Communist Youth League Clique Maintains Clout Despite Congress Setback

Publication: China Brief Volume: 12 Issue: 23

The Communist Youth League (CYL) Clique headed by President and former General Secretary Hu Jintao suffered a setback in the factional balance of the Chinese Communist Party Politburo Standing Committee (PBSC) selected earlier this month. Premier-designate Li Keqiang is the only CYL Clique affiliate among the seven members of the supreme ruling council, which was established one day after the closure of the 18th Party Congress. The other six PBSC members are either associated with the Gang of Princelings (taizidang) headed by new General Secretary Xi Jinping or with the Shanghai Faction led by former President Jiang Zemin. The CYL Clique or tuanpai, which has been meticulously nurtured by Hu from the mid-1980s onwards, however, has remained the CCP’s single largest faction. This close-knit network is particularly strong amongst Fifth Generation cadres (those born in the 1950s) as well as Sixth Generation cadres (those born in the 1960s). Moreover, its predominance will manifest itself no later than the 19th Party Congress set for 2017.

The CYL Clique’s strength is apparent within the entire Politburo of 25 members, 12 of whom were born in the 1950s. At least nine Politburo members are deemed to be tuanpai affiliates. Apart from Li Keqiang, age 57, they include two second-term Politburo members who almost made it to the PBSC at the 18th Party Congress: former Director of the CCP Organization Department Li Yuanchao, age 62, and Guangdong Party Secretary Wang Yang, age 57. The other five tuanpai Politburo members are State Councilor Liu Yandong; the newly-appointed Propaganda Department Director Liu Qibao; Beijing Party Secretary Guo Jinlong; Director of the General Office of the Central Committee Li Zhanshu; Shanghai Party Secretary Han Zheng; and Inner Mongolia Party Secretary Hu Chunhua. The CYL Clique is also the largest bloc within the 205 full Central Committee members elected by the 2,200-odd delegates of the 18th Party Congress. 80 percent of the Central Committee members are Fifth Generation stalwarts (Ming Pao [Hong Kong] November 15; Wen Wei Po [Hong Kong], November 15).

Of the seven newly-minted PBSC members, five only can serve one term due to age reasons. They are National People’s Congress Chairman Zhang Dejiang, age 66; Chairman of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Congress Yu Zhengsheng, age 67; Executive Secretary of the CCP Secretariat Liu Yunshan, age 65; Secretary of the Central Disciplinary Inspection Committee Wang Qishan, age 64; and Executive Vice Premier-designate Zhang Gaoli, age 66. Owing to their seniority as well as their generally positive track record, Li Yuanchao and Wang Yang are considered shoo-ins for the PBSC five years down the road. Equally significant is the fast-rising political fortune of 49-year-old Hu Chunhua, who is deemed a potential “core” of the Sixth Generation leadership. Hu Chunhua, a former CYL Party Secretary who is expected to be appointed Guangdong Party Secretary early next year, has been mentioned as a successor to Xi. He and newly-appointed Chongqing Party Secretary Sun Zhengcai, who is the only other Sixth Generation Politburo member, are tipped for induction to the PBSC at the 19th Party Congress. Sun, age 49, who is a protégé of Premier Wen Jiabao, does not have obvious factional inclinations (Hong Kong Economic Journal, November 16; Ta Kung Pao [Hong Kong] November 15).

Indeed, the advantage of the tuanpai is even more obvious among fast-rising Six Generation cadres. Of the nine Central Committee members who were born in the 1960s, five hail from the CYL Clique. Apart from Hu Chunhua, they include Hunan Party Secretary Zhou Qiang, Xinjiang Autonomous Region Chairman Nur Bekri,  Fujian Governor Su Shulin, and the current CYL First Party Secretary Lu Hao. At age 45, Lu is also the CCP’s youngest Central Committee member (China News Service, November 15; Wen Wei Po, November 15).

