Immortals, Princelings & The Empire: the Plutocratic Caste-like or Pre- Revolutionary return to the Future for China.

Mr Bo Guagua and his father Mr Bo Xilai
The sons of China’s Eight Great Eminent Officials (Chinese: 八大元老; pinyin: Bā dà yuánlǎo), abbreviated as the Eight Elders (Chinese: 八老; pinyin: Bā lǎo) are commonly called “the Princelings”. The Eight Elders held power during the 1980s and 1990s and are popularly known as The Eight Immortals. It looks like that this expression was initially meant to be sarcastic, and originated in the English-speaking world, but it is now widespread in China as well. To call them The Eight Immortals it is to allude to the Taoist deities commonly known as the Eight Immortals. Ergo, they have been deified, just like Mao.

Now, in the “New China”, year after year, the form of Government assumes the contour of a very “old style Imperial China”: Caste-like Elitist Family-based Plutocratic Oligarchy, considering that a “Caste” system follow a pattern of hereditary transmission where sons are inheriting occupation, status, and power. Just like in China. Elitist, because they really believe that some individuals, who form a select group of people with a certain ancestry, and apparently because of this, intrinsic qualities, are those to be taken the most seriously and whose views or actions are most likely to be constructive to society as a whole. Just like in China. Family based, because Chinese political elite, not being voted or chosen by Chinese, are effectively all political family, where family several members are involved in politics, at different levels. Just like in China. Plutocratic, because nowhere in the world today, except perhaps USA, we can see a society ruled and dominated by a small minority that are also the top wealthiest citizens. The top wealthiest Chinese are Communist Party members, and a large number of the billionaire sit in the National People Congress, like Mr Zong Qinghou, the richest man in China, owner of WAHAHA group, whose personal patrimony was estimated to be 13 billion dollars in 2010 and whose daughter, Zong Fuli is already designed to inherit his empire, and most probably the seat at the National People Congress. Oligarchy, because, classically, an Oligarchy is the reign of a few families and these families could be distinguished by wealth, family ties, education (possibly abroad), corporate, or military control. Such states are often controlled by a few prominent families who typically pass their influence from one generation to the next. Just like in China.

Now we don’t wonder that the official reports, newspapers, media sources from this Government in China are keeping on saying, disseminating, broadcasting and writing the notion that “western democratic values and ideas are not applicable in China”. I would like to tell to my Chinese friends not to worry too much, because democratic values and ideals are also difficult to be found in the West.
So the sons of the deified Eight Elders of the Revolution who became the starters of a new Aristocracy, are now called the Princelings. They are, as a matter of fact, Princelings who have benefited significantly from nepotism and cronyism and constitute a special group that can easily overrule any opposition.

They are often seen to outrank other party officials and possess greater prestige due to their lineage. Different media were able to gather info and to report on the great wealth accumulated by these descendants via their roles in various national and privatized companies. Some of these media are westerner, and following their revelations, they have been blocked in China. (E.g. The New York Times)
So how come that a communist or socialist country come to this? Why is it so? It is quite a normal course in history, in any country where people do not vote for their representative and does not have parties reflecting the different opinions and point of views of the people. The Princelings are just the top of a caste-like system , and among them most probably the Communist Party will chose the next leader of the country, and my guess is, among the sons of the princelings most probably will come the next-next leader, and among the grandsons of the princelings will come the leader of the future generation. Later the “Princelings” tags was also extended at any son of a former Revolutionary leader, not limited to the “Eight Immortals”. So let’s say that there are Princelings, Dukes, Barons and Counts, in New China.
Bo Xilai was one of these Princelings. Who are the other? Let’s see here, the relation father and son, between the Princelings and the Eight Immortals.
Respecting the elderly, I will write first the fathers, then the sons.

Deng Xiaoping (1904–1997), called the “Paramount Leader”, Politburo Standing Committee member 1977–1987, Political Consultative Conference chairman 1978–1983, Central Military Commission Chairman 1980–1989, Central Advisory Commission chairman 1982–1987. The son is Deng Pufang, he was crippled during the Cultural Revolution when he was thrown out of a window by the Red Guards. But dubious business ventures have made Mr Deng unpopular with many members of the party.
Chen Yun (1905–1995), Politburo Standing Committee member 1977–1987, Central Advisory Committee Chairman 1987–1992, Central Discipline Inspection Commission first secretary 1979-1987. The son is Chen Yuan that has been governor of China Development Bank (CDB) and CPC party committee secretary of CDB since March 1998.
Li Xiannian (1909–1992), Politburo Standing Committee member 1977–1987, President of the PRC 1983–1988, then Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference chairman. He was one of the supporters of the enforcement of martial law by force during the Tian An Men protests.
Peng Zhen (1902–1997), National People’s Congress Chairman 1983–1988. He was purged during the Cultural Revolution and was rehabilitated under Deng Xiaoping in 1982 along with many other ‘wrongly accused’ officials.
Yang Shangkun (1907–1998), President of the People Republic of China 1988–1993. He was purged during the Cultural Revolution , and recalled in 1978, after Deng Xiaoping rose to power where he became one of the Eight Elders of China. Yang promoted economic reform but opposed political liberalization, a position which Deng eventually came to identify with. Yang was one of the men behind the repression of Tiananmen Square protests of 1989. Before he died in 1998, Yang Shangkun told army doctor Jiang Yanyong that “June 4 1989” was the most serious mistake committed by the Communist Party in its history, a mistake that Yang himself could not correct but one that certainly will eventually be corrected.
Bo Yibo (1908–2007), Central Advisory Committee Vice Chairman. He initially the 1989 Tiananmen protesters, but he was eventually persuaded by hardliners to support the use of violence against protesters. The son is the now disgraced and under trial Bo Xilai, 64. The younger Bo Xilai was seen as a skillful man, promoting himself as the face of young, modern China and was one tipped to be among the few for the “top spot”.
Wang Zhen (1908–1993), Central Advisory Committee Vice Chairman. He was considered a close associate of the powerful Chinese President Li Xiannian. He was one of men behind the suppression by force of the pro-democracy protesters in Tiananmen Square in 1989. A famous quotation from Wáng Zhèn is said to be: “The Communist Party of China established our government in China at the cost of 40 million people’s lives. Any attempt to steal the control of the government from the Party without exchanging with 40 million lives for it is daydreaming!”
Song Renqiong (1909–2005), Central Advisor Committee Vice Chairman, was a general in the People’s Liberation Army of the People’s Republic of China (PRC).

