—— clues to the coup that took place during the 20th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party
By Zheng Xuguang
Editor’s note: Zheng Xuguang (郑旭光) is a longtime campaigner for political reform in China. The essay here is an inside-baseball interpretation of what happened at the 20th National Congress of the CCP, which ratified the change to party rules that enabled Xi Jinping to in principle rule for life, and during which former Chinese president Hu Jintao was expelled from the final meeting in view of the whole world.
It has not been uncommon in the history of the international communist movement for a leader to oppose his party and succeed, the most famous cases being Stalin of the Soviet Communist Party and Mao Zedong of the Communist Party of China. At the Twentieth National Congress of the Communist Party of China, Xi Jinping replicated their success. An oligarchic co-governance system sustained for 46 years since Mao’s death by the CCP’s top leaders was effectively terminated. The history of the CCP has indeed entered the “era of Xi Jinping” as Xi himself wished. Xi, who for the past ten years had cultivated his forces and carefully planned every move, finally attained a supremacy within the Party that seems to rival Mao’s in his heyday. This indicates the end of the consensus mechanism that the CCP has maintained since Mao’s death and the beginning of a bloodier era for high-level political struggles. A seismic change of this kind will affect Chinese society and international politics alike. Politicians from various countries will find China’s political changes after the 20th National Congress more challenging to grasp. This article does not intend to examine the evolution of the CCP’s top leadership after Xi Jinping came to power, but focuses rather on clues from the CCP’s own public reports on the 20th National Congress, interpreting them in the context of the Party’s institutional conventions and the “unspoken rules” (qian guize, 潛規則) of its internal power dynamics. Taking Hu Jintao’s forced removal from the closing ceremony of the 20th National Congress as a clue, it identifies and analyzes certain anomalies in the arrangement of the agenda and high-level dynamics of the 20th National Congress that suggest a coup within the top echelon of the Party, an incident which changed the original agenda of the Congress and the tacit rapport and consensus among its factions.
Hu Jintao was ordered out of the venue by Xi Jinping
On October 22, 2022, at the Closing Ceremony of the 20th National Congress of the Communist Party of China, Hu Jintao, a senior member of the Standing Committee of the 20th National Congress, and leader of the “veteran faction” (yuanlao pai, 元老派), as well as the general secretary of the 16th and 17th Central Committees of the National Congress of the Communist Party of China, was escorted out of the rostrum upon the order of his successor, the general secretary of the 18th and 19th National Congress, Xi Jinping. This scene shocked the world. It was no less shocking that the roster of the Central Committee of the 20th National Congress of the Communist Party of China, disclosed after the closing ceremony, did not include the names of Li Keqiang and Wang Yang. Both were retired members of the Standing Committee of the 19th National Congress. Li Keqiang was the current premier, and Wang Yang was the chair of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress. They were less than 68 years old and according to convention would have been re-elected at the 20th Congress. A section from People’s Daily refers to the two men thusly: ”When selecting candidates and soliciting opinions, some leading comrades of the party and the country put the interests of the party and the people first. With the spirit of being highly responsible for the country’s development and rejuvenation, they took the initiative to step down and let relatively young comrades step up, displaying the characteristic generosity and high-mindedness of Communist Party members”.¹
