Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Friday, November 16, 2012

Chinese aristocrats?

Many of the factions within the Communist Party in China are led by sons and grandsons of revolutionary heroes and leaders. Do they make up a Communist aristocracy?

This bit of analysis is another example of how during a time of transition, journalists write about details that normally get ignored. When something like the Communist Party Congress and leadership transition take place, teachers can "harvest" valuable supplements to the teaching materials they already have.

China’s Aristocratic Class Wields Its Influence to Shape Politics
The rise of so-called princelings… will reach a capstone this week, when Xi Jinping, himself the son of a Communist Party pioneer, is to be unveiled as China’s top leader… Mr. Xi is likely to be joined by at least two other princelings on the seven-member Standing Committee.

Despite rising controversy over their prominent role in government and business… China’s princelings, who number in the hundreds, are emerging as an aristocratic class that has an increasingly important say in ruling the country.

While they feud and fight among themselves, many princelings have already made their mark in the established order, playing important roles in businesses, especially state-owned enterprises. Others are heavily involved in finance or lobbying, where personal connections are important…

Red Guards in Shenyang
Many of the oldest among them — those now set to take power — share something else: an upbringing during some of China’s most difficult years. Many were children during the Great Leap Forward, when upward of 30 million people died of famine from 1958 to 1962, and teenagers during the Cultural Revolution from 1966 to 1976, a period many spent as outcasts or in exile after their parents were attacked by Maoist radicals…

The princelings are distinct from the current top rulers of China, most of whom owe their allegiance to institutions in the Communist Party. Outgoing party general secretary, Hu Jintao, rose up through the Communist Youth League…

Princelings are far from a uniform bloc. Many grew up in Beijing’s “big yards” — the sprawling housing compounds of the ministries and Communist Party organizations that defined the capital in the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s. Children of senior leaders studied together, played together and, during the Cultural Revolution, fought each other in Red Guard factions that resembled inner-city gangs…

“There are a certain number of princelings who are benefiting from the system,” said Zhang Lifan, a historian in Beijing and the son of a former minister. “So there are a number of them who don’t want any change.” Advocates of systemic reform like Mr. Zhang look askance at the rise of the princelings. In imperial days, when emperors and their relatives ruled the country, nepotism was prevalent. When the Communist Party took over, idealists hoped that it would guard against that. “But for some reason, we’re now back to nepotism,” Mr. Zhang said. “And the country is ruled by a few families.”

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