Less than four years after Mao Zedong’s death, Deng Xiaoping declared that China needed to move away from an “over-concentration of power” by an individual leader to establish a more institutionalized system of governance. Xi Jinping’s ascension to power in 2013 promised a new era of reform of the Communist Party of China (CCP), specifically intended to preserve the party’s power. Rather than addressing governance issues, however, Xi’s actions, such as the anti-corruption campaign, have served to concentrate power in his hands, showing the weakness of political institutionalization in China after decades of collective leadership. While decision-making processes continue to be a black box, Xi, by reclaiming the CCP’s authority over policy-making, and by chairing CCP small leading groups, appears to have moved China back to Mao-style personalistic rule. The puzzles that remain are how personalistic rule has returned to a country characterized by a growing middle class and a modern open market economy; and what this reversion to personalistic leadership tells us about the ambiguities of institutionalization in communist ruling parties.
About the Speaker
Susan Shirk is the Chair of the 21st Century China Program, and Research Professor at the School of Global Policy and Strategy at the University of California, San Diego.