Within the power structure of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), there has always been a group of individuals known as the “commoners” who have risen to the top ranks of the party from low civilian positions in regional governments. However, their grip on power has always been fragile, and after the 20th CCP Congress last year, all of these commoners were forced to retire. This retirement has been seen as a further consolidation of power by leader Xi Jinping within the party.
Yuan Hongbing, a former professor of law at Peking University who now lives in exile in Australia, recently analyzed the reasons behind the fall from power of former Premier Li Keqiang and the CCP’s shadow “asset manager” Xiao Jianhua in an interview. He explained that the princelings, who are the descendants of party elites, see the CCP’s rule as their private domain and do not allow outsiders, such as the commoners, to access political and economic power. Therefore, these commoners who ascend to the top of the party will never be allowed to hold actual power.
Li, who came from former Chinese leader Hu Jintao’s faction, was initially considered the successor to Hu. However, he was eventually defeated by Xi due to the lack of support from the princelings. Yuan believes that the weakness and servility of the commoners prevented them from seizing power from the princelings. They relied on sucking up to the rich and powerful to climb the party’s hierarchy, and as a result, they did not have the political will to go against the princelings.
Li did not fight back against Xi in their power struggle and admitted defeat when Xi removed him and his allies from power at the 20th CCP Congress. Yuan revealed that Li’s lack of resistance was due to his inherent weakness and opportunistic nature. Li lacked political experience and ambition and simply climbed the party’s hierarchy to gain power. While Hu and Premier Wen Jiabao intended for Li to succeed Hu as the CCP’s General Secretary, they could not overcome the resistance from the princelings who believed that power must be in the hands of political dynasties.
According to Yuan, Xi gave Li false promises before the 20th CCP Congress to consolidate power and secure his unprecedented third term. Xi played Li’s faction, which eventually led to all members of the group losing power. Xi’s goal was to rule for life, and he removed anyone who might stand in his way.
In addition to discussing Li’s fall from power, Yuan also spoke about Xiao Jianhua, a Canadian-Chinese businessman who was abducted by the CCP in 2017. Yuan described Xiao as an extremely talented student who was admitted to Peking University at a young age. Xiao initially believed that civilians like himself did not have a path in business, so he wanted to work hard and gain a position in the government. However, after the Tiananmen Square Massacre, Xiao changed his mind and decided to go into business since the hardliners within the CCP did not seem willing to give power to commoners and reformists.
Xiao managed the assets of the most prominent and powerful families within the CCP. However, he was taken down by Xi in 2017 for challenging his Maoist policies and attempting to stage an economic coup. Xiao’s financial coup was aimed at overthrowing Xi Jinping, who was returning the country to Mao’s fundamentalist communism. Xiao was believed to be behind the 2015 stock market crash, which caused the CCP to spend billions of dollars to bail out the market. He was abducted from Hong Kong by Chinese agents and smuggled to mainland China, where he was sentenced to 13 years in prison.
In conclusion, the retirement of the commoners within the CCP and the downfall of individuals like Li Keqiang and Xiao Jianhua can be seen as part of Xi Jinping’s ongoing consolidation of power within the party. Xi has removed those who might pose a threat to his rule, whether they are commoners who ascend to power or powerful businessmen who challenge his policies. The control and maintenance of power within the CCP remain firmly in the hands of the princelings and political dynasties, leaving little room for outsiders.