Originally published in High Peaks Pure Earth, November 1, 2012
Reposted in TPR with permission
From left to right: Mao Zedung, Deng Xiaoping, Chang Zemin & Hu Jintao
People place their hopes for Chinese democracy onto “inner-party democracy”, most suggestions offered to the CCP started after the institutionalisation of different factions within the Party, and some expect that this may be the starting point of a multi-party system. In actual fact, the institutionalisation of different factions has long been going on within the Party, it has already become quite a mature system, but precisely because of that, a multi-party system has receded even further into the distance.
Wang Lixiong does not agree with separating the CCP into “Youth League” or “Populists” and “Princelings”, he believes that this is not only incorrect but also misleading; furthermore, he believes that the other way of separating two factions into the “Jiang faction” and “Hu faction” remains equally superficial, lacking any deeper analysis. Wang Lixiong instead labels the factions within the CCP as “faction N” and “faction N+1”.
Passing on power from one to the next person has always been a major difficulty within autocratic governments. During ancient times, this was done according to the bloodline, a clear and simple method, but nevertheless, massacres and conspiracies within the Imperial household and palace were still unavoidable. Yet, power changes in modern times brought with them much greater upheaval. Mao Zedong arranged his successor several times but he was still unable to safeguard the palace from transforming after his death; Deng Xiaoping first appointed Hu Yaobang and Zhao Ziyang but they were also deposed by him later on during the times leading up to “June 4” that almost overturned the CCP.
Deng Xiaoping learnt from this bitter experience and made an unprecedented move – he simultaneously appointed two generations of successors, Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao. One generation had to pass on the leadership to the next after two terms, after 10 years. This arrangement had one advantage, in this way there existed a mutually constraining relationship between two generations of successors; when Jiang’s time was over, he had to pass leadership on to Hu and thus, he would not generate the courage to betray the inflated ego of Deng Xiaoping; after handing the power over, Jiang would automatically come under Hu’s authority and so in order to protect himself, he would avoid a life-and-death struggle between two factions. Hu, on the other hand, had to rely on the legitimacy granted by Deng Xiaoping so as to guarantee that he would actually take over power according to plan and also so as to avoid that he would, like many successors in the past, leave the stage in poverty and misery; hence, he was very much concerned about treating Deng Xiaoping’s ideas as his guiding principles, protecting them with everything he had.
Deng’s authority guaranteed that this plan became a consensus within the corporation of power. Even though it never existed in writing, it was nevertheless binding simply based on its essence. Even after Deng’s death, Jiang did not dare to usurp, he had no choice but to pass power on to Hu according to plan. It was the first time that the transferral of power within the CCP went smoothly. Perhaps Deng had initially only tried to guarantee one smooth change of power, however, what he had triggered, actually, ended up continuing and spreading within the political ecology of the CCP – when Jiang passed on power to Hu, he imitated Deng Xiaoping and appointed Xi Jinping as the successor of Hu, from then on the system of “each generation appoints their successor” was born.
The different factions within the Party always embodied a struggle for the political line, pulling the Party into a deep division, always a matter of life and death until a new dictator would unite and stabilise it again. But that kind of dictator that would sit above every mountain top and, of course, also above the Party itself and that would with his own willpower harm the Party, was still unable to prevent an upheaval next time there was a transferral of power. The system of each generation appointing their own successors, on the other hand, has guaranteed that there naturally exist two mountain tops within the Party, divided by each generation – “faction N” and “faction N+1”. The “N” is simply a change in the algebra formula as a position is succeeded. There is no struggle over the political line between the two factions, the difference is merely a sequence in taking over power, all in accordance with a set roster. This taking turns happens according to rules, it does not require any competition, one only needs to wait for ones time, this is also why this system is even more stable than that of a democratic regime.
In this kind of mechanism, the one that is not yet in power is weak; he will normally not initiate any challenges; as long as no major accidents happen, when the time comes, he will take over exactly according to plan. The one in power is strong, but he will avoid to overly suppress the weak because the strong-weak relationship will turn around with the transferral of power and the strong will try to prevent having to suffer from any potential acts of revenge. So the strong will always try to exercise restraint. The strong-weak relationship changes, but the weak that becomes strong will not dare to give oneself airs. Not only does the former leader still have influence – so the current leader needs to be on alert – the former leader has also already appointed the next leader who is likely to belong to his own faction; this means that the weak’s faction will be strong again once power is transferred after one’s term in office. Hence, when a new leader becomes strong, he already has to start thinking about the changes that will happen once he passes power on and becomes weak again. These rules guarantee that the two factions are always controlling each other, that everyone is always protected, these rules have formed a roster of strong parts and weak parts that are mutually restrictive, this roster makes sure that all behaviour is within certain norms, it prevents any internal struggles, within it dependency is much greater than fission, it relies on unity and uses war as an auxiliary; it is a mechanism that creates an equilibrium that will potentially continue to exist for a long time.