On 6 November 2013, a new political party was formed in China. Named Zhi Xian, the party was founded by Wang Zheng, an associate Professor of International Trade at the Beijing Institute of Economics and Management. It consists of supporters of China’s fallen politician – Bo Xilai. Coming right before the third plenum meeting of the Chinese Communist Party, this has raised a few eyebrows. It has also sparked off a debate about the possible meanings underlying the formation of such a party in China’s one party system.
What is agenda of this party? What is the shelf life of such parties in the political structure of China?
Wang Zheng claims that the inspiration to start the party came from Bo’s work in Chongqing as the party chief. In 2012, she wrote two open letters in support of Bo saying that justice was denied to him. She also appreciated his quasi Marxist policies and his efforts to reinstate crucial elements of Mao’s era. For her vocal support of Bo, she was put under house arrest, and had to be hospitalised after going on a hunger strike in protest.
The basic purpose of the party is to protect and safeguard the Chinese constitution on the grounds that the Communist Party of China has often flouted its rules. It does not support the liberalisation process in China. Zhi Xian is against privatisation and supports the state-owned enterprises. It will work to reduce the income gap which is a direct result of the liberalisation process. She has further sent a letter to Bo asking permission to become the chairman of the party. Bo has not openly accepted the proposal. However, Wang has taken this as his silent approval and declared him to be ‘chairman for life’ of the party. She has revealed details of one other member of the party, Xu Hua, resident of Wuxi. The two have not met in person but via email correspondence have agreed to be part of this new party. Wang has refrained from revealing details of any other member as it is ‘politically sensitive’ but maintains that Zhi Xian has more members than those of the first congress of the Communist Party when it was first established in 1921 ie 12 members. The new party will hold its first Congress in the next six months to elect a vice-chairman.
Multi-Party System: Is it Workable in China?
The Chinese constitution allows the formation of other parties by Chinese nationals but only if they work along with the leading party. Though China has eight officially recognised parties other than CPC they are a mere extension of the CPC. Any person who tries to form a party in opposition to the ideals of the party or challenges the supremacy of the party is dealt with with an iron hand. For instance, Xu Wenli was imprisoned for 13 years after he tried to organise the China Democracy Party in 1998. Wang however, dismisses the preposition that her party is opposing the CPC. In an interview to the Voice of America, she said, “…the Communist Party is the ruling party. According to the constitution, the nation is led by the Communist Party that co-operates with the other parties, and we are one of the participating parties.” Her arguments have found a few supporters such as Han Deqiang, an academician and an ardent supporter of Bo. However, many analysts in China do not see any hope for the new party, which according to them, has a very limited appeal even among prominent Maoist supporters. Many who supported Bo on certain leftist websites are sceptical about the party and also question the decision to use his name without his assent. Matters are not helped by the ambiguity that surrounds the party at present. The CPC has also not reacted to the formation of a party by Bo’s ‘supporters’, although Wang has informed all the nine parties plus the National People’s Congress and the parliament. A faction in China sees the formation of this party as the conservative faction putting pressure on Xi Jinping against pushing market reforms in the plenum meeting.
Though Wang openly admits that her party is not a challenge to CPC and her party’s main purpose is to uphold the principles enshrined in the constitution, any party formulated under the name of disgraced CPC member Bo Xilai will not go down well with party. The reaction of CPC might come after the plenum meeting and the fate of the new party will be determined after that. The portrayal of this party as a strong opposition by Bo’s supporters in the Western media is over hyped. Taking Zhi Xian as a case study and also taking into account the other non-existential eight parties in China, it is clear that CPC domination as the leading party in China is impossible to be challenged. A best case scenario, if any, for the party, would be to drop Bo’s name or to work as one of the advisory parties to the CPC or silently withdraw on its own.