The list of the members of the 20th Politburo announced at the end of the First Plenary Session on October 22 was shocking because the 59-year-old Hu Chunhua, widely rumored to take over as Premier, was not included. More surprises awaited: Zhang Youxia, the 72-year-old vice Chairman of the 19th Central Military Commission, and the Foreign Minister Wang Yi, who was 69 years old, were to stay in office. They were both over 68 years old, so according to the CCP’s high-level rule for managing personnel changes of “seven ups and eight downs” (for those under the age of 67 to remain in office and for those over 68 to retire), they should have retired after the 20th National Congress. It was also surprising that Xi Jinping moved his former Zhejiang Provincial Party Committee work team into the Politburo, thereby homogenizing the factional composition of the Standing Committee in his own favor. (His four cronies—Li Qiang, Cai Qi, Ding Xuexiang, and Li Xi—all joined). On the surface, this overbearing move gave the impression that “the Xi family rules supreme in the realm” (Xijia tianxia, 習家天下). Xi rejected the Youth League faction (tuan pai, 團派) and the Princelings (taizi dang, 太子黨) in the new Central Committee formed at the 20th National Congress and sidelined the political participation mechanism for retired members of the Standing Committee (the Standing Committee of the Presidium), jeopardizing himself and the CCP. Because many deep-rooted factions have lost their representatives at the highest level, factional struggles will henceforth be carried out in an unrestricted manner, and this may endanger the continuation of the Party as a ruling entity; a Li Qiang, Cai Qi, or Ding Xuexiang of today may well be the Yeltsin of tomorrow. In addition, because Xi Jinping is bent on realizing his will to protect and save the Party, in his attempt to unify the party he does not hesitate to break the power structure of high-level oligarchs that had lasted for 46 years after Mao’s death, and “lead a great social revolution with a great self-revolution”². In so doing, he is trying to reforge the Party along Stalinist-Maoist lines, thereby achieving its “socialist re-creation” (shehuizhuyi zaigaizao 社會主義再改造) of China’s semi-open society and turning the clock back to the 1950s. For such an immense mandate to materialize, a foreign war waged as an excuse to lock up the country and pacify domestic opposition seems inevitable.
The 20th National Congress of the Communist Party of China ended in a melodramatic way that left the world dumbfounded. In the full view of journalists from all over the world, Xi Jinping ordered Kong Shaoxun, who had just taken office in April that year as deputy director of the General Office of the CPC Central Committee, to forcibly remove his own predecessor, presiding head of the “veteran faction” of the 20th National Congress’s Standing Committee of the Presidium (Jiang Zemin was excused from attendance) and ex-General Secretary of the Central Committee, Hu Jintao. Judging from the full video, Hu Jintao ranked second in the Presidium of the Congress, below Xi Jinping and above Li Zhanshu. The incident arose from Hu’s insistence on browsing his own file folder and being stopped by the current chair of the National People’s Congress, Li Zhanshu, who sat next to him. During the dispute, Xi Jinping commanded Kong Shaoxun to take Hu Jintao away from the venue with the help of a young special agent, an action in which Wang Huning assisted and which Li Keqiang and Wang Yang, who were sitting next to Xi, pretended not to notice by staring straight ahead. Zhao Leji and Wang Qishan, two former secretaries of the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, glanced in the direction of the struggle from beginning to end. Li Ruihuan, a former comrade of Hu Jintao and Jiang Zemin, also leaned over to watch, while ex-premier Wen Jiabao looked straight, not swerving even for a moment to check what was happening. Afterwards, the Xinhua News Agency tweeted in English that Hu Jintao had felt unwell and left the venue to rest and that his condition already improved. Hu Jintao could not participate in the vote on the amendment to the Party constitution later in the closing ceremony.
Li Keqiang and Wang Yang were absent from the roster of the Central Committee approved during the first half of the Congress, when Hu Jintao was still present, and disclosed after the Closing Ceremony. Hu Chunhua was absent from the Politburo roster approved during the First Plenary Session of the Congress on the next day. Considering that the Wall Street Journal had already reported on the morning of October 18 that Li Keqiang did not appear on the list of the six members of the standing committee and pointed out that Hu Chunhua might not make it to the Politburo, Hu Jintao might have staged the incident as a fake injury of sorts (kurou ji, 苦肉計) to distance himself from and embarrass Xi Jinping when foreign journalists entered the venue. Alternatively, Xi Jinping could have been worried that Hu Jintao would disturb the closing ceremony. Xi might have even played along to intimidate other members of the 20th Congress into supporting him in the next session. It is also possible that Hu Jintao had doubts about the revision of the party constitution and was trying to verify something.
