China's princelings come of age in new leadership

Sun Nov 25, 2012 4:19pm EST
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By Benjamin Kang Lim

BEIJING (Reuters) - In China they are known as "princelings" — the privileged children of the revolutionary founders of the People's Republic of China. And in the generational leadership change that just took place in Beijing, it could not have been clearer that having the right family bloodlines is among the most important attributes an ambitious cadre could possess.

Of the seven men who now comprise the Communist Party's new politburo standing committee, the apex of political power in China, four are members of "the red aristocracy", led by the new general secretary of the party, Xi Jinping.

The thriving of the princelings should not be a surprise, analysts and party insiders say. Rarely in its six decades in power has the party been under more stress. Public anger over widespread corruption, widening income inequality and vast environmental degradation have chipped away at its legitimacy.

The party's over-arching goal is to maintain its grip on the nation, and moving so many princelings into top positions is akin to taking out a political insurance policy.

"Fundamentally, princelings advocate maintaining one-party dictatorship," said Zhang Lifan, a Beijing-based political commentator. "This is (their) bottom line."

The rise of the princelings comes despite the fall of one of their own ambitious brethren, Chongqing party secretary Bo Xilai, himself a one-time contender for the standing committee and a son of one of Mao Zedong's closest comrades. Earlier this year, Bo's wife was convicted of murdering a British businessman in one of modern China's biggest political scandals.

Bo himself faces possible charges of corruption and abuse of power.

But in the wrangling over the new leadership, the princelings got a boost from former president and party elder Jiang Zemin, 86, widely viewed as a backroom powerbroker. Jiang had long supported Xi's rise and helped get another princeling onto the standing committee.   Continued...