Under Xi, China Continues To Solidify And Consolidate Its Technocracy

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You can still see the visible trappings of former Communism in China, but the substance of the country has morphed into hard-core Technocracy. This was intentional and not accidental, as evidenced by many internal and external reports. For all those who thought Chairman Xi was moving away from Technocracy, this article proves that he is dead set on increasing Technocrat power.⁃ TN Editor

When President Xi Jinping went on inspection tours around China during the past five years, he was always accompanied by Chen Xi, director of the Communist Party’s Central Organisation Department.

It is a post that wields enormous power over party personnel changes and one that has a profound influence on how China manages its apparatchiks.

The 69-year-old stepped down from the Politburo in October, but remained head of the department.

“He remained the head of the Central Organisation Department only as an ordinary party member, not even a Central Committee member … to make proper [personnel] arrangement until the ‘two sessions’ [in March],” said Shan Wei, a senior research fellow on Chinese politics at the National University of Singapore. “It really shows how Xi is reluctant to let Chen go.”

Chen retains an important role once held by Xi when he was a vice-president – head of the Central Party School, the party’s top academy, but he will no longer wield the influence he once had.

During his time at the department, he helped Xi steer a series of personnel changes that shifted the balance at the top towards more technocratic cadres and bolstered the power of the party over the state.

It is a legacy that could be felt for years to come.

Chen and Xi were roommates at Tsinghua University in 1975, when they were both studying chemical engineering. After graduation, Chen spent three decades at Tsinghua mainly responsible for party work.

Xi also kept up links with his alma mater, studying Marxist theory and ideological education at Tsinghua from 1998 to 2002 while working in Fujian province. Chen, who served as the university’s deputy party chief, is widely believed to have helped Xi earn a doctoral degree by remote learning.

“In the 90s, there’s hot discussions of ‘virtue’ and ‘talent’ [in cadre grooming] and an emphasis on academic qualifications. So Chen has done a favour to Xi’s career,” Shan said.

The department soon issued a landmark document on cadre selection, abandoning a vote-based recommendation system citing a series of vote-rigging scandals, and adopting a new consultation and interview mechanism to stop bribery in the process.

Under Chen’s watch, the party broke norms and followed more opaque patterns in cadre selection, promotion and demotion, making it more difficult than ever for pundits to come up with prognostications about political careers.

Notably, old unwritten rules on retirement ages at various levels are no longer a decisive factor.

For example, Hu Chunhua, a 59-year-old one-time leadership contender, was dropped from the Politburo in October and offered a ceremonial role at China’s top advisory body in March, despite being nine years shy of retirement for his level.

Victor Shih, a specialist in Chinese elite politics and finance at the University of California San Diego, said “cadres like Hu Chunhua receiving demotions even though they have not committed any serious offences” reflected some notable changes in personnel changes in the party.

Shan said the new pattern was both unpredictable and predictable.

“On one hand, it breaks all the rules – when age or academic qualifications are not important – which adds to uncertainty,” he said. “But on the other hand, the certainty has become higher” because a person is unlikely to be promoted if they lack Xi’s trust.

In a series of state media articles about “grooming qualified successors”, Chen wrote that now loyalty, competence and integrity were among the key qualities the party was looking for to select a new generation of leaders.

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