Intellectual Wang Huning elevated

Source: The Australian (10/28/17)
Intellectual Wang Huning elevated from behind Chinese throne
By Rowan Callick

The new Politburo Standing Committee: Han Zheng, Wang Huning, Li Zhanshu, Xi Jinping, Li Keqiang, Wang Yang and Zhao Leji. Picture: AFP

The new Politburo Standing Committee: Han Zheng, Wang Huning, Li Zhanshu, Xi Jinping, Li Keqiang, Wang Yang and Zhao Leji. Picture: AFP

On Wednesday afternoon an ­obscure stock named Hangzhou Huning Elevator briefly became the darling of the Shanghai bourse, its share price soaring.

Brokers were scratching their heads, until the penny dropped.

Wang Huning, the ideological mastermind of the communist party, had that morning been elevated to the Politburo Standing Committee, the seven men — never a woman so far — at the top of China’s political tree.

He is the figure behind President Xi ­Jinping’s catchphrase the “China Dream”, and behind theoretical constructs also of his predecessors Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao, who sat on either side of Xi at the opening and closing this week of the five-yearly party ­national congress.

Wang, a former academic at Shanghai’s Fudan university, and Premier Li Keqiang — who helped translate into Chinese The Due Process of Law by British jurist Lord Alfred Denning — are the two members of the new standing committee who might be ­perceived as intellectuals.

The other five members, including Xi, had their education disrupted by the Cultural Revolution, and so ended up studying at night school, majoring in political subjects such as, in Xi’s case, Marxism.

Haig Patapan and Wang Yi of Griffith University say that as a political adviser, Wang has come to exert unprecedented authority.

Such authority is set to continue since 64 year-old Xi has hand-picked alongside him a team also in their 60s — thus containing no one eligible at the next congress in 2022 to serve the traditional two terms.

Xi adhered at this congress to the party convention of people retiring at 68, farewelling his closest political ally Wang Qishan. All of the new standing committee members would thus be too old for 10 years’ leadership after 2022, leaving the succession question in abeyance for at least five years.

Xi’s reinforced post-congress authority springs in part from the party’s placing his Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era on a par with Mao Zedong Thought, and above Deng Xiaoping Theory. Now, to criticise Xi is to criticise the party’s rule.

Wang, 62, can be credited with helping arm Xi with the “thought” that has elevated him. He grew up in Shanghai with the “red blood” of communist ­cadres, of a family originally from Shandong, birthplace province of Confucius. At 30 Wang became Fudan’s youngest ever professor. He led Fudan to victory in the ­televised final of an Asia-Pacific debating contest in Singapore, watched by millions.

He wrote a series of books on politics and economic reform. The then-president Jiang, whose power base was Shanghai, asked Wang in 1995 to come to Beijing to head the party’s central policy ­research office, quoting from his books during their conversation.

Wang stressed the role of politics, and not just the conventional Marxist focus on economics, in determining social development.

In a paper published in the Journal of Contemporary China, Patapan and Wang Yi say Wang maintains that political reform should not be pursued at the expense of stability. While Wang resists the label, they say, his views have been characterised as “new authoritarianism”.

Xi swiftly adopted Wang’s concepts of “ecological development” and of the need to tackle intertwined indiscipline and corruption. Working deep inside Beijing’s leadership compound of Zhongnanhai since 1995, Wang has transformed himself into a powerful political figure in his own right, not just a traditional “high-level official who counsels the emperor”, they say — one with the remarkable ability to survive two leadership transitions.

This week he graduated decisively from the adviser who governs indirectly to one who has stepped onto the central stage, led out by Xi to stand in front of a massive painting of the Great Wall as one of the Magnificent Seven, only a step below the “Chairman of Everything”, Xi himself, whose elevation Wang did so much to help engineer.

Xi relished the moment, appearing more relaxed than the expressionless figure who had dominated the great ritual opening and closing of the congress — and who alone of China’s senior figures did not use glasses to read.

Introducing his team, Xi reeled off the statistics of those who had congratulated him and the party, including 814 foreign leaders, among them Donald Trump.

It was unusual for an American leader to praise an internal communist party ideological upgrade, and in a fortnight Trump will be stepping along a long, long red carpet towards Xi in the same Great Hall of the People, playing a savoured cameo role in Xi’s, and Wang Huning’s, “China Dream”.

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