Other Princelings

Zeng Qinghong,73, he was for long the right-hand man of President Jiang Zemin. His father, Zeng Shan, a former Ministry of the Interior, was a general in the communist army who became a member of the government and his mother was one of the few women who took part in the 1934-35 Long March.
Not surprisingly a princelings was considered Mr Xi Jinping, 60, he is the son of Xi Zhongxun, a veteran revolutionary soldier who held senior positions in the early years of the new state, including that of vice-premier. The younger Mr Xi joined the Communist Party in 1974 and graduated from the engineering chemistry department of Tsinghua University in 1979. After 1982, he served in Fujian province, starting as vice-mayor of Xiamen in 1982 and rising to the post of governor and party secretary, before being moved to Zhejiang as acting governor and vice-party secretary. He escaped unscathed from the famous Xiamen smuggling scandal, which has seen more than 100 senior officials imprisoned for their involvement.

Yu Zhengsheng, son of Yu Qiwei, former minister of the machinery industry; he is the son-in-law of PLA major general Zhang Zhenhuan. He became a member of the powerful Politburo of the Communist Party of China in November 2002. Following the 17th Party Congress, Yu became the party chief in Shanghai, replacing Xi Jinping.
Wang Qishan, currently serves as Secretary of the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection. Previously, he served as Vice-Premier in charge of economic, energy and financial affairs under premier Wen Jiabao from March 2008 to March 2013, he is the son -in-law of former vice-premier Yao Yilin; Yao was associated with the conservative side of the party which advocated a quick suppression of Tiananmen protest and together with Li Peng are the two figures most associated with the initiation of martial law on June 4.
Liao Hui, director of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office and son of Liao Chengzhi director of the Xinhua News Agency; after 1949, he worked in various positions related to foreign affairs, most prominently president of the Beijing Foreign Languages Institute, president of the Sino-Japanese Friendship Society, and Minister of the Office of Overseas Chinese Affairs. Since March 2003 Liao Hui also served as the second vice chairman of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), in charge of the affairs of the Communist Party of China in Hong Kong and Macau.

The inextricable link between party, government and big companies reminds me of the Corporatism in Italy during the Fascist period. The fascists had a theory of economic corporatism involving management of sectors of the economy by government or privately controlled organizations (corporations). Each trade union or employer corporation would, theoretically, represent its professional concerns, especially by negotiation of labor contracts and the like. This method was devised to get harmony (another common word in the lexicon of Mussolini and China) amongst social classes. As many have noted, economic corporatism was also used to reduce opposition and reward political loyalty. And this is also happening in China.
The Fascist corporatist political system provided that economy should be collectively managed by employers, workers and state officials by formal mechanisms at the national level. To me this is terribly akin to modern China. Also strikingly similar is the fact that in this non-elected form of State every interest would be ‘incorporate’ into the State organically and coordinated and harmonized in the Unity of the State. In today China anger against the princelings and their wealth, real and imagined, is widespread and a major reason for cynicism and suspicion towards the party.


About marco maurizio gobbo

Born in Milan on 14 July 1961. During my adolescence I developed an interest in writing and acting, working for various amateur and semi-professional theater companies. In 1990 I moved to London, returned to Italy in 1994,where I joined "Il Raccolto, Association of Authors and Artists of all Cultural Disciplines" directed by Daniele Oppi. In 1998 I became a student and apprentice of the Master painter Mintoy. Starting from the unique use of colors and hues in the works of James Ensor, and Olga Rozanova, Mintoy is a "visual searcher" who use colors and chromatic nuances, intended as pure light, as expression of concepts, meanings and emotions. Following the teaching of Mintoy I started my own painting discourse where pure colors are used in Abstract and Representative form, gradually exploring techniques close to Neo Expressionism, Action Painting and Lyrical Abstraction. Since 2006 I live between Europe and China. I am among the founders and promoters of The Making - Art Management of Hong Kong, serving as Asia Managing Director. You may follow this blog in Italian at, look for ARTASIA in the blog section. Welcome comments, happy reading.
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