Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Monday, March 09, 2009

Inside baseball of Chinese politics

Karen Coston's reminder to me of the value of Foreign Policy is once again demonstrated by a fourth article in the current issue.

This one is a good demonstration of elite politics in China and the kind of politics that take place in authoritarian regimes.

By the way, "Pekinologists" is a play on the word "Kremlinologists" describing those experts who tried in Soviet times to discern the politics behind the Kremlin walls. I assume that the spelling, referring to the old-style name for China's capital, is either a reference to the archaic nature of Chinese politics or to the Nationalists in Taiwan who still (at least privately) refer to the capital as Peking. (Maybe someone could explain that to me. Why not Beijingologists?) The author, Cheng Li, is a director of the National Committee on U.S.-China Relations for the Brookings Institution. According to their web site, "he focuses on the transformation of political leaders, generational change and technological development in China."

Cheng Li's analysis reminds me of the analysis I did in a lecture about PRC politics from 1949-79 in which I identified the factions as idealists and pragmatists.

How well could your students identify the factions contending for power and influence? You could use the letter that follows Cheng Li's article as a test of whether students understood a couple of his main ideas.

China’s Team of Rivals

"A financial meltdown in China promises to test the Communist Party’s power in ways not seen since Tiananmen. But theirs is a house divided, as princelings take on populists and Pekinologists try to make sense of it all. Will this team built for economic success implode once the money dries up? An insider’s guide to the leaders at China’s controls.

"The two dozen senior politicians who walk the halls of Zhongnanhai, the compound of the Chinese Communist Party’s leadership in Beijing, are worried. What was inconceivable a year ago now threatens their rule: an economy in freefall...

"Since Deng Xiaoping initiated economic reforms three decades ago, the party’s legitimacy has relied upon its ability to keep the economy running at breakneck pace...

"[T]he Politburo and its Standing Committee... are run by two informal coalitions that compete against each other for power, influence, and control over policy... To borrow a phrase popular in Washington these days, post-Deng China has been run by a team of rivals (zhengdi tuandui)...

"The team of rivals arrangement is not a choice, but a new necessity for the Chinese leadership... [because] of the different constituencies each represents and the belief that only consensus-building will successfully forestall serious political upheaval in the so-called fifth generation of leaders...

"The two groups can be identified as the “populists” and the “elitists.” The populists... are known as tuanpai... Most tuanpai... served as local and provincial leaders, often in poor inland provinces, and many have expertise in propaganda and legal affairs...

"The elitist coalition... are known as princelings because they are the children of former high-ranking officials... Most princelings grew up in the richer coastal regions and pursued careers in finance, trade, foreign affairs, and technology...

"To a great extent, their differences reflect the country’s competing socioeconomic forces: Princelings aim to advance the interests of entrepreneurs and the emerging middle class, while the tuanpai often call for building a harmonious society, with more attention to vulnerable social groups such as farmers, migrant workers, and the urban poor...

"Despite their many differences, the fifth generation of tuanpai and princelings share a common trauma: They are part of China’s 'lost generation.' Born after the founding of the People’s Republic, they were teenagers when the Cultural Revolution broke out in 1966. They lost the opportunity for formal schooling as a result of the political turmoil, and many of them were the “sent-down youths,” young men and women who were moved from cities to rural areas and who worked for many years as farmers...

"If there is another event that approaches the importance of the Cultural Revolution in the lives of these men, it is undoubtedly the Tiananmen Square incident in 1989...t they are a generation older than many of the protesters, and at the time, several were municipal leaders or chiefs of the youth league...

"These events taught the fifth generation two lessons: First, they must maintain political stability at all costs, and second, they should not reveal their fissures to the public..."


So, which faction was behind the letter obtained by the New York Times?

Party Elders Press for Checks on China’s Stimulus Plan

"As China’s government doles out $584 billion to stimulate its ailing economy, critics inside and outside the Communist Party have pressed for details about the murky spending plan and demanded the right to follow the money...

