Geopolitics

The Triumph and Terror of Wang Huning Revisited

One man’s thought has become pivotal in China’s new political and cultural crackdowns. That man is not Xi Jinping.

China recently held its 20th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party. Held every five years, it is a major event that sets the direction of the country, and it is attended by the entirety of the party’s senior leadership—the Central Committee.

Two days ago, on the last day of the Congress, former president Hu Jintao was escorted off stage under unclear circumstances. It was an incredibly exposed incident—he was seated directly next to the current president Xi Jinping. Hu seemed confused as attendants escorted him away from the podium to no reaction from Xi, who had earlier criticized his administration in a speech.

One government-affiliated news agency described the incident as Hu Jintao feeling unwell and choosing to leave. Western observers speculated that it was a staged humiliation—in addition to his exit, Hu’s protégé Li Keqiang was conspicuously absent from the Party Congress as well. Either way, recordings of the event were censored in Chinese media.

Li Zhanshu, the Chairman of the Standing Committee and for a time something of Xi’s chief of staff—they’ve known each other since the 1980s when both were administrators in rural Hebei—was sitting between the two men and was caught off guard by the event. He made a move to stand up, as if to get more involved. But he was discreetly intercepted by First Secretary Wang Huning.

Wang Huning is not just an apparatchik with good political instincts. By training he is a political scientist, and it is his thought that undergirds Xi Jinping’s regime.

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