Xi Jinping, China's incoming president, has promoted himself as
an audacious reformer, but a message delivered to Communist Party
officials behind closed doors suggests he may demand a return to
traditional Leninist discipline.
When China's new leader, Xi Jinping, visited the country's south
to promote himself before the public as an audacious reformer
following in the footsteps of Deng Xiaoping, he had another message
to deliver to Communist Party officials behind closed doors.
Despite decades of heady economic growth, Mr. Xi told party
insiders during a visit to Guangdong Province in December, China
must still heed the "deeply profound" lessons of the former Soviet
Union, where political rot, ideological heresy and military
disloyalty brought down the ruling party there. In a province famed
for its frenetic capitalism, he demanded a return to traditional
"Why did the Soviet Union disintegrate? Why did the Soviet
Communist Party collapse? An important reason was that their ideals
and convictions wavered," Mr. Xi said, according to a summary of his
comments that has circulated among officials but not been published
by state-run media.
"Finally, all it took was one quiet word from Gorbachev to
declare the dissolution of the Soviet Communist Party, and a great
party was gone," the summary quoted Mr. Xi as saying. "In the end
nobody was a real man, nobody came out to resist."
A gyration between vows of transformation and defenses of party
power and dogma have marked Mr. Xi's first three months as China's
top leader, a job he is likely to hold for a decade. At the same
time, the disjunction between his admonitions to pursue daring
change and to ward off threats to traditional orthodoxy embodies a
broader quandary confronting the Communist Party as China advances,
party insiders and analysts said.
"Everyone is talking about reform, but in fact everyone has a
fear of reform," said Ma Yong, a historian at the Chinese Academy of
Social Sciences. For party leaders, he added, "the question is, Can
society be kept under control while you go forward? That's the
Gao Yu, a former journalist and independent commentator, was the
first to reveal Mr. Xi's comments, on an Internet blog. Three
insiders, who were shown copies by officials or editors at state
newspapers, confirmed their authenticity, speaking on condition of
anonymity because of the risk of punishment for discussing party
The tension between embracing change and defending top-down party
power has been an abiding theme in China ever since Deng Xiaoping
started China's economic transformation in the late 1970s. But Mr.
Xi has come to power at a time when such strains are especially
acute, and the pressure of public expectations for greater official
accountability is growing, amplified by millions of participants in
Mr. Xi has promised determined efforts to deal with China's
persistent problems, including official corruption and the chasm
between rich and poor. He has also sought a sunnier image, doing
away with some of the intimidating security that swaddled his
predecessor, Hu Jintao, and demanding that official banquets be
replaced by plainer fare called "four dishes and a soup."
Yet Mr. Xi's remarks on the lessons of the Soviet Union, as well
as warnings in state media, betray a fear that China's strains could
overwhelm the party, especially if vows of change founder because of
political sclerosis and opposition from privileged interest groups
like state-owned conglomerates. …