There is a high probability that the turning point of the 20th National Congress occurred in the early morning of the 18th.
With Xi Jinping breaking an unspoken rule of the post-Mao era, namely that one person could serve as General Secretary for only two consecutive terms, the other rule of “seven ups and eight downs” was abolished accordingly. The convention of appointing former and retiring members of the Politburo Standing Committee to fill incumbent positions on the Presidium Standing Committee in the following Party Congress was effectively abandoned (the Presidium Standing Committee lost its leadership over the Congress) and rendered obsolete. Regarding the most critical function of the National Congress of “generating the leadership of the current Party Central Committee,” the fail-safe mechanism of the Standing Committee of the Presidium has been abolished.
The CCP’s Twentieth National Congress Presidium held its second meeting in the Great Hall of the People on the afternoon of October 18th. There are two lines of coverage about this meeting. One focuses on the meeting itself; the other discusses its aftermath:
The meeting passed the resolution (draft) on the report of the 19th Central Committee, the resolution (draft) on the work report of the 19th Central Commission for Discipline Inspection, and the resolution (draft) on the “Constitution of the Communist Party of China (Amendment)” to be discussed by all delegations. Chen Xi, Deputy Secretary-general of the Congress, explained the roster proposal of regular and reserve members for the 20th Central Committee and the list of candidates for the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection. The meeting approved the roster proposal of regular and reserve members of the 20th Central Committee and the list of candidates for the Central Commission for Disciplinary Inspection, which was submitted to all delegations for deliberation. The meeting approved the general assembly election method that was deliberated by all delegations. The meeting also approved the roster of scrutineers and their chief, which will be submitted to the general assembly when the formal election is held.4
Judging from the report of the meeting, we cannot confirm that the retired veterans of the Standing Committee attended the meeting:
On October 18, 2022, the Presidium of the Twentieth National Congress of the Party held its second meeting. Entrusted by the Politburo of the Nineteenth Central Committee, Comrade Chen Xi explained the roster proposal of regular and reserve members for the 20th Central Committee and the list of candidates for the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection. After a round of votes, the Presidium meeting of the General Assembly approved the list of suggestions proposed by the Politburo of the 19th Central Committee, submitting it to all representatives for deliberation.5
According to the report, “Chen Xi, Deputy Secretary General of the Congress, explained the roster proposal of regular and reserve members for the 20th Central Committee and the list of candidates for the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection.” In previous sessions of the National Congress, however, this task had always been carried out by the secretary general of the Congress himself: Liu Yunshan had done it in the 19th session, Xi Jinping in the 18th, and Zeng Qinghong in the 17th. During the 20th session, secretary general Wang Huning did participate in this Presidium meeting. It is hence not normal for the 19th Politburo to entrust the non-committee member Chen Xi rather than the committee member Wang Huning to offer this explanation. It is no wonder that the report after the meeting specifically states that Chen Xi was “entrusted by the 19th Central Politburo,” but it does not reasonably justify why Wang Huning was not nominated for this role instead.
At this time, Xi should have already been on the list of Central Committee members, while Li and Wang might no longer be on the list. That is, Xi Jinping had likely approved the majority of the Presidium nominations that he could control (a total of 243 members; except for 46 members of the Standing Committee of the Presidium, most of the rest were magistrates from various departments and localities approved by Xi Jinping for promotion in the past ten years) and vetoed the plan submitted for discussion by the Politburo of the 19th National Congress to the 20th National Congress. It is worth noting that, elected on October 15, the Standing Committee of the Presidium had yet to hold its first meeting at this time, and Xi Jinping might have had individual communications with key veteran and current members of the Standing Committee.6 On October 19, all delegations began to discuss the three lists and the three documents approved by the Bureau on October 18.
According to the official announcement of the Chinese Communist Party,
On September 7, 2022, the Standing Committee of the Politburo of the Central Committee researched and proposed a list of candidates for the 20th “Two Committees”.
