The new Chinese leadership transition was recently finalized at the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) 18th National Congress.
The outside world seems to believe that thanks to former president Jiang Zemin’s (江澤民) support, the elitist “princelings” were victorious over the tuanpai (團派), or Communist Youth League faction, during the party’s power struggles.
In the next five years, the princelings are to exert a great deal of influence over politics in China, and a greater understanding of this group could help predict how China may develop.
As a faction with a clear-cut stand, the princelings have four unique political characteristics compared to the youth league.
First, the princelings have emotional, impulsive tendencies.
Former Chongqing CCP secretary Bo Xilai (薄熙來) is a typical example. He lost his temper and slapped then Chongqing vice mayor Wang Lijun (王立軍) in the face over his handling of a case involving Bo’s wife, leading Wang to seek asylum in a US consulate.
This would never have happened with members of the youth league, who are considered to be temperate and courteous.
The new CCP general-secretary — Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping (習近平) — kept a low profile for some years. However, during a visit to Mexico in 2009 his more hegemonistic tendencies came to the fore, when he warned the US not to intervene in China’s affairs. Perhaps this was also a result of impulsiveness.
The second characteristic is a predilection for showiness.
League members are hardly distinguishable from each other. Not so the princelings.
Bo is one example of this, as is Vice Premier Wang Qishan (王岐山).
When Xi led the Standing Committee members of the CCP’s Political Bureau to meet the press for the first time, his speech was in marked contrast to the government’s bureaucratic tone, and this was directly attributable to his personality.
If the league faction are like a flock of sheep, the princelings are like a pack of wolves, and wolves like to stand out.
Third, the league faction has another special characteristic: Unity.
Members of the league seldom attack each other or challenge their leaders. The princelings are another story.
Even before they assumed ascendancy, there were revelations of rivalry between Bo and Xi, reflecting serious discord.
Moreover, their fathers had a history of competing with each other in political struggles.
Naturally, the factional confrontations and historical enmity of the elder generation have been passed down.
Fourth, due to the status of their fathers, most princelings were demoted to ordinary citizens and suffered hardships during the Cultural Revolution from 1966 to 1976.
This experience inculcated in them a strong tendency toward populism, and they know how to use propaganda, spin and rhetoric to appeal to the public.
Compared with Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) and other members of the league faction, the princelings are better at “performance politics.”
After Xi came to office, he cultivated an “anti-corruption sheen,” while showing a tendency toward populism.
We are likely to witness the princelings continue this trend.
That is not to say that the princelings identify themselves as ordinary people. Even if they believe that the public are the foundation of the nation, they would never become democrats.
Character determines fate.
The princelings’ political character affects the future of China.
Since stable development is unlikely, we can at least expect a good show.
Wang Dan is a visiting assistant professor in the College of Humanities and Social Sciences at National Tsing Hua University.
Translated by Eddy Chang