Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

China in transition 2 – confronting the challenges, and the challenge of confrontation

Posted in macroeconomics by Timothy Platt on April 2, 2012

This is my second posting in a series on the fundamental changes in leadership that China is going to formally begin initiating later this year, 2012 and that will proceed to completion into 2013. As noted in Part 1: balancing hope and expectations, this change is going to radiate down from the top with Hu Jintao, leader of both China’s Communist Party and Government stepping down from both offices. It is expected that both official titles and portfolios of responsibility, as well as direct leadership of China’s military will transfer to Xi Jinping as a key part of this overall, Government and Party-wide process. And as I discussed in Part 1, this is a time of hope and expectations, and both for those who would see stability and continuity, and for those who would see leadership for change and reform.

At the end of Part 1 I briefly outlined a laundry list of issues and topics that I will at least begin addressing here in this Part 2. That included my sharing more background information about Xi Jinping and also about his father Xi Zhongxun. I said that I would discuss their stories in light of a list of fundamental challenges that China faces, and that one way or other their new leadership will have to confront (see my fifth and last posting in the series China and Our Increasingly Interconnected Global Economy.)

I also decided at that point to include some information about a very different member of China’s Crown Prince PartyMao Xinyu: Mao Zedong’s only officially recognized grandson and son of the Great Helmsman’s last known surviving son Mao Anqing. Their stories provide insight into Xi Jinping’s story and into the challenges that he will face as he assumes leadership of his and their country. Any new leader who would seek to institute change would have to confront both their government’s bureaucracy and its inertia, and also what amounts to an entrenched and entitled People’s Republic aristocracy.

I begin here with Xi Jinping as his father fell into disfavor and disgrace. Young Jinping, ten years old, had led a privileged life as a son of one of China’s most respected leaders and a friend of their revered supreme leader, Mao Zedong. Then his father, Xi Zhongxun, directly challenged Mao and his cult of personality – and the system of personal power and authority that was developing into what was becoming known as the Crown Prince Party. Zhongxun was held up to public ridicule, and the standard practice of the day was to parade such people through the streets with signs outlining their perfidy and treachery hanging from them so the crowds could publically share their displeasure with taunts and insults. People who challenged the State and its leaders were publically outcast from society on their way to prison or exile. Initially, his father was sent to Luoyang in Henan to do heavy manual labor in a factory. Five years later, when Jinping was 15 years old, his father was jailed for disloyalty and revisionism as the Cultural Revolution took hold.

Xi Jinping was born in Fuping County in the province of Shaanxi and when his father and family fell into disgrace, his upward rise as a budding prince was ended and he was sent back to Shaanxi to labor as a peasant. He was sent to live and work in Yanchuan County, Yan’an. And he began to build a reputation and a position in his new community on his own. He rose to a position of local Party leadership under Mao’s Down to the Countryside Movement – a program developed to rehabilitate the children of fallen members of China’s leadership. And he became Party branch secretary to his workplace production team. He found his own way out of the shadows his father had fallen into and he began a rise into personal prominence. At the age of 22, Jinping left Yanchuan and Shaanxi, and entered one of Beijing’s most prestigious universities: Tsinghua University where he studied chemical engineering. Meanwhile, he continued to work actively in the Party and he picked up a patron and mentor, Geng Biao – a former subordinate of his father, before his father first fell into disgrace.

My goal here is not to recite a fuller biography of either Xi Jinping or of his father, but rather to note how the son was offered an opportunity to build a path back, and that he took it and succeeded, becoming a man of position and authority through his own efforts. He networked and connected and he planned and took the steps necessary for him to rise in his society and in its political systems. So he was a Prince by birth, but he remained one as a largely self-made man moving forward. And this is crucial to understanding the two sides of hope that I wrote of in Part 1 of this series. And this brings me to that list of challenges that I offered in the last installment of my series China and Our Increasingly Interconnected Global Economy.

Even a cursory review of the eight points that I raised in that list of issues and challenges would suggest its incompleteness. Much more, for example, could be added as to quality of life issues faced by the people of China and the inequalities that have arisen and come into progressively sharper and sharper focus around them – with shoddy public construction and environmental pollution affecting the general public visibly arising as a result of the initiatives that are bringing wealth to China’s new economic upper class. But just as clearly, the items that are listed could all be seen as minefields for anyone who would venture into them in seeking their resolution. This applies as much to the items that are in principle already covered as part of China’s legal system as it does for the items that would directly challenge the powers that be and at all levels, and the basic system that China runs on.

• As an example of the former, I cite local and provincial level party and governmental corruption, and the way the court system is biased with both defendants and their attorneys facing severe reprisal – and with anyone challenging the powers that be becoming defendants in fact as the voice and power of Party and Government strike back.
• As an example of the later, I cite the only-perhaps more far-reaching suggestion that political plurality be allowed as the only way to long term, meaningful change of any sort.

Only an outsider who has personally seen and experienced the effects of these challenges, and in their own lives and in those of their families, could muster the will needed to bring significant change for any of this. Only a quintessential insider who has the political connections and clout to navigate their way through the resistance that any change would face, could make any of this happen.

I am going to pick up on this discussion in my next series installment, with the stories of Mao Xinyu and his father Mao Anqing, and that of course means discussing Xinyu’s grandfather Mao Zedong too. Meanwhile, you can find this posting and series, and related postings at Macroeconomics and Business and also see Ubiquitous Computing and Communications – everywhere all the time.

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