The grandchildren of the elites destroyed by Mao have again become much richer than the average Chinese

The children and families of leaders who were cleansed or not during Mao’s time are better off than the average Chinese population.

The children and families of leaders who were cleansed or not during Mao's time are better off than the average Chinese population.

©Greg Baker / AFP

Chinese sociology

According to a study by an international group of researchers, the descendants of the elites destroyed by Mao are now richer and have a better level of education than the average Chinese population and even than some members of the Chinese Communist Party.

Atlantico: The descendants of elites who were victims of purges or famine during Mao’s reign thrived. According to a study by an international group of researchers, the grandchildren of the elites destroyed by Mao are now richer and have a better level of education than the average Chinese population and even than some members of the Chinese Communist Party. How could they make this distinction? What criteria in the Chinese population did they use to conduct this study?

Emmanuel Veron: It is structural in the system of the Chinese party state that the children, more generally the families of the leaders who are cleansed or not, are better off than the Chinese average. Moreover, the system as it is established maintains this strong gap. In fact, it is in fact a Chinese sociology that has been turned upside down and reflects China’s history from the end of the empire to the present day, including Mao’s takeover and the proclamation of the People’s Republic of China in 1949.

If several forms of Chinese bourgeoisie had emerged between the end of the 19th century and 1949, it either left the country (in the direction of Hong Kong, Taiwan, North America, or to a lesser extent Europe), either pursued by the new communist regime in power. .

From 1949, the regime carefully aimed to destroy the elites that existed before it. This is evidenced by the great traumas of the Maoist era: Land Reform in 1950, The Hundred Flowers Campaign (1957), Great Spring Forward (1958) and the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976), for the most important temporal conditions for politics, economics and regimes. During these periods, the old elites, but also certain elites (communists or not) who were considered hostile to the party, were persecuted.

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Deng Xiaoping’s seizure of power after the episode of Band of Four (after the Cultural Revolution) will, after the decisions of the new leader, be accompanied by the rehabilitation of elites, leaders and others cleansed or persecuted. The aim was to re-establish the connection with the living forces in the country, but also to ensure a post-Maoist transition, the aim was then to catch up with the delays in development accumulated between 1949 and 1976 …

What is the main explanation for this phenomenon? Is it associated with a better level of education? To a more favorable economic context?

The process is first and foremost political. The regime was born and lives continuously (still today) in a structural and cyclical paranoia. The party fears, for its survival at the head of China, all strong opposition, regardless of the forms of this opposition: intellectual, economic, religious, etc.

From 1949, it was the “red elites” who created a system and therefore shared wealth and power. More precisely, and to this day, it is the communist families of the first hour who constitute the elites whose universe is cut off from the rest of the Chinese population (though educated and possibly enriched). These “red elites” since 1921, the founding of the CCP, then the families descended from the survivors of the long march (October 1934 – October 1935) would hold power (and divide it) until Xi Jinping. The descendants, “the red princes” today stand at the head of the regime and China, the most famous and eloquent of them is none other than Xi Jinping, son of Xi Zhongxun, faithful to Mao, who will be purged in the periods mentioned above.

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Are the grandchildren of the old elite more enterprising and do they work harder?

The generations from the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s are the ones who will once again be able to get rich, run a business, travel the world and accumulate goods and wealth … The path that gives perfect shine is the by Desmond Shum, whose book “Chinese roulette” published in English in 2021 and translated into French and published in 2022 provides an understanding of these political and societal mechanisms.Elites should always be part of the CCP or have good relations with it. This is a prerequisite for success, regardless of the level of the individual … The mediocre could have been at the top of the pyramid, if of course they belonged to the CCP …

While the capital of the elite was destroyed 70 years ago, its social capital has survived through this generation. What influence could they have on Chinese society? Could they influence the government, the Beijing regime or the Chinese Communist Party?

If these elites do not belong to the CCP, they are obliged to share with the regime coordinations that serve the party. As we mentioned above, the CCP is meticulously careful to contain, if not neutralize, all forms of influence that do not come from themselves. The 1990s and 2000s, with the enrichment of certain non-communist elites, led some to think (sometimes even, if not more often in the West) that China could eventually experience some form of democratization, if not a relaxation of policy on economics, society and international politics. This temporality is eloquent for the correct decipherment of the CCP’s DNA. If this (vanished) period of enrichment took place, it was only a party tactic to improve the development of the country while at the same time controlling it. On the other hand, these years (from 1992 to 2012) were also years of intense discussions and rivalries at the highest level in the party and the state regarding the decisions that had to be made to limit the enrichment of certain non-political elites. and their growing influence. Xi Jinping’s (2012) coming to power marks the end of this unique, euphoric temporality, of enrichment and various forms of debate … All in order to regain control of all aspects of society and the economy that had, in the eyes of the regime, captured much wind in their sails and would in the long run risk overthrowing the regime….

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