The Chinese Party Congress: For New Ideas, Look to the Younger Guys

Hu Jintao's opening address revealed just how closely the Communist Party is still wedded to Mao Zedong's legacy. But the party's next generation after Hu may have different ideas.

xes_23b372fc53e582d49b4aba43f80c946b-615.jpgDoes the subtle and skillful Wang Yang represent the next generation of Communist Party leadership?

The conclusion of the party congress' opening ceremony and Hu Jintao's keynote speech is followed by days of breakout sessions among the provincial congresses and their delegates. Theoretically, it is a period during which every provincial delegate is supposed to studiously review Hu's speech and learn the key concepts. But in reality, these are occasions for schmoozing and to take stock of several rising stars in the Communist Party firmament, some of whom will soon earn the rarified status of a Politburo or standing committee member.

First, pre-congress speculation that the Communist Party is prepared to throw Mao Zedong under the bus seems to be just that -- speculation. Not only did Hu's speech invoke the Great Helmsman again, a high-level official at the influential state think tank Chinese Academy of Social Sciences did not mince words when he publicly stated that "Mao Zedong thought will always be the ideological guidance of the party. His place in history is firmly enshrined in the party's constitution." 

Mao may live on existentially, but the Chinese are more lost than ever on the path forward. Even Hu himself seems rather puzzled -- spouting the line, "we will neither walk down the close, rigid old path, nor will we change banners and walk down a crooked path" -- that either left many mocking it or scratching their heads. Call it triangulation Chinese style, which recalls Deng Xiaoping's formulation that the party can't move too far left or too far right, and must find its own middle way. It seemed a spirited defense of Deng's defining pragmatism that called for "crossing the river by grasping for stones," a reference that many Chinese Web users picked up. In short, Hu's position is that he has no position. After a decade in power, Hu merely repackages the ideas of the last century for a country that no longer resembles its former self. No wonder many Chinese bemoan the dearth of visionaries in China's political class -- Deng was China's Steve Jobs and Hu is his Tim Cook.

black audis.pngA fleet of black Audis, the preferred ride of Chinese authorities, carrying party congress delegates as they attempt to exit the venue. The image carries the wry caption, "The best Audi commercial of the year." (Weibo via Helen Gao)

Beyond the art of wringing meaning out of indecipherable political language, the Guangdong provincial congress received more attention than others from Hong Kong and Western media. That's because everyone wanted to get impressions of Wang Yang, the party secretary of Guangdong who may or may not get the promotion into the standing committee. The secretary has captured unusual attention.

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Damien Ma is a fellow at the Paulson Institute, where he focuses on investment and policy programs, and on the Institute's research and think-tank activities. Previously, he was a lead China analyst at Eurasia Group, a political risk research and advisory firm.

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