On September 28, 2022, a meeting of the Standing Committee of the Politburo of the Central Committee studied and discussed the list of candidates proposed for the organization of the new Central Leadership. On September 29, the Politburo meeting of the Central Committee reviewed and approved the proposed roster and decided to submit it to the First Plenary Session of the 20th Central Committee of the Party and the First Plenary Session of the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection for election, approval, and decision respectively.
On September 29, the Politburo meeting of the Central Committee reviewed and approved the list of candidates proposed for the 20th “Two Committees” and decided to submit it to the party’s 20th National Congress for election.7
Note: During this period, Li Keqiang, Wang Yang, and Hu Chunhua should presumably still be on the “list of candidates proposed for the organization of the new Central Leadership.” Otherwise, rumors of their ousting would have arisen much earlier.
Considering that Taiwan’s United Daily News disclosed the list of “three entries and three exits” in the first hours of October 18 (Han Zheng, Li Zhanshu, Wang Huning were ousted; Ding Xuexiang, Hu Chunhua, and Chen Min’er were let in) and that the Wall Street Journal and the South China Morning Post announced hours later that Li Keqiang, Wang Yang, and Hu Chunhua were ousted, the incident very likely took place on the 18th, sometime between the wee hours of the day and the morning. This “10.18 incident” can be corroborated by another sign among the speeches of Politburo members reported by China’s official state CCTV News Network on the evening of the 17th. CCTV reported the speech of Xu Qiliang, the top-ranking Vice Chairman of the Military Commission, as he discussed the report of the 20th National Congress in the meeting of the People’s Liberation Army delegation in the afternoon of October 16th:
Comrade Xu Qiliang said that the report made by General Secretary Xi Jinping solemnly declared the Party’s mission on the campaign of a new era: It is a good report wherein the “original intention illuminates people’s hearts, missions turn into commitments, and the Party’s prosperity guides rejuvenation [of the nation]”. On the campaign of a new era, we must thoroughly implement Xi Jinping’s thoughts on strengthening the army, comprehensively bolstering the Party’s building of the people’s army, the intensity of military training and preparations, military governance, and the consolidation and improvement of an integrated national strategic system and [strategic] capabilities, and ensure the timely achievement of the [first] centennial goal since our military’s founding.8
This report completely omitted Xu Qiliang’s emphasis on the famous “2-4-4-2” (“two establishments, four consciousnesses, four confidences, and two maintenances”). “2-4-4-2” was a new slogan whose recitation has been interpreted as showing support for Xi Jinping in the past two years. However, other members of the Politburo, headed by Li Keqiang, have all voiced their unanimous endorsement of “2-4-4-2.” Hu Chunhua has been the most active and prominent among them, as CCTV reported:
Comrade Hu Chunhua said when he participated in the discussion of the Heilongjiang province delegation that, ’On the campaign of a new era, we must firmly support the ‘two establishments’ in the long term and firmly maintain the core of the Party Central Committee of General Secretary Xi Jinping in the long term. The core position of the whole Party and the guiding position of Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era are unambiguous and unshakable’.9
In contrast, Xu Qiliang put on the most low-key show of allegiance towards Xi Jinping. Zhang Youxia, the second-ranking Vice Chairman of the Military Commission, was the second least enthusiastic in seconding Xi. According to the same CCTV report,
Comrade Zhang Youxia said that General Secretary Xi Jinping had set up an agenda for our Party’s governance program through his report, drafted a strategic plan for the comprehensive construction of a Socialist and Modernized country, and has opened up a new realm for the “China-ization” (zhongguohua 中國化) and the modernization (shidaihua 時代化) of Marxism. [We should] study, publicize, and implement the spirit of the 20th National Congress of the Party, prioritize the learning, comprehension, and implementation of Xi Jinping thoughts in the new era of Socialism with Chinese Characteristics as a political requirement, and more internally and deeply support the “two establishments”, ensuring that the barrel of the gun will always obey the Party’s command.10
In the wee hours of the 18th (2022-10-18 01:26:57), Xinhuanet released a report on the same speech by Xu Qiliang.11 This time, Xu Qiliang’s speech saw the addition of “4-4-2”, “four consciousnesses, four self-confidences, and two maintenances,” and that of “thoroughly implementing the responsibility system of the Chairman of the Military Commission, resolutely obeying the command of Chairman Xi in all actions.”12 What is more, in the report released by the People’s Liberation Army Daily on the morning of the 19th, a further addition appeared with respect to Xu’s speech: “Since the 18th National Congress of the Communist Party of China, Chairman Xi has historically saved, reshaped, and rebuilt the People’s Army.”13 Such words are a complete negation of the elders of the two generations Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao, besides foreshadowing the confirmation of the “exits” of Li Keqiang, Wang Yang, and Hu Chunhua during the Presidium meeting held on the afternoon of Oct 18th.
