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China toys with de-Jiangification

By CNN Senior China Analyst Willy Wo-Lap Lam

Jiang (R) is keen to keep his legacy going.
Jiang (R) is keen to keep his legacy going.

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• Interactive: More by Willy Wo-Lap Lam 
Shanghai (China)
Beijing (China)

(CNN) -- It's a terrible tongue-twister, but de-Jiangification could be the name of the game for Chinese politics for the foreseeable future.

To a large extent, the success of the new administration of President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao will be measured by how much it is able to rectify the shortfalls and excesses of the era of former president Jiang Zemin.

It is true that Hu often still defers to Jiang, who has retained the position of Military Commission Chairman, in many issues, ranging from policy to personnel.

Yet change is in the air -- and clear markers for the future could be established at the Third Plenary Session of the Communist party Central Committee set for next month.

In a trail-blazing move, Hu has ruled that the Third Plenum should begin with the Politburo presenting a work report to the Central Committee.

According to the official Outlook magazine, this gesture signified that Politburo members would submit themselves to the "oversight and supervision" of the 198 Central Committee members.

On the surface, Hu's decision was nothing out of the ordinary. Since the current Politburo was elected into office by the Central Committee at the 16th Congress last November, it would seem logical for the top decision-making body to report periodically to the Committee.


Hu is keen to establish some degree of checks and balance among party organs, experts say.
Hu is keen to establish some degree of checks and balance among party organs, experts say.

Yet Hu's seemingly pedestrian decision amounted to a breakthrough for dangnei minzhu or "intra-party democracy."

Jiang, who was party chief from 1989 to late last year, had pulled out the stops to render the Central Committee -- and often, even the Politburo -- irrelevant.

Power was concentrated in the hands of the five-man Politburo Standing Committee -- and sometimes in Jiang himself along with a handful of trusted aides, such as then party organization chief Zeng Qinghong.

Political sources in Beijing said Hu was keen to establish some degree of checks and balance among party organs such as the Politburo, the Central Committee, the party Congress (which elects the Central Committee every five years), and the party's anti-graft watchdog, the Central Commission for Disciplinary Inspection (CCDI).

For example, by ensuring that the Politburo reports to the Central Committee -- and that the CCDI will have some semblance of independence -- dictatorial decision-making and personality cults may be avoided.

Hu also wants to inject an element of election and competition to the process of the appointment of senior cadres such as provincial, municipal and county-level party chiefs.

If accomplished, this will be a radical departure from the Jiang years, when the ex-president and Zeng claimed an inordinate authority in selecting cadres, particularly those at a senior and regional level.

No. 1 scourge

Jiang was party chief from 1989 to late 2002.
Jiang was party chief from 1989 to late 2002.

President Hu has also laid down foundations for more rigorous procedures and institutions in fighting corruption, deemed the No. 1 scourge of the nation.

This is seen as yet another effort to make amends for the shortcomings of Jiang, who adopted a largely cavalier attitude toward a series of civilian and military scandals in the late 1990s.

According to an unusually detailed report in last week's People's Daily, the Hu leadership has taken a new approach to eliminating graft: nurturing viable institutions and conventions.

The article cited the 16th Congress as a watershed in the party's long battle against the phenomenon popularly known as "the exchange of power for money."

Before the conclave, the paper said, the party had relied mainly on "inculcating [the proper] ideology and work style." Emphasis is now being placed on developing procedures and systems of clean government.

It is understood that the president wants to, in the words of his aides, "institutionalize and regularize" the practice of supervision within the party, whereby ordinary cadres and even party members could blow the whistle against cadres.

Moreover, the CCDI as well as the Organization Department would periodically dispatch "roving inspectors" to the provinces to check on the probity or otherwise of officials and state entrepreneurs.

Thus a team of 45 so-called "imperial inspectors" has been making the rounds of the provinces of Guizhou, Hunan, Jilin, Jiangsu and Gansu since early summer.

A political source in Shanghai said Hu and CCDI chief Wu Guanzheng had crossed swords with Jiang over the case of Shanghai real-estate speculator Zhou Zhengyi, who was detained last May for alleged corruption and other economic crimes.

While Zhou had reportedly engaged in monkey business galore thanks to his sterling connections with senior Shanghai cadres, it is likely that he will get off relatively lightly.

The source said Jiang, the head of the Shanghai Faction in Chinese politics, had intervened in the Zhou investigations by indicating that the scandal should be "tackled with the proper perspective."

The former president also noted that the Zhou case should be handled mainly by the Shanghai Communist party committee, not the CCDI.

Diplomatic analysts said while Hu and Wu seemed to have gone along with Jiang, their timely initiative in building clean government and closing loopholes had demonstrated to most cadres which forces were putting up resistance to reform.

The analysts warned, however, against excessive optimism that Hu's de-Jiangification gambit would necessarily lead to Western-style liberalization.

Last week, the party mouthpiece Seeking Truth reiterated that changes in the political arena must always serve the goal of party leadership and the socialist road.

It warned that reform must neither lead to Westernization nor "the truncation and negation of Communist party leadership."

It seems likely that de-Jiangification, just like de-Maoification, is but one stop in China's prolonged and tortuous path toward real democracy.

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