Is the Designation of Xi Jinping as “the core” significant?

Jean Christopher Mittelstaedt

Is the Designation of Xi Jinping as “the core” significant? Browsing through media articles, one will very quickly get the impression that this designation enhances Xi Jinping’s authority, imbuing him with even greater power and thus further centralizing China. Hence it is a great pleasure to read Flora Sapio’s article, which puts forward some different and thought-provoking conclusions:

“Being at the core of the leadership” is a moral attribute, that recalls not only the principle of collective leadership – or shared decision-making power. This attribute underscores the dynamism, the plasticity of CPC ideology and the role of its makers through a subtle metaphor bridging ordinary language, political language, and natural processes.

How does she arrive at this conclusion? She argues that “the core of leadership” or the “leading core” is an attribute of the Commnist Party of China, rather than of any individual person. Hence

“He who is at the