Publication: China Brief Volume: 2 Issue: 11

By Willy Wo-Lap Lam

President Jiang Zemin has made significant headway in pushing his proteges’ prospects in the run-up to the 16th Chinese Communist Party (CCP) Congress this autumn. But he faces an uphill battle to elevate “Jiang Theory” to the same level as the teachings of Chairman Mao and late patriarch Deng Xiaoping.


To the surprise of many analysts, Jia Qinglin, a Jiang crony going back to the 1970s, was re-elected party secretary of the Beijing municipality on Wednesday (May 22). Because the position of party boss of Beijing carries Politburo status, Jiang will have one more voice of support in this ruling council after the 16th congress.

A lackluster cadre with little reform credentials, Jia owes his rise almost entirely to Jiang’s patronage. It was even said that Jiang had wanted to groom Jia, a former party boss of coastal Fujian Province, as a successor to Zhu Rongji as prime minister. In the wake of the outbreak of the multibillion-yuan smuggling and corruption scandal in the port city of Xiamen in 1999 and 2000, however, Jia has kept a low profile. And while Jia is only 62, he was until recently thought to be heading toward semi-retirement at the 16th congress.

Given that both Jia and his wife–a veteran foreign trade cadre–had worked in Fujian at senior positions from the mid-1980s to the mid-1990s, there was widespread innuendo about the two’s alleged involvement in the monkey business in Xiamen. Even those who thought Jia and his wife had nothing to do with the scandal were convinced he should bear political and moral responsibility for failing to promote clean government. “Because of Jia’s close ties to Jiang, few expected that Jia would be incriminated,” a Western diplomat said. “However, Jia has suffered political damage. The scenario until recently was that he would be given the honorary position of vice chairman of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference soon after the 16th congress.” Jia’s new lease on political life, the diplomat said, testified to Jiang’s amazing powers in ensuring that after his expected retirement at the 16th congress, enough of his proteges would remain on the Politburo to protect the Jiang legacy.

Jiang is picking members of the future Politburo carefully because the two most senior cadres of the next administration–Vice President Hu Jintao, the likely new party general secretary and state president, and Vice Premier Wen Jiabao, the likely new premier–are not of his own faction.


Another victory on the personnel front awaits the president in Shanghai, which is due to have a new party secretary in the wake of the probable retirement of incumbent Huang Ju. Frontrunner for the job, which also has Politburo status, is long-time Jiang protege and former vice party secretary of Shanghai Chen Zhili. Currently education minister, Chen is expected to displace State Councillor Wu Yi–a Zhu protege who may retire at the 16th party congress–as China’s highest-ranked woman. To pave the way for Chen’s move to Shanghai, Beijing named the well-connected Wuhan Mayor Zhou Ji as a vice minister of education earlier this month. Zhou, who has a doctorate in engineering from the State University of New York, is a Shanghai native.

Veteran party observers in Beijing said Jiang–and his right-hand man Zeng Qinghong, director of the party’s Organization Department–had since late last year been preparing for thorough-going personnel reshuffles particularly in the regions. Party congresses in twenty-two of the thirty-one provinces and directly administered cities have been held to appoint new party secretaries or re-elect incumbents. Not surprisingly, Jiang and Zeng, another former vice party secretary of Shanghai, have filled a good proportion of the new positions with Jiang cronies or members of the Shanghai faction.


Zeng himself is slated for a slot on the Politburo Standing Committee; he is expected to take over the portfolio of party affairs from Vice President Hu. Another member of the Jiang or Shanghai Faction, Wang Gang, who is director of the CCP General Office, is tipped to inherit the organization portfolio from Zeng. This would ensure that Jiang’s men would continue to have a lot of say over appointments in the Hu administration.

Hu is said to be unhappy over the fact that the marathon reshuffles since late 2001 have significantly cut into his power base. In the Communist-Chinese tradition, the easiest way for a new leader to build up a following is through appointments. Given the fact that the tenure of a provincial party secretary usually lasts for at least three years, Hu’s ability to secure loyalty through promoting his proteges will be limited.


While Jiang may have scored some victories on the personnel front, he is encountering substantially more difficulties in enshrining Jiang Theory as the CCP’s guiding light. Resistance to the elevation of Jiang’s “Theory of the Three Represents”–regarded as the jewel of Jiang Thought–to the status of state creed and CCP dogma has remained fierce. (“Three represents” means the party represents the most advanced production forces, the foremost culture and the broad interests of the masses.)

In the eyes of the leftists, or remnant Maoists, the Three Represents is a justification for allowing the “new classes” of private businessmen and professionals–deemed the embodiment of productivity in the IT age–to join the party. To pacify the leftists, the Jiang leadership has asked the media to play down stories about “red capitalists” being enrolled as CCP members.

It is true that veteran conservatives such as Deng Liqun, a former head of the CCP Propaganda Department, have kept a low profile since they initiated an abortive attempt last July to declare Jiang’s decision that private businessmen are fit for CCP membership unconstitutional. However, Deng and a number of leftists have indicated privately that should Jiang press ahead with plans to revise the CCP charter to enshrine the “Three Represents” and to legitimize the status of “red bosses,” they would create an international incident by withdrawing from the CCP en masse.

The leftists have received a lot of support from cadres with labor and farming backgrounds. In the wake of the rise of unemployment among workers and peasants, the latter’s resentment against the “new exploiting classes” has increased dramatically.

Another indication that Jiang Theory lacks broad support is the postponement of the publication of the Selected Works of Jiang Zemin, which would buttress Jiang’s claim as a philosopher-king on the order of Mao and Deng. While compilation and editing of the Selected Works had basically been completed late last year, Jiang’s aides fear its publication will invite as much criticism as kudos.

Sources familiar with the editing of Selected Works say a good part of the book deals with foreign policy, particularly “Great Power Diplomacy.” This is a reference to how Jiang has been able to improve China’s global status through ways including improving ties with the United States and Russia.

However, recurrent conflicts with Washington over Taiwan–and Moscow’s apparent decision to gravitate toward America and NATO rather than China–have cast a pall over Jiang’s Great Power Diplomacy. And Jiang has been under intense fire from hard-liners including the generals that he has been unable to counter Washington’s “anti-China containment policy.”

In light of the relatively large number of Jiang and Shanghai Faction affiliates who will continue to hold senior positions after the 16th party congress, Hu and Wen will have second thoughts about openly revising Jiang Theory in the near future. The obvious lack of appeal for the Jiang Theory outside the Shanghai Faction, however, will put severe constraints on its longevity–and relevance.

Willy Wo-Lap Lam, one of Asia’s best known journalists and authors, is a senior China analyst at CNN’s Asia-Pacific Office in Hong Kong.