The horizon is not so far as we can see, but as far as we can imagine

What Xi Jingping Has Done Right to Preserve CCP Power and Effectiveness

I was a doubter about Xi. His early anti-corruption drive seemed most likely to be a way to purge the Party of his enemies, and I assumed he was driven primarily by ambition for personal power.

I was wrong.

If you want to join the CCP, you have to be accepted. It isn’t automatic. Once accepted you undergo training and if you want real power you have to rise: you have to be in charge and deliver.

In this the CCP is similar to the old Roman Republic: high political rank required you to rise up thru the cursus honorum. Doing so required you to gain experience with government: roads, sewage, trade, law and so on. In practice, few people were elected to the highest offices without military experience, and the result was that high elected officials had some actual experience with how both military and civic affairs ran.

The CCP has much the same virtues, minus the de-facto military experience. You can’t get to the top without having risen from the bottom.

There were serious threats to this in the early years of the second decade of the twenty-first century. The first was corruption: the job of officials shouldn’t be to make themselves and their families rich. People shouldn’t rise to the top because they’ve spread wealth to their supporters.

So an actual crackdown on corruption was required to retain the CCP’s policy effectiveness.

The second threat was the “princelings”. Children or grandchildren of high Communist officials, often companions of Mao. They expected office and power without having truly earned it. Xi has sidelined the majority of them. Very few have any real power in the CCP.

The third was the oligarchs. By one calculation the wealth of billionaires declined by 47% between 2021 and 2024. During the same period in America it increased over 70%. More than that, the CCP has prosecuted and imprisoned multiple billionaires, something the West never does.

Wealth=power. Huge concentrations of power outside the CCP were a huge threat to it, especially in combination with internal corruption, since corrupt and rich party members were cooperating with the oligarchs.

This has allowed China to do things like move massively to social housing and crash the housing market, something oligarchs would never allow the government to deliberately do in America. Young people being unable to afford housing was (and still is) a huge threat to the CCP’s legitimacy, but it’s being dealt with.

Weakening oligarchs hasn’t come at the expense of industry and commerce, either: the Chinese economy continues to grow, science and engineering progress is rapid, and they have recently taken control of the majority of the global EV market.

Internal corruption, cliques and external power centers controlling government are the biggest threats to any government and especially to any one party state. Xi has dealt with these problems effectively and relatively quickly and is moving on other policy concerns.

This doesn’t mean the CCP is perfect or doesn’t make mistakes. Zero Covid was done very badly (avoiding Covid was the right policy, but they screwed it up.) It does mean that they retain the ability to implement policy, often effectively.

And that’s a big win for China and the CCP.

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Why Am I Writing About China So Much?


  1. Jan Wiklund

    It seems very much like the “civil service reform” several western states effected in the mid 19th century – with the same aim as in China.

    Corruption researcher Bo Rothstein has written about how it worked in Sweden at It seems to have been very effective at the time: satirist August Strindberg hated bureaucracy but not even he dared to suggest that the bureaucracy was corrupt.

    Of course Civil service reform was inspired by the Chinese example since much the idea behind it was an exam system. Otherwise Max Weber has written about the guiding principles.

  2. Feral Finster

    “You can have democracy or concentration of wealth, but you cannot have both.”

    What I found interesting about the rollback of zero COVID in China was that it carried out as a response to popular protests. The government actually did the will of the people.

    Contrast the response of Free And Democratic Canada to the trucker protests. We can argue later whether they were justified, but H.M., Government acted by its own admission illegally, ran roughshod over civil liberties and ignored public opinion, besides.

  3. Daniil Adamov

    Feral Finster, autocracies throughout history have had to deal with popular resistance to their policies, and often ended up making concessions (sometimes after chopping a few heads off, but often without even that). China giving way to protests in that way is perfectly in tune with this tendency in Chinese and world history. Ancien regime France and pre-revolutionary (maybe especially pre-Petrine) Russia certainly did this too.

    There is an argument to be made that the point of democracy and especially extended suffrage is to neutralise this sort of popular dissent. Indeed, that was always a big part of how reformers sold it to their fellow members of the elite: universal suffrage was a vaccine against revolution. With the people’s energy channeled towards elections and the related political circus, the danger from popular resistance lessened drastically. Britain is a prime example. The 19th century saw some very effective and feared popular movements. In the 20th century, under universal suffrage, the people first got as many concessions as they were going to get (the welfare state)… and then were gradually ground down with minimal resistance (privatisation, austerity, etc.; quite a few new restrictions on real freedom too). In the old days, would a less democratic government have dared to take away so much? I’m not so sure.

    That’s a simplistic model, of course; there were many other factors involved, and I’m not 100% sure it checks out. But whenever I read about modern British or American history, this thought is hard to avoid, and it does not surprise me that Chinese or Russian authorities are quicker to bow to public pressure than Western ones. They know they have to tread a lot more carefully; their subjects lack the same anesthetic.

  4. GrimJim

    It’s as I’ve always said, China is fortunate to have a strong cadre of True Believers in Communism who also understand how Communism is supposed to work.

    No other attempt at Communism had both, and that, together with Western pressures, was always enough to destroy them.

    It did not help that every Communist revolution occured in pretty much the wrong kind of countries. Marx was spinning in his grave when the first real, serious Communist revolution happened in backward, atavistic, agrarian Russia!

    Because people forget — even the Communist revolutionaries themselves — that in order for Communism to have even a slim chance of succeeding, it must be preceded by a crumbling, advanced Capitalist society.

    The Bolsheviks understood it a bit, but misunderstood it as having an Industrialized society, which is fine thing completely different from a Capitalist society. Thus, their forced industrialization failed (plus there were do many other reasons, as well).

    This is why all the surviving and recent Communist countries keep flailing. They either were essentially agrarian (Cuba) or a resource colony (Venezuela) with minimal industrial abilities. Or they simply fell into a Strong Man society with trappings of Communism (USSR, North Korea).

    China, and potentially Vietnam, both realized they had to allow their economy and society evolve naturally through a proper Capitalist stage before a Communist economy and society could be built. This, they have used the West’s own greed to help them build that.

    Whether it will work is another thing. As you note, there are plenty of potholes and pit traps along the way. So far the cadre of True Believers seems to be succeeding.

  5. ibaien

    between your ceaseless cheerleading for putin and xi, it seems like you’re done with the idea of liberal democracy in the 21st century and are at best hoping for a couple of LKY benevolent despot types before the world burns. is that accurate?

  6. Ian Welsh

    Accurate analysis is not cheerleading. Rephrase and I’ll consider answering your question.

  7. Ian Welsh

    Without greenhouse gasses, we were heading for a colder climate. Alas that climate change is not a government lie. Bit of a strange blog to read if you believe that.

  8. Modern discourse has evolved into a team sport event.
    You can’t point out that China is one of the few countries to economically develop since WW2, that Israel’s military and government is publicly admitting to mass war crimes, that NATO aggression is the cause of the Ukraine war and people predicted it a decade ago because pointing out reality is cheerleading for the opponents.
    Signaling that you’re on the right team is the most important thing.

  9. GrimJim

    Indeed, the right wing “we make our own reality” crowd is straight out of 1984. That’s why they want to destroy the library and education system, until all that is left is their pure propaganda system of private schools.

    Those who control the past, control the future.

    It is all there in the 2024 Republican Party Platform:

    Slavery is Freedom.
    War is Peace.
    Ignorance is Strength.

  10. Indeed, the right wing “we make our own reality” is straight out of 1984.

    One of the themes of 1984 is the idea that the “opposition” is controlled by the party. Judging by the actions of the “non-right wing” does it appear that they are controlled opposition as well?
    Has the “non-right wing” opposed the post W. Bush wars (Syria, Libya, Yemen, Ukraine, Gaza)?
    Did they send the fraudster bankers to jail?
    Did they enact harsh punishment for the opioid mass graves?
    Did they jail and torture whistleblowers such as Manning and Assange?
    The “non-right” resembles the “good cops”. The “good cop” is nicer, and less abusive, but their job is to still screw you good, and hard.

    We’re already slaves
    We’re already at war
    We’re already ignorant

  11. mago

    I’ll quote 9th century Indian pandita Shantideva once again:
    To see where you’ve been, look where you are now.
    To see where you’re going, look where you are now.

  12. capelin

    15 years ago I talked with a friend who was doing buisness with/in China and was spending some time there. Tiananmen was still remembered.

    He was a lefty-grassroots kinda guy with good political radar, so I was surprised that his take on things there was very sympathetic to the central gov, who he saw as trying to keep the big ship on course, while mid-level and provincial corruption gummed up the controls and sapped power.

    The overarching concern even with “good” centralized power, of course, is how to keep it from being co-opted down the road.

  13. Jan Wiklund

    Daniil Adamov: You’re right. Yongshun Cai argues in Collective resistance in China, 2010, that Chinese governments give way when they see that protests have a wide base. Cai thinks that western gorvernments have their legitimacy from winning an election and if they do they can do whatever they please, but a Chinese government has to gain its legitimacy the hard way, by giving the people what it wants.

    GrimJim: It has nothing to do with communism or not communism, simply with having a civil service living up to its name. We had it in the North Atlantic world until the 80s-90s. The Chinese apparently understand that there is a difference between steering a ship and looting a wreck. We have lost that understanding.

  14. Feral Finster

    @Daniil Adamov:

    I have long said that “Democracy, as a practical matter, is basically an exercise in passing the buck, in avoiding responsibility. Everyone in power claims to answer to and derive their authority from someone else, going ultimately back to “the people” who themselves do not directly exercise power, and who would find it difficult to exercise as a collective action problem, even if they had the formal authority to do so.

    What this means is that real power is often in the hands of unelected bureaucrats, who typically don’t even want to stand for election because they don’t want the voters to know what their programs are, much less to be able to exercise any oversight. Robert Moses is the classic example here.

    Even that minimal level of scrutiny is too much for some, and real power is often exercised by people not formally part of any government structure. Corporate lobbyists or Robert Kagan come to mind.

    From, there, taking into account how wildly unpopular most western politicians and their policies are with their respective publics, “democracy” as it is practiced is basically a cover for rulers to do what they want. The technical term for this is a “beard”.

    After all, your elected representatives approved this. If you don’t like it, you can vote for a different carefully vetted corporate imperialist muppet, so until then, shut up and fall in line!”

  15. different clue

    It would be neat if someone were to look again at all the evidence of the natural climate cycles, subcycles and epicycles with a view on predicting when the next natural warming cycle is due to begin.

    Because if greenhouse gases can make the world this much hotter in the teeth of what would be a natural cooling cycle, how much even more hotterer will the world get under its blanket of manmade or man-upincreased supply of greenhouse gases when the next normal-natural warming cycle sets in?

    I think our only hope over the medium-term is to pray for a mega-Maunder super-Minimum.

    ( If a mega-Maunder super-Minimum would need some help from volcanoes to achieve some real de-warming relief, maybe we should pray for a Pinatubo every few years, along with a Tambora every so often and an occasional Toba scale event just to make sure).

  16. different clue

    I’ve just stumbled upon an intriguing little blog-site, called ” Neno’s Place”. It looks like a rolling grab bag of all kinds of interesting random stuff.

    Here is a chart called ” Economic Confidence Model – – Overlaid Schumpeter Waves of Innovation – – The Sixth Wave. I am not entirely sure I understand it yet but my layman’s intuition suggests to me that it might be worth taking a few minutes to see if it can be understood or not. My feeling is that “Neno” is using this to try showing that climate moves along its natural cycles, we are due for a mini ice age, and manmade greenhouse gas skyflooding has no effect on anything. ( I personally would dispute that. I personally think that enough greenhouse skygassing can overwhelm the effects of any “mini” cooling cycle, meaning that the coming “mini Ice Age” if we were due for one will instead be a “mini-slow down” in the rate of ongoing heat up.)

    But anyway, for a few minutes of personal amusement, here is the link.

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