Chapter 1: Introduction

1.3. Main Argument

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Therefore, an anticorruption campaign may both serve the legitimacy of CCP as a whole and the personal interest of the paramount leader. This research intends to testify whether Xi Jinping’s tiger hunt serves Xi in this way.

1.3. Main Argument

“People’s democracy” (人民民主, renmin minzhu) is a pillar of CCP ideology, but the regime is always deemed autocratic. The general public is disenfranchised and provided with no free, fair and competitive election to determine the composition of leadership. (Svolik, 2012) This totalitarian system, in Linz’s (2000) sense, has degenerated and transformed into a new variant, but the ruling machines passed down by Mao Zedong (毛澤東) are still functioning in respect of social control and repression. (Wu, 2007) The general public cannot vote down a government, so there is no electoral procedure to buffer public discontent about increasing disparity of wealth, growing cronyism and prevalent corruption in the party-state.

In light of the very limited extent of actual political participation of ordinary citizens, the general public with resentment of this massive corruption can only impose a potential threat of revolution that would entirely overthrow the regime when their anger is above a certain threshold. This is conceptualized as the “revolutionary threats”

that constrain the regime. (Bueno de Mesquita & Smith, 2009) In this sense, the alarm repeated by generations of CCP leaders, including Xi Jinping (Xi, 2012), Hu Jintao (J.

Hu, 2012), and Jiang Zemin (Jiang, 2000), is very real that corruption could “doom the party and the state” (亡黨亡國, wang dang wang guo).10 As early as in the 1980s,

10 It is worth noting that the three paramount leaders put this issue in similar yet subtly different wording, which presents a trend of increasing concern. According to Jiang Zemin, if the party’s “discipline goes limp and organization lax, it is not impossible that the party and the state are threatened to be doomed.” (Jiang, 2000) In Hu Jintao’s report, he stated: “corruption, if not dealt with properly, can cause fatal damage to the party and even doom the party and the state.” (J. Hu, 2012) When it comes to Xi Jinping, he addressed the Politburo in a most assuring tone that “substantial facts are telling us that the problem of corruption is growing ever severer and is sure to lead to the doom of the party and the state eventually!” (Xi, 2012)

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CCP leaders recognized that corruption was an issue capable of mobilizing mass protests across social strata and unifying workers, cadres, soldiers and students together against the ruling party, the leadership, and the regime. (Wu, 2014) It compels the top leadership to respond to these revolution constraints and strive for regime survival. (Acemoglu & Robinson, 2006)

Therefore, it is imperative for the party to deal with corruption reasonably and ease the social resentment. One option of response is repression. (Slater & Fenner, 2011) But as public discontent rises, the cost – political and financial – of repression can easily go unaffordable. More importantly, it creates a moral hazard: heavy reliance on established forces like army and police inevitably leads to huge resource input into those forces and institutional autonomy of them. It is difficult to ensure that they will never turn against the autocrats. (Svolik, 2012) In spite of the party’s divine principle

“guns under the party command” (黨指揮槍, dang zhihui qiang), PLA generals are always a force to be reckoned in Beijing politics, particularly observable in Hu Jintao’s early years before he gained a firm grasp of commanding power. In the late Hu Jintao era, “stability maintenance” (維穩, wei wen) became such an overriding issue that the commanding institution of domestic security, Central Politics and Law Commission (CPLC), obtained power so disproportionate to its legal status that the person-in-charge, Zhou Yongkang, was made a security tsar feared by everyone.

Xi is apparently taking another option: to confront corruption and cleanse it. Wang Qishan (王岐山), the Secretary of CCDI and the campaign’s person-in-charge, describes his goal as making party cadres “dare not, cannot, and do not want to”

corrupt (K. Wang, 2014). He further states that “treating the symptom (治標, zhibiao) is our focus for now in order to win us time for treating the cause (治本, zhiben).”

(“Wang qishan”, 2013; CCDI/Ministry of Supervision, 2014) It is a variant of regime legitimacy by results: to win the heart of people by cleansing corruption, significantly

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in the short run and completely in the long run. Even if the anticorruption results that the party brings at the moment are not satisfactory enough, the very act of confronting corruption shows the party’s resolve and helps ease public discontent. This is why the CCP propaganda branch in these days is so vigorously publicizing the Zhou Yongkang case in order to “prove that China’s anticorruption campaign is not selective” (J.

Wang, 2014) and that the tacit rule of “Standing Members of Politburo are immune to punishment” (刑不上常委, xing bu shang changwei) has been torn up (Gu, 2014).

