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Chinese Leaders in Political Conflict

Howsoever opaque China’s internal policies may be, whenever there is a political power struggle the signs come out through the official media. Leaders have to use this channel to reach out to the party members and cadres across the country with their opinions and views. Unlike India where the Cabinet with the Prime Minister at its head take major decisions, in China the leaders have to run their views through the Communist Party Central Committee and their provincial echelons.

Unlike Mao Zedong who launched crude and vicious campaigns against his opponents, leading to incarcerations and even killings, the post-Mao era under Deng Xiaoping was more civil. Policy exchanges usually take place these days when the top leadership changes or generational transfer of power is in the offing. The current fourth generation of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) will hand over power to the fifth generation in another two years. But given China’s evolvement in an increasingly globalized world, conflicts can also start mid-way.

Given that China’s GDP has reached $4.7 trillion, with a foreign exchange holding of $2.1 trillion, more than $800 billion US treasury bonds in its bank, and a military power that openly warns the US to keep away from the Taiwan issue or face severe nuclear consequences, this great body is suffering increasingly from festering carbuncles.

The biggest problem that China faces is that unlike a democracy where the people can change an unpopular government with their votes, China is a one-party government where perhaps the minority rules the majority. People cannot even take their grievances to the government. The petitioning system introduced by the government remains mainly in the pages of the statute books. In an average of 1000 petitions barely two go up for consideration of higher authorities. The Chinese authorities admitted some months earlier that petitioners who come to Beijing are harassed and even put in “black jails” (unofficial jails) by hired goons of the police. This was a significant admission probably because it was creating an explosive situation.

According to reports from senior Chinese researchers, the number of protests and demonstrations crossed 90 thousand last year, and the size of protests have been growing. This is only an official figure. Chinese statistics remain notorious for hiding the truth.

Frustration against exploitation by petty officials in the country, at prefecture and village levels have led to crimes that verge on psychological boundaries. There has recently been a spate of attacks on school children, but not in the manner and substance that is seen in the US, but on personal grounds on officials running these institutions. In one case, medical officers were killed by a man whose wife was forced to abort, to implement the one-child family norm. This is only the tip of the iceberg, as most incidents are prohibited from media reporting.

China of the 21st Century is not the China of two decades ago. During the 1989 Tienanmen Square (TAM) students’ demonstrations, the communication system was very weak and could be easily intercepted by the authorities. Because of the communication explosion in the country, one of the highest in density in the world, almost the entire country can be informed about important developments in a matter of minutes and hours.

What is preventing China’s implosion is the huge number of nationalist netizens and successful preventive measures to block internet sites. In the computer world, however, those who are determined do get around.

With literacy and education on the rise, young Chinese have started asking questions in their blogs and website communications, getting around state initiated firewalls including on Google. They want to know what exactly the party and government leaders are saying, still using jargon of the Maoist era.

The public questioning has now gone to an extent differing from the position of the authorities on the critical issue of the Dalai Lama and the Tibet question. Some of these people have now asked the Dalai Lama to put forth his views on this issue which the ordinary Chinese will somehow be able to access.

Is this a revolution in the making?

Given these developments, Vice President Xi Jinping, President of Chinese Communist Party Central School which trains senior and upcoming cadres, and putative successor to Party General Secretary Hu Jintao, took an unusual step (May 14, 2010) to address the Party highest academy, on how to communicate with the people to make clear and understandable policies.

Addressing more than 900 officials and new student cadres to study diligently the party’s basic theories, constantly acquire new knowledge, and learn from “ancient Chinese” literature to make their communication simple and concise. Without giving any examples, he added that writings and speech styles of party officials, especially leaders, had gradually improved in the past thirty years (Global Times, China, May 13). Extracts of Xi Jinping’s address was published on the front page of the People’s Daily (May 14), the most authoritative organ of the party and the government.

That the People’s Daily published Xi’s speech after two days indicates it must have gone at least to the Standing Committee of Politburo (SCPB) of the Party to get clearance for the publication of the speech but not in its entirety. At the same time, the Global Times, having published the gist of the speech a day earlier, suggests that differences exist quite strongly, but some group is getting the better of it for now.

The great communist revolution under Mao Zedong which declared all people were equal was nothing but a dictatorship of the few. The vast uneducated and uninitiated population mouthed the jargons but did not know what they meant. They held their leaders in awe.

Current Party Chief and President Hu Jintao has also contributed with jargons like “theory of scientific development”, and his predecessor and opponent Jiang Zemin put forth his “three represents” theory to get non-party members into the government fold. Not many understood what these phrases meant, but feared to ask questions.

Earlier (May 28, 2010), China’s security czar and No.3 in the hierarchy, Zhou Youngkang, in an address to the Central Political and Legislative Affairs Committee of the Party, suggested that lawyers should have the right to exercise their profession and citizens have the right to be defended in court. More surprising, he said that the media should have the right to supervise the judiciary.

Zhou’s observations are far more revolutionary and at variance with the existing system in practice in China. Recently, two lawyers were banned from legal practice for defending pro-democracy activities. An editor of a regional newspaper who got thirteen regional newspapers to write a joint editorial just before the March National People’s Conference (NPC)-China’s Parliament) to revoke the 1956 family registration system which does not allow a person to seek jobs and facilities out of his jurisdiction, was dismissed. The other twelve were “disciplined” – meaning reprimand, re-education, demotion or other administrative punishments.

In this atmosphere, well known and celebrated history teacher, Yuan Tengfei, sparked a debate with his book “The History of Ancient China”, where he described Mao Zedong as a “butcher” worse than those who lie in the Yashukuni Shrine of the war dead in Japan , and that “the material in Chinese history textbooks is less than 5 percent truth, and the rest is pure nonsense”. Allegedly, Yuan also said in his book that the Dalai Lama won the Nobel Peace Prize because of his opposition to the “Chinese invasion of Tibet”.

Reportedly, the offensive remarks in Yuan’s book have been expunged. But in natural circumstances he would have been arrested and pilloried.

These are only some examples of note which suggest that a section in the top hierarchy may be wanting to introduce certain changes in the legal, political and social system and have been trying to fend off criticism from abroad, and a rising resentment within which can, to use a very strong word, ultimately provoke a “revolution” within.

The proponents of this approach appear to be the “princelings”, progeny of former top leaders who did not see eye-to-eye with Mao and subsequent hard line policy arbitrators.

Both Xi Jinping and Zhou Youngkang are children of erstwhile top leaders. They are highly educated, aware of the new world order. They have a host of compatriots like Bo Xilai, son of one of the eight immortals of China, Bo Yibo.

The current 25 member politburo, the country’s final arbitration body, already has seven princelings. This is likely to increase in 2012-13. But they will have strong political opponents in the leaders with a Communist Youth League (CYL) background, led by Party General Secretary Hu Jintao. .

It seems the princelings have delivered the message on what they want to do. The CYL communists may not be at total variance, but they have their specific agenda especially in rural upliftment, and Tibet and Xinjiang separatist movements.

This will give the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) scope to play an increased role in politics. That would not be a good omen for China’s neighbourhood.

(The writer, Mr Bhaskar Roy, is an eminent China analyst with many years of experience. Email:

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