Rule of the Princelings

Cairo Review has published an issue dedicated to China. The lead story, by Cheng Li, looks at the rise of princelings among China’s incoming rulers and what it means for the future of Chinese politics:

In the wake of the recent Bo Xilai scandal and the resulting crisis of CPC rule, many had anticipated that party leaders would adopt certain election mechanisms—what the Chinese authorities call “intra-party democracy”—to restore the party’s much-damaged legitimacy and to generate a sense that the new top leaders do indeed have an election-based new mandate to rule. For example, some analysts had anticipated that the CPC Central Committee might use competitive (though limited) multiple-candidate elections to select members of its leadership bodies, such as the twenty-five-member politburo or even the PSC. Such high-level elections, however, did not take place. The selection of elites at this congress continued to be done the old fashioned way—through the “black box” of manipulation, deal-cutting, and trade-offs that occur behind the scenes among a handful of politicians (e.g., outgoing PSC members and retired heavyweight figures—most noticeably the 86-year old Jiang).

What is even more troubling is the fact that four out of the seven PSC members are princelings—leaders who come from families of either veteran revolutionaries or high-ranking officials. It has been widely noted that large numbers of prominent party leaders and families have used their political power to convert state assets into their own private wealth. The unprecedentedly strong presence of princelings in the new PSC is likely to reinforce public resentment of how power and wealth continue to converge in China.

Chinese politics thus seem to be entering a new era characterized by the concentration of princeling power at the top. This gives rise to important questions regarding the nature and implications of the new leadership. What caused the dramatic defeat of the Hu camp in this political succession? Does the six-to-one split of the PSC mean a shift from factional power-sharing to a new “winner takes all” mode of Chinese elite politics? Will the factional imbalance at the top seriously undermine leadership unity and elite cohesion, thus potentially threatening the sociopolitical stability of the country at large? What are the main characteristics of this new princeling elite? What should we expect in terms of economic policies, political reforms, and foreign relations under the Xi Jinping administration? And can the identities of newly promoted leaders help us understand where China is headed?

The issue also includes a Pico Iyer essay about the Dalai Lama, an article about the South China Sea disputes, and interview with Orville Schell, and a review of two recent e-books about the fall of Bo Xilai, written by CDT’s Translation Coordinator, Anne Henochowicz.