The Princelings And Populists
Chinese Party Seeks To Harmonize Antithetical Ideologies

As the leadership changes in China the outgoing ideology is incorporated into the ideological pantheon

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Amiel Ungar,

Xi (standing) Jiang and HU
Xi (standing) Jiang and HU

"Together with Marxism-Leninism, Mao Zedong Thought, Deng Xiaoping Theory and the important thought of Three Represents, the Scientific Outlook on Development is the theoretical guidance the Party must adhere to for a long time."

Help!  Maybe it was easier to understand in the original Chinese, but the turgid exhortation by Wu Bangguo, chairman of the national legislature upon the opening of the 18th Congress of the Chinese Communist Party, shows that in terms of ideology, the Chinese Communist Party has come to resemble a tree. Each time it makes a leadership change it adds another ring to the official ideology.

While tree rings generally show a consistent pattern, it is hard to reconcile the thought of Mao - with its emphasis on being red over being an expert - and the famous dictum of  Deng (that got him into trouble) that it does not matter what color the cat is as long as he knows how to catch mice.

Now the Scientific Outlook on Development of outgoing president Hu Jintao  follows the Three Represents of his predecessor Jiang Zemin into the ideological hall of fame. Here, as well, the clash between Jiang's approach, emphasizing growth over everything else, is hard to reconcile with Hu's emphasis on balanced growth. As part of Hu's policy, China tried to pour money into welfare, pollution control and redressing economic imbalances.

Cheng Li of the Brookings Institution has published an analysis that deals with factionalism within the Chinese party. The two main factions are called the princelings and the populists.

The former are the children of higher ups who always had access to the finer things in life and were able to trade on their connections to amass wealth.

The populists, in contrast, made their way up the ladder via the party youth movement and the party organizations and tended to represent the poorer inland regions of China.

According to this analysis, the outgoing president Hu was a populist, while the incoming president Xi Jinping is a princeling. The new Prime Minister Li Keqiang is a populist.

Xi's advantage is that he appears to straddle both groups. Although by birth a princeling, during Chairman Mao's insane Cultural Revolution (1966-1969), the child of privilege was exiled to rural China and endured 7 years of dire conditions. According to the hagiography, this experience provided the incoming leader with firsthand knowledge of and a lasting sympathy for the underprivileged.

The Indian newspaper Hindu paints a different picture of a leader who - once permitted to resume the life of a princeling - did not maintain ties with the backwoods.

Even Cheng Li admits that the factional divide is softened by frequent collaboration and the need to maintain a balance. One can also say that reality does not exactly coincide with political ideology.

Outgoing Prime Minister Wen Jiabao has been linked with the populists. Such populism did not prevent his family from accumulating nearly $2.75 billion. Xi's family wealth is estimated at a more modest $225 million.

Hu in his farewell address warned that corruption was a major threat to the party, although Wen and Xi did not make their fortunes by savvy investments in Microsoft or Apple.