Xi Jinping and China’s party congress: no end in sight

People all seek to know what they do not know yet;
they ought rather seek to know what they know already
: Zhuang Zhou (369-286 BC)

Food, not PCR tests … Reform, not the Cultural Revolution … We want to be citizens, not slaves.” And alongside that, most astonishingly, a call to overthrow Xi Jinping. The man who dared to unveil those demands on banners hung from a bridge in Beijing will pay dearly. Protests are still rarer and more harshly treated since Mr Xi took over; this was even more remarkable in the heavily policed period before the national party congress begins on Sunday. When China’s leader took power 10 years ago, people assumed he would depart at this meeting – his two predecessors left after two five-year terms. Instead, it will begin his third stint and entrench his status as the country’s most powerful figure since Mao Zedong.

In the wake of Maoism’s disasters, the elite’s survivors, including Mr Xi’s own father, collectivised and semi-institutionalised politics to prevent another strongman wreaking havoc. But under the last leader, Hu Jintao, China’s problems – from grotesque corruption and gross inequality to soaring protests and environmental destruction – grew increasingly obvious. So did the party’s inability to solve them. That, and the Arab spring, explains a turn to repression that preceded Mr Xi but which he intensified.

Party elders handed him power, but he seized more. His axing of presidential term limits in 2018 confirmed suspicions that he planned to rule indefinitely. The party congress matters because his real power flows not from being head of state but primarily from being general secretary of the Communist party, and also chairman of the central military commission. In China, the party and the gun remain supreme….


Book review: The State as Faction: Mao’s Cultural Revolution

Totalitarian Friendship: Carl Schmitt in Contemporary China