By contrast, there are few Shanghai Faction or taizidang members among either Fifth Generation or Six Generation officials. Princelings have since the early 1990s been perceived by ordinary party members as symbols of special privilege. Since early this year, the taizidang’s public image has been further tarnished by the political scandal of former Chongqing party boss Bo Xilai, who is the son of revolutionary elder Bo Yibo. The taizidang’s reputation has taken a further drubbing thanks to numerous reports by both the Chinese and foreign press about the questionable business dealings of the spouses and children of top officials. It is therefore not surprising that just a few Fifth Generation princelings were elected into the Central Committee—but only as alternate members. A good example is Li Xiaopeng, age 53, the executive vice governor of Shanxi Province and a former president of the state-held energy giant, the Huaneng Group. The fact that Li, the eldest son of former premier Li Peng, garnered the least votes among the 171 Alternate Central Committee members testified to the unpopularity of princeling politicians. General Secretary Xi encountered a similarly humiliating experience in 1997. Xi was the least popular among the 131 Alternate Central Committee members who were picked by delegates to the 15th Party Congress (Apple Daily [Hong Kong] November 15; Hong Kong Economic Times, November 15).

The only political sector where Fifth Generation princelings have retained sizeable influence is the military. 41 of the 205 Central Committee members hail from the People’s Liberation Army and the paramilitary People’s Armed Police. This is in keeping with the long-held tradition that 20 percent of Central Committee seats be reserved for the armed forces. “Princeling generals” who made it to the 18th Central Committee include the new General Armaments Department Director General Zhang Youxia; General Logistics Department Political Commissar General Liu Yuan; Navy Political Commissar Admiral Liu Xiaojiang; Second Artillery Political Commissar General Zhang Haiyang; and National Defense University Political Commissar General Liu Yazhou (Ta Kung Pao [Hong Kong] November 15; Xinhua, November 14). Moreover, given the cozy relationship between Xi—who assumed the Chairmanship of the Central Military Commission the same day that he became CCP General Secretary—and these princeling generals, the PLA may become the new supremo’s major power base.

Another power bloc that has made impressive gains at the 18th Party Congress consists of representatives of China’s yangqi, or centrally-held, state-owned enterprise (SOE) conglomerates. Six full Central Committee members are yangqi bosses, compared to just one five years ago. They are China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation President Ma Xingrui; China Aerospace Science and Industry Corporation General Manager Xu Dazhe; China Aviation Industry Corporation President Lin Zuoming; China North Industries Group Corporation (Norinco) President Zhang Guoqing; PetroChina President Jiang Jiemin; and Bank of China President Xiao Gang. In addition, the president of China’s sovereign fund China Investment Corporation, Lou Jiwei, was promoted from alternate to full member of the Central Committee (China News Service, November 15; Hong Kong Economic Journal, November 15). Yangqi, particularly those with links to the military, are traditionally close to the Gang of Princelings. For example, the eldest son of ex-President Jiang Zemin, Jiang Mianheng, has had a long association with defense and aerospace industries (, November 20; People’s Daily, October 11).

By contrast, there is only one private entrepreneur in the Central Committee: alternate member Zhang Ruimin, who is the boss of the Hai’er, the famous maker of household appliances. This is the third time that Zhang has been named a Central Committee alternate member since 2002. Liang Wen’gen, Chairman of the Sany Group and one of the wealthiest men in China, failed to be elected an alternate Central Committee member. This was despite widespread reports in the Chinese media that he would be inducted into the Central Committee (, November 23; Hong Kong Economic Times, November 12; “18th Party Congress to Showcase Rising Status of Private Business,” China Brief, October 19). The increasing political clout of the yangqi CEOs seems to testify to the fact that the trend—characterized by Chinese economists as “the state sector advances even as the private sector retreats” (guojin mintui)—probably will continue for the foreseeable future.

A sure-fire way for the CYL Clique to maintain its profile and momentum in the higher echelons of the party-state apparatus is to seize the moral high ground of reform. In a State Council conference held just one week after the 18th Party Congress, Premier-designate Li Keqiang hoisted high the banner of institutional and economic reform. In language that is reminiscent of that used by both Premier Wen and late patriarch Deng Xiaoping, Li stated “our only [choice] is to go forward since there is no way back.” He added “We must be brave in experimentations, because this is where our responsibility lies… We may be able to avoid mistakes if we do nothing; yet we have to shoulder the responsibility that history has given us.” Li put particular emphasis on the propagation of “equality of rights, equality of opportunity and equality of regulations—so that every citizen can be able to derive benefits through hard work” (Xinhua, November 22; People’s Daily, November 22). Given his relatively lackluster performance the past five years, the CYL standard bearer cannot afford to waste any time in augmenting his reformist credentials. Failure to do so will not only affect his ability to become an effective premier, but also cast a shadow on the promotion prospects of the Sixth Generation CYL rising stars who are waiting in the wings.