Xi Jinping and others in power squeezed out veterans and abolished the Standing Committee of the 20th National Congress of the Communist Party of China.
The great turn for the 20th Congress should have occurred in the early morning of October 18, directly leading Xinhua News Agency to release, at 1:26 AM, a supplementary pro-Xi speech delivered by Xu Qiliang in the afternoon of the 16th. This turn also resulted in the drastically modified list of Standing Committee members published later the same morning by the Wall Street Journal and the South China Morning Post, while the Presidium meeting in the afternoon merely confirmed the change in its program. This change was very likely the work of Xi Jinping and the 18 retired Standing Committee members headed by Hu Jintao. By convention, as retired members of the last Politburo Standing Committee, the latter would have been invited to attend as special representatives of the 20th National Congress and be automatically elected to the Presidium Standing Committee, an executive body of 46 members (most of them were outgoing and current Politburo members) exercising immense influence over its decisions.
The strange thing is that the Standing Committee of the Presidium only held its first meeting on the evening of the 19th, halfway through the agenda of the Congress. In the article “Let the Party Flag Fly High in the New Campaign—The Birth of the ‘Constitution of the Communist Party of China (Amendment),’” these details are disclosed: “On the evening of October 19, General Secretary Xi Jinping presided over the first meeting of the Standing Committee of the Presidium of the General Assembly. He listened to the report on the revision process of the Amendment to the Party Constitution and gave important instructions.”15 This turn of events was highly unusual; the Standing Committee of the Presidium only held its first meeting halfway through the 20th Congress, which meant that the Standing Committee had entirely given up its leadership over the Presidium of the Congress, giving the Secretariat of the Congress Wang Huning and Xi Jinping’s clique free rein to manipulate the Presidium and thereby steer the agenda of the 20th Congress. With its power usurped by the personnel of Xi Jinping’s Secretariat, the Standing Committee of the Presidium of the General Assembly has lost its advisory function.
Regarding the activities of the Standing Committee of the Presidium, only the formation of the Presidium and the election of its Standing Committee at the preliminary conference of the 20th National Congress on the 15th and the first report on the Standing Committee of the Presidium on the evening of the 19th are visible in official media. Furthermore, the latter report only covers the discussion of the party constitution, without any mention of the deliberation over the list of candidates for the Central Committee. Regarding the roster of the Central Committee, did Hu Jintao secretly compromise on behalf of the veterans? Could this explain the indifference of Li, Wang, and Wen to Hu’s departure? Alternatively, had the Presidium meeting already been a foregone conclusion on the 18th? Perhaps this is more likely. However, the inaction of the Standing Committee when it came to leading the Presidium is also very puzzling. How could it be possible that the Standing Committee of the Presidium only held its first meeting after the second meeting of the Presidium itself?
The Twentieth National Congress’ Presidium of the Communist Party of China held its third meeting in the Great Hall of the People on the morning of the 21st:
During the 20th National Congress of the Party, the opinions and suggestions put forward by attending representatives were implemented in the draft Amendment to the Party Constitution, further revising and improving the document. On the evening of October 19, General Secretary Xi Jinping presided over the first meeting of the Standing Committee of the Presidium of the Congress to hear the report on the revision process of the Party Constitution and gave important instructions.
