Academic journal article China Perspectives

Whither Weiwen?: Stability Maintenance in the 18th Party Congress Era

Academic journal article China Perspectives

Whither Weiwen?: Stability Maintenance in the 18th Party Congress Era

Article excerpt

As the dust settles on the intergenerational transfer of power accomplished by the Chinese Communist Party after protracted factional struggles and Intense behind-the-door bargaining, the clamour for political reform Is growing louder yet. Critics have looked back upon the last decade presided over by Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao with disappointment. Study Times editor Deng Yuwen penned a damning critique listing ten grave problems (shida wenti as the pair's political legacy (zhengzhi yichan iEjcjqilf2), stating that the problems engendered In the past decade may well outweigh the achievements. d) Writing In Foreign Affairs, Damien Ma blames the administration for leaving behind "a political environment that Is likely more corrupt and stifling than the relatively entrepreneurial and liberal era of the 1990s." $ China Watcher David Shambaugh describes Hu as "an arch-conservative, cautious, risk-averse, stability-obsessed apparatchik." (3) Gao Wenqian, senior advisor of Human Rights In China, goes further In suggesting that the departing president's "greatest political legacy Is stability maintenance with an iron fist."

Indeed, weiwen, the shorthand for stability maintenance in Chinese (weihu wending ÍIfNIÆ), has become closely associated with the suppressive governance approach of the Hu-Wen administration and the drastic expansion of the political-legal and public security apparatus that took place under Its supervision. First used by Deng Xiaoping and Injected Into the official discourse with Its coming-of-age appearance In the headline of People's Daily- "Stability above all" (wendingyadaoyiqie IIÆlïffl-fjl) - on the first year anniversary of the 1989 Tiananmen crackdown, the currency of the term wending has coincided with major social conflicts such as the 1999 nationwide campaign against members of the outlawed Falun Gong.(5) But It was from the mld-2000s onwards, In the 17th Party Congress era In tandem with Hu's slogan of building a "harmonious society" (hexie shehui íflittt#), that weiwen visibly gained In rhetorical ascendance and evolved Into an overarching national priority.

The connotation of the term has since grown Irreversibly negative as the security-driven state employed high-handed means of violence against Its own citizens In the name of preserving stability. The Chongqing fallout, and the subsequent exposure of the excesses of Bo Xilai and his security aide Wang Lljun's strong-fisted campaigns, has nonetheless created an exceptional window of opportunity for reining In the burgeoning power of the political-legal apparatus and for critical re-examination of the enshrined weiwen approach. we enter the 18th Party Congress era, are we looking at any signs of change? This paper suggests that despite hints of reform, recent appointments show that the central elite remains preoccupied with stability concerns and that resistance to change remains strong at both the central and local levels of government. The apparent scaling back of the political-legal apparatus has been accompanied by the parallel rise of the social management regime, which may become a reinvented form of social control. There are nonetheless encouraging signs towards reforming Institutions of violence compilât In disciplining "misbehaving" citizens, but meaningful change would require fundamental reform In how successful governance Is defined and measured.

Weakened political-legal apparatus?

The announcement of the new line-up of the Politburo Standing Committee (PSC) In November 2012 concluded months of speculation with a list of names that ultimately thwarts the hopes of reformists. Not only are the relatively liberal Wang Yang and LI Yuanchao not In the top seven, but many In the new PSC enjoy close ties with former president Jiang Zemin, demonstrating the triumph of political conservatism and the Influence of Party elders. Nonetheless, one Important Indication of progress can be found In the reduction of the size of the PSC from nine to seven members, which has meant the effective downgrading of the Internal security portfolio. …

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