Nevertheless, “fighting corruption” is not the only perspective to read into this campaign. It can also be interpreted that Xi Jinping makes all the sound and fury for the purpose of consolidating his personal autocracy. We learn that Xi is seeking a place in CCP history among the party greats (Zhai, 2014a). Now that all the reform issues still awaiting solution are “tough bones” (Chan, 2014), it takes nothing less than an autocrat with supreme authority to push through the reform agenda. The problem is: unlike Mao Zedong or Deng Xiaoping, Xi does not possess any personal authority that derives from revolutionary credentials. Xi is merely the first among equals in the Standing Committee of Politburo.

The political elites within selectorate are potential challengers who can take the leader’s place in accordance with rules and norms of the regime. (Bueno de Mesquita, et al., 2003) Svolik (2012) calls it “allies’ rebellion”. In order to secure support from as many selectorate members as possible, the leader in office is to credibly commit himself to sharing power with his winning coalition. (Gehlbach & Keefer, 2011) In post-Deng China, the solution for the absence of strongman is the division of labor within the Standing Committee of Politburo. The “system of collective leadership”

(集體領導制, jiti lingdao zhi), as appraised by some pro-government scholars, is the institutional key to China’s remarkable development under CCP leadership. (Hu, 2014a) Angang Hu (2012; 2014b) calls it “collective presidency (集體總統制,jiti

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zongtong zhi)”. In Svolik’s (2012) examination, the success of power-sharing

arrangements in CCP is a result of the establishment of institutions that help alleviate monitoring problems.

The power-sharing arrangements, however, lead the party to another problem: lack of authority of the autocrat by which he can command regime elites and steer the party-state – and make a decisively turn if necessary. The problem looks particularly pressing in the time when Chinese reform stagnates. Xi Jinping, a first-among-equals leader who rises to power in institutionalized politics and on the consent of most selectorate members, can hardly bring about massive policy changes when they are against the interest of regime elites. (Kou, 2006) The established “reciprocal accountability” (Shirk, 1993) between Central Committee and the autocrat prevents Xi from rewriting the script.

This explains why Xi Jinping needs a massive campaign, so far-reaching and forbidding, to break existing patterns of power sharing and establish his personal authority. Svolik (2012) points out that power sharing frequently fails due to the emergence of personal autocracy. In his analysis, when the environment external to the selectorate allows the autocrat to repress his peers hard enough while he aggressively centralizes power in himself, his allies shall eventually lose their rebellion capacity and can no longer punish the autocrat’s opportunism. The power-sharing arrangements are thus broken and the autocrat rises from a first-among-equals to an unchallengeable leader. (Svolik, 2012)

Many analysts interpret the high-profile propaganda on cases like Zhou Yongkang as either an effort to establish Xi’s supremacy in the party (Chen, 2014) or as signals intentionally released to show that Xi is already in full command (Anderlini &

Hornby, 2014). Xi is taking advantage of his anticorruption campaign to rightfully

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remove political enemies and establish his unchallengeable status. (Huang, 2014;

Sternberg, 2014; Tiezz, 2014; X. Wang, 2014) But this simple theory of “fighting enemies” – that Xi Jinping purges his rival factions and replaces them with king’s men – falls short in explaining why so many high-ranking cadres outside any of the factional groups are also taken down at all the political cost for the party-state. The ongoing anticorruption campaign is far more than directly taking down enemies. It creates a climate where Xi’s colleagues dare not oppose his power centralization and all regime elites get in line with Xi’s agenda. The factional groups that are cracked down are not only presumed to be in Xi’s way but are also reminders for the audience of other regime elites of what shall happen to those who dare to oppose.

To sum up, Xi Jinping’s anticorruption campaign is a costly yet necessary cause. The prevalent corruption in the party-state erodes legitimacy and can potentially doom the regime, which compels Xi to take decisive measures to respond to public discontent.

The scale and complexity of corruption in CCP ask Xi to make the full use of his institutional power, and it is impossible to push the campaign through without consolidating his status within the party first. Further, Xi Jinping’s ambition of steering the country to realize the “Chinese Dream” (中國夢, zhongguo meng) asks him to adopt massive reform agenda. This cannot happen against the vested interest of regime elites if Xi is confined within the institutionalized power-sharing arrangements in the post-Deng era. Therefore, he needs the unprecedented anticorruption campaign to create a climate in favor of his establishing personal authority so that he can push through his ambitious reform agenda.

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