From Shanghai clique to Xi Circle – Rise & Fall of Chinese Political elites by Dhanuka Dickwella

Photo Credit – Reuters

In politics a leader’s political security is guaranteed by  trusted comrades around him. This was true to the Romans, true to the soviets & true to any modern political leadership. In a multiparty democratic system these loyal, powerful supporters have a shorter life span compared to that of the autocratic or single party systems. In non democratic – single party systems the loyal circles will last as long as the leader survives.

The relationship between the leader and his loyal elites work in a reflective manner. When the leader shines so does his entourage. When any one among the loyalists circle gets tainted, it reflects upon the leader’s legacy. That is why whenever a leader falls the loyalist ends up getting flushed out & even prosecuted. Looking at the notorious Satlin’s secret police chief Lavrentiy Beria this could very well be understood.

Coomunist China has not been any different from the rest of the world in this political elite circles. From the gang of four that rose to the helm of Chinese politics during the cultural revolution to the Shanghai clique , these intraparty elite fractions have dominated the one party communist China. Mao himself acknowledged this reality  “No party outside the party reflects an imperial ideology; no faction within the party is an incredibly bizarre notion,” said Mao.

Let’s take a look at the Shanghai clique to quench the thirst of knowledge.

As an entree , we need to get ourselves familiar with the Chinese political mechanism. China’s political power is concentrated within the Chinese communist party. It is the  members of the party congress that would decide the 370 strong central committee , the central committee would select the 25 member politburo. The Politburo would select the Politburo Standing Committee which would comprise 5 to 9 members. The head of that grouping is the party’s general secretary. That is the central nervous system of the Chinese political system. Simply speaking, a CPU inside a computer. It is natural for a leader to have a firm grip top down on the entire hierarchy. It would be the interest of any leader to promote their loyalists to this network. Unless sacked on criminal charges or face a natural death the only other way for any of these members to lose power is by reaching 68 years which is the retirement age of a member.

Jiang Zemin ruled communist China as its president from 1993 to 2003. During his tenure he made sure that he would have enough power to steer his policies and thus worked to promote his loyalists to the top positions.  These powerful individuals who were the gatekeepers to power were known as the Shanghai gang. They hailed from Shanghai & were associates of the President. To understand their importance in politics n general & to Jiang’s power ,  the below listing of the alleged Shanghai clique members & the posts they held would be suffice 

Wu Bangguo – Chairman and Chinese Communist Party Committee Secretary of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress. Speaker of the People’s Republic of China

Huang Ju – Member of the Politburo Standing Committee, Vice Premier of the People’s Republic of China

Zeng Qinghong – Member of the Politburo Standing Committee, Vice Premier of the People’s Republic of China

Jia Qinglin – Member of the CCP’s Politburo Standing Committee, head of China’s consultative legislative body

Chen Liangyu – Member of the Politburo of the Chinese Communist Party Shanghai & its mayor

Chen Zhili – State Councilor and Minister of Education, and a Vice Chairperson of the National People’s Congress.

Jia Ting’ – General in the Chinese People’s Liberation Army. Served as the deputy director of the Political Work Department.

Additionally there were many more loyalists in various political , military postings. Even after                       the appointment of Hu Jintao as  his successor,  Jiang Zemin called the shots in the shadows. He was largely in control after many years. When a leadership role changes , it alters the fate of many powerful politicians who are the loyalists of the former. Stalin’s era system was the purges or the gulag. China uses a more sympathetic & what looks a progressive action. The anti corruption drive. This is the Chinese tool in purging loyalists  of the former regime. Hu was instrumental in removing a number of Zemin loyalists. But  Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption drive dwarfs what Hu did throughout in his entire career.          

Xi Jinping is on an entirely different path from his predecessors  that will have lasting implications on China as well as the entire world for decades to come. In 2018  he wanted to show the world that there ain’t no mountain high enough to block his ambition for power. He removed the  legal blockade for becoming a president for a third term, paving way for a leadership for life if he deems to. Then he went on to expand the military, launching the Belt & Road Initiative ( BRI) for a global Chinese economic dominance & formed an anti western alliance. 

However the grand finale for his powerplay was the appointment of the members of the Politburo Standing Committee. Including him there are 7 members who  are steadfast, loyal supporters of Xi. Namely Li Qiang, Cai Qi, Ding Xuexiang, Li Xi Zhao Leji and Wang Huning are all either supporters, allies, advisers or a confidant. So we could now say that the Shanghai clique now belongs o the history books.  Xi Circle is well set & geared for the new Chinese vision for the world. The only downside of having only loyalists with no alternative voice generally ends in tragedy. None would dare to promote an alternative theory to any ground reality since that could be going against the party boss. When constructive criticism is eliminated from a society , it gives rise to hubris views. Xi’s unchecked powers could either make or break China in the long run. We are to witness a great showdown of the century between the East & West with the rise of Xi circle into power.

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