At its latest plenary session, the 16th Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC) announced that its general secretary, Xi Jinping, was elected “the core of the Party” and called on the 90 million Party members to “keep up” – in both thinking and action – with the Central Committee with Xi as the core.
The new development stirred up sensation in China. But in the West, the reaction was more than that, with media and political commentators expressing puzzlement, doubts and even worries. Some of them conjectured that a Mao- or even Stalin-style personality cult has resurrected. Others regarded it as the result of “power struggles” while still others called it a Chinese version of the “House of Cards.”
These incorrect judgments – as this writer sees them – stem from the Western media’s ignorance about China’s national conditions. Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel once said: “What is rational is actual, and what is actual is rational.” An understanding of the logic behind this paradox of the German philosopher may help solve the Chinese puzzle. One can reasonably take the “core” event as a historic milestone in the course of China’s development. In other words, the fact is a historical necessity. No matter how difficult Westerners would find it to understand, it will be understood that the birth of the “Xi core” is a natural necessity in the face of the challenges faced by China today.
These challenges, as complex and tough as they appear to be, can be categorized in two types. First, the most immediate – and most threatening – challenge is the compromising of the government’s administrative ability by the massive corruption of officials. Cases revealed in recent years have shown how serious the situation has become. For instance, in Tianjin, a provincial-level city in northern China, almost all major CPC and government leaders were netted in the anti-corruption campaign. The local public commented sardonically that “our leaders are all doing their administrative work in the jail.” The public in another northern province – Shanxi – drew an analogy between the corruption of their officials and a landslide. Meanwhile, an election bribery scandal involving an enormous number of “people’s deputies” in Liaoning seriously corrupted the major industrial province’s legislative body.
Such massive corruption involving officials from the nation’s top level to the lowest local governments has not only damaged the image of Chinese officials but also seriously eroded the administrative ability of governments at all levels. A source close to top CPC leaders said that the toughest challenge in the anti-corruption campaign is how to preserve the Chinese government’s administrative ability, or how to improve China’s political environment.
The second group of challenges comes from the problems affecting people’s living conditions, including the disappointing public security and the increasingly deteriorating natural environment. In this stage of the country’s development, China faces a “middle-income trap”, which once brought a hard time to developing countries in South America and Southeast Asia. Now it poses a challenge to China’s ruling party. China has not done enough in building a modern social management system, a law-governing environment and a modern economy-operation mechanism, making it difficult to carry out any policy for social improvement. And the disparity between regions in development adds to the difficulty. Obviously it is not an easy job for the CPC to govern such a large country, with each of its 34 provincial-level regions being about the area of a middle-sized European country.
Without a sound, powerful leadership core, who can guarantee, given the current social institution, that China’s society would not be split and plunged into chaos in interests contradiction between different social classes? If China can no longer contribute 25 percent to the global economic growth, as it has done, and if the Chinese locomotive hits the brakes because of social conflicts and chaos, it would be a nightmare to both Asia’s stability and the world’s economic recovery.
Therefore, it is only too natural that the “Xi core” surfaces in China’s political life given that the government’s administrative ability has to be improved and strengthened? As for the fulsome compliments that followed, that’s a different matter.