This means that the Standing Committee could no longer guide the Presidium’s work in advance, as Hu Jintao and the veteran members of the Standing Committee should have known the results of the second Presidium. In other words, Hu should have learned through the first meeting of the Standing Committee what the 200 members of the Presidium and all 2300 delegates at the Congress already knew. The roster proposal of regular and reserve members for the 20th Central Committee and the list of candidates for the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (draft) were approved and submitted to all delegations for consideration. While the Standing Committee of the Presidium discussed the revision of the Party Constitution at the first meeting, it did not hold a second meeting to discuss the roster of the 20th Central Committee. Surely the Standing Committee could not have given guidance to the third meeting of the Presidium in advance. It might not even know the results of the meeting.
What was the content of the documents that Xi Jinping and Wang Huning did not want Hu Jintao to read?
It seems possible that Hu Jintao had yet to learn the results of the third Presidium meeting regarding the content of the amendment to the party constitution. At the closing ceremony, he might have wanted to look through the tabletop documents to compare with the resolution of the first meeting of the Standing Committee on the Party Constitution, which had been achieved through compromise. The roster of the third Presidium may have been quite different from the one obtained by the first Standing Committee of the Presidium. One hypothesis is that the second Presidium meeting was resolved by the retirement of Li Keqiang and Wang Yang, the further appointment of Hu Chunhua, and the addition of the “two establishments” to the Party Constitution. Perhaps the first Standing Committee of the Presidium made the following “corrections” as the results above were thrust in its face: The “two establishments” would not be included in the Constitution, Li Keqiang and Wang Yang would retire, and Hu Chunhua would not retire but rather join the Standing Committee of the Politburo, so that he could succeed Xi Jinping at the 21st Party Congress 5 years later. However, at the third Presidium, Xi Jinping presided over the confirmation that Li Keqiang, Wang Yang, and Hu Chunhua would all retire, the “two establishments” would not make it into the Party Constitution, and yet the “two maintenances” would, which means that the “two establishments” entered the Party Constitution regardless.
At 11:09 AM, October 22, Xi Jinping announced that the 20th Central Committee and the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection had been elected at the 20th National Congress of the Party.17 At 11:18 AM, Hu Jintao was expelled for insisting on viewing the files set before him. It is unlikely that Hu Jintao was expelled because Li Keqiang and Wang Yang were not on the roster of the Central Committee. Otherwise, it would not make sense for Li and Wang to be utterly unperturbed during Hu’s expulsion. It is also unlikely to have taken place due to the exclusion of Hu Chunhua, this having happened at the First Plenary Session of the Central Committee the day after Hu was expelled. A relatively small possibility is that what Hu Jintao heard beforehand was a ruse, which did not match the actual results of the resolution: He might have had, for instance, discovered the trick while conversing with others during intermission and, upon his return, tried to confirm his fear by checking the copy of the roster on his desk.
Perhaps Hu was revisiting the amendment to the party constitution before voting on it? What Hu Jintao tried to search was likely the content of the amendment, so he could verify that the compromise made by the Standing Committee on the 19th was reflected in the resolution of the Presidium on Oct 21st. Hu Jintao might have discovered that the “two maintenances” were still in the amendment, which would prompt him to raise his objections. At this very moment, Li Zhanshu reached out, snatched the folder, put it away, and refused to give it back to Hu Jintao. Is it plausible that everyone else knew about the change and kept it a secret from Hu Jintao? Would others also have thought that Hu already knew? Had Hu already expressed his support for Xi’s arrangement, and others were dissatisfied with or even hated his flattery and appeasement, so that, naturally, they were just watching the ruckus for fun? Without further evidence, none of these scenarios can be confirmed to have actually happened.