"'We very much endorse the central authorities’ investment of 4 trillion renminbi' — $584 billion — 'to drive the economy,' they explained in the letter, dated Jan. 20, a copy of which was obtained by The New York Times.

"'At the same time, we are extremely worried that the privileged and the corrupt will seize this opportunity to fatten themselves, damage the relationship between the party and the people, and intensify social conflict.'

"They pressed for checks and balances on the recovery program. More sweepingly, they urged that state media be freed from censorship and that courts allowed to operate without interference from the ruling party, reforms the party has repeatedly rejected in the past..."

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2 Comments:

At 8:11 AM, Blogger Jason George said...

This is a great article -- very relevant to what we are discussing in class.
How could this article be discussed in terms of cleavages (cross-cutting and cumulative?)?

Also, how can we reconcile the fact that many of Chinese current leaders come from an engineering and technical background (as emphasized in the Hauss textbook) and the fact that many of the current leadership comes from the "lost generation" that was deprived an education? Do these backgrounds correlate to the factions within the Party?

 
At 11:06 AM, Blogger Ken Wedding said...

As for engineers as political leaders, I have a guess. Even during the repressive Cultural Revolution, technical education was important and necessary. So, the "best and the brightest" (and the politically correct and connected) got education as engineers. With backgrounds as the most educated, they got leadership positions in the '80s.

In regards to the questions about cleavages and factions, I'd point to these details in the article:

"The team of rivals arrangement is not a choice, but a new necessity for the Chinese leadership. In elevating both Xi and Li in 2007, Hu signaled the importance of the different constituencies each represents and the belief that only consensus-building will successfully forestall serious political upheaval in the so-called fifth generation of leaders, of which Xi and Li are members. The idea of turning rivals into allies 'for the sake of the greater good,' as Abraham Lincoln put it, has been widely cited in the Chinese media. A recent article published in China Youth Daily, one of the most popular newspapers in the country, called the 'team of rivals' (zhengdi tuandui) a 'brilliant idea to achieve political compromise in order to maximize common interest and political capital for survival.'...

"Despite their many differences, the fifth generation of tuanpai and princelings share a common trauma: They are part of China’s 'lost generation.' Born after the founding of the People’s Republic, they were teenagers when the Cultural Revolution broke out in 1966. They lost the opportunity for formal schooling as a result of the political turmoil, and many of them were the 'sent-down youths,' young men and women who were moved from cities to rural areas and who worked for many years as farmers.

"Princelings Xi Jinping and Wang Qishan were sent from Beijing to Yanan, in Shaanxi Province, where they spent years on farms. Tuanpai Li Keqiang and Li Yuanchao labored in some of the poorest rural areas in Anhui and Jiangsu provinces. Such arduous and humbling experiences forced these future leaders to cultivate certain traits, such as endurance, adaptability, foresightedness, and humility. They not only had the unusual opportunity to come to know rural China, but they also had to adjust to a completely different socioeconomic environment. This adjustment forced them to learn at an early age how to handle challenges and how to compromise. Xi Jinping recently told the Chinese media that his time in Yanan was a 'defining experience,' a 'turning point' in his life.

"If there is another event that approaches the importance of the Cultural Revolution in the lives of these men, it is undoubtedly the Tiananmen Square incident in 1989. We don’t have much information about how the incident affected them individually, but they are a generation older than many of the protesters, and at the time, several were municipal leaders or chiefs of the youth league. It is clear that they appreciate, as a group, that China’s leadership during Tiananmen was deeply divided over how to respond to the unrest. They also realize that the internal struggle aggravated the crisis and ultimately culminated in a brutal response.

"These events taught the fifth generation two lessons: First, they must maintain political stability at all costs, and second, they should not reveal their fissures to the public. Although these leaders wear their differences on their sleeves, there is solidarity at the highest level, inspired by past unrest, to avoid any sign of a split in the leadership, which would be dangerous for the party and for the country..."

For more on scientists in politics, see Grassroots Politics in China

 

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