman of the CCP’s Central Military Commission (CMC), and in the National People’s Congress meeting in March he will be elected Chinese president and chairman of the Central Military Commission of the People’s Republic of China (PRC). When this happens, the power transfer at the very top will have been achieved. Hu’s complete retirement will signal a major change, the end of the era in which Deng and Jiang were able to put themselves above the people and the country, and continued to interfere in government.
Deng was never elected to the highest position of power, either nationally or within the party. In January 1987 he staged a palace coup with a group of hardliners, including Chen Yun (陳雲), Bo Yibo (薄一波) and Wang Zhen (王震), and ousted then party general-secretary Hu Yaobang (胡耀邦). In June 1989, former CCP leader Zhao Ziyang (趙紫陽) was purged after the Tiananmen Square Massacre, this time in a military coup. Deng then proclaimed himself the “core of the second generation” of leaders and Jiang the “core of the third generation,” further stipulating that the leaders of the generation after that, proclaiming his “anti-liberalization” road, would “not be changed for 100 years.”
Jiang followed suit, serving as general-secretary of the CCP for 13 years between 1989 and 2002 and retaining the CMC chairmanship for several years after. He was doing what Deng had done as CMC chairman from 1981 to 1989, refusing to leave the post during the Hu Yaobang and Zhao eras. Jiang was finally forced to relinquish the post in 2004, but even now continues to interfere in government. In the 18th Party Congress, Hu established a new model. In the future, nobody will be able to copy Deng or Jiang and proclaim themselves the “core” of their generation.
The so-called tuanpai — the Youth League — and “princelings” are artificial concepts. Some of the Communist Youth League were originally from the anti-reform hardline faction and include Liu Yunshan (劉雲山) among their number. Senior cadres’ sons are known as the princelings and some of these belong to the reformers’ faction, who are far more in tune with the people. Can you say that people like Xi and Hu Deping (胡德平) are remotely similar to Jiang and Bo Xilai (薄熙來), the former party secretary in Chongqing?
That the new Politburo Standing Committee includes members from the hardline and moderate factions is a good thing. In today’s pluralistic Chinese society, it is far better to have many different voices represented than having one person calling the shots. This is how progress is made.
No one man is more powerful than circumstance. In the run-up to the 18th Party Congress, the hardline faction in the party was using its resources within and without China, crying foul over the Bo scandal, and, despite his best efforts to keep it open, Jiang was unable to save his remaining office within the CMC building from being closed. How is this a victory for Jiang?
This year will be one of great change in China. The events of the summer, with the Wang Lijun (王立軍) case giving rise to the Bo scandal and dissident Chen Guangcheng’s (陳光誠) break for freedom, have combined to create a watershed moment for China, marking the end of the balance of terror of Deng’s empire, between anti-rightist political policies that have resisted liberalization, democracy and human rights and the economic policies of the anti-leftists that have led to corruption through reliance on the special-privilege capitalist monopoly market. The 18th Party Congress marked a new dawn in China: Xi and Li are to oversee a historic transition. They do not want to change, but change they must. The march of history does not revolve around the will of individuals.
A Chinese friend once asked me: “If Mao and Deng were despots, and Jiang was a comedian [he actually used the word “clown”], then what of Xi? Perhaps he will be a modern national leader.”
I asked him: “What makes you say that?”
He replied: “He understands the people and he understands the world.”
Xi’s inaugural address gave witness to this. He placed “the greatness of the people” above the status of the party, saying that “[the party’s] strength comes from the people and masses, and that the “people’s yearning for a good and beautiful life is the goal for us to strive for.” He also said: “China needs to learn more about the world and the world also needs to learn more about China.”
Finally, one can discern a thin band of light on the horizon in China, bringing hope that the long night will soon end.
Ruan Ming is an adviser at the Taiwan Research Institute.
Translated by Paul Cooper