There is also the possibility that Hu Jintao had been blinded and isolated the whole time. He was curious about the election roster of the Central Committee members and the amendment to the party constitution, both of which were about to be finalized at the Closing Ceremony, and wanted to verify their authenticity. Li Zhanshu intervened because he knew that the procedure had been altered.
To summarize, Hu Jintao, a member of the Standing Committee of the Presidium of the General Assembly, second only to Xi Jinping in political status, was stopped by Li Zhanshu from opening the folder that the Congress Secretariat had intended for Hu’s own perusal and then expelled from the Congress upon the order of Xi Jinping, his fellow assemblyman on the Standing Committee, hence rendering Hu unable to participate in the voting process later on. A violation of party regulations on such a scale seems to have never happened in the history of the CCP. It has cast a heavy shadow on the perceived legitimacy of the 20th Congress within the party.
On the day after the closing ceremony of the 20th National Congress of the Communist Party of China, the roster of the Standing Committee of the First Plenary Session of the 20th National Congress of the Communist Party of China came out. Hu Chunhua did not join the Politburo, indicating that the upper echelons of the Youth League faction were eradicated. Perhaps Hu Jintao merely used the occasion during the closing ceremony to separate his own stance from that of Xi Jinping, or even to broadcast his dilemma to the entire Party via press coverage by international media. Either way, a coup had taken place.
At the closing ceremony of the 20th Congress, the Amendment to the Party Constitution was publicized, which saw the addition of the clauses “upon the basis of common ownership. (gongyouzhi, 公有制), “distribution according to work” (anlao fenpei, 按勞分配) as the “primary mode” [of economic distribution] and the “two maintenances” (liangge weihu, 兩個維護). This shows that the 20th Congress was simply a pledge ceremony heralding the resuscitation of the socialist command economy and Maoist dictatorial politics, a reaffirmation of Xi Jinping’s de facto life tenure as chair. Despite the re-election of the members of the 19th Standing Committee Wang Huning and Zhao Leji, the appointment of Li Qiang, Cai Qi, Ding Xuexiang, Li Xi, and other members of Xi’s clique to serve on the new Standing Committee of the Politburo after the First Plenary Session further supports this idea.
The 20th Congress was a major clash between the ideal of one-man rule espoused by Xi Jinping’s faction and the political reality of oligarchic yet functional co-governance in the higher echelons of the Chinese Communist Party, a clash that witnessed the catastrophic defeat of the oligarchs, whether they belonged to Jiang’s faction (Jiang pai, 江派), the Youth League, or the Princelings. Wang Huning and Zhao Leji, who had entered the top ranks of the oligarchicy through the 18th Congress, owed their allegiance to Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao. This very likely will end up in the confirmation of the two “ornamental” institutions of the National People’s Congress (renda, 人大) and the Political Consultative Conference (zhengxie, 政協), whereas Xi Jinping will personally assume control of the entire political system—party, government, and military (dang zheng jun, 黨政軍)—with the help of the “Secretariat faction” (mishu dang 秘書黨) he has cultivated during his time in Zhejiang and Shanghai. Of the four new appointees on the Standing Committee, none is likely to ever defy Xi Jinping’s will during their tenures (Cai Qi, Li Qiang, and Ding Xuexiang were Xi’s secretaries for a long time, while Li Xi entered the roster by virtue of his attachment to Xi), effectively nullifying the votes of Wang Huning and Zhao Leji.
After the 20th Congress, the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, chaired by Li Zhanshu, announced the first draft revision of the “Legislation Law” (lifa fa, 立法法). The clauses “centered around economy-building” (「以经济建设为中心」) and “perpetuate reform and opening” (「坚持改革开放」) were deleted from the “general guidelines” of the revision. Xi Jinping has secured his next term by unifying the Party and completely rejecting the Youth League faction, even to the extent of expelling the former top leader of the Party from his seat on the Party Congress, ushering in an age of schism and fragmentation within the CCP’s top stratum and its “Red Empire”.