What is a political spectrum?
When, in November 2012, Xi Jinping took up his position as secretary general of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), his political ideas and positioning inside the Party remained largely a mystery. The CCP is a huge bureaucratic machine mainly devoted to its own survival, within which various interests and priorities unceasingly compete at every level. The personal convictions of supreme leaders are at best diffuse and changing, and none of them can lastingly avoid going through the system of decision by consensus. For this reason it is somewhat futile to try to identify perennial political factions.
Nonetheless, to canalize personal conflicts and court intrigues, the regime uses two kinds of tools. First, it constantly produces new institutions and more or less stable rules. And second, by building up clientelistic ties, it tries to ensure the support of certain groups inside and outside the Party that participate in political debates in the media and more largely in the Sinophone public sphere. Eighteen months after Xi’s ascension, news of a formal investigation of Zhou Yongkang wraps up the president’s first political cycle of power consolidation. That makes it a good time to attempt to sketch out the contours of the political synthesis represented by Xi Jinping, based on the public debates and institutional innovations that have been announced during the first third of his first term.
As political positions continue to shift after the 18th Congress (at which time I presented a six-force model), the spectrum can be grossly divided into four main families: advocates of the “China Model, ” who dominate within the Party and the army, among “princelings” (children of former leaders) and State administrations; the “left, ” which is made up of both nostalgics of the Mao era (the old left) and academics, often trained in Western universities, critical of capitalism and proponents of a strong state (the New Left); social democrats, usually academics and former inner-Party reformers who, reaching old age, can speak out more freely (the journal Yanhuang Chunqiu is a case in point); and the liberals, overrepresented among the “metropolitan” (semi-private) media, lawyers, and more largely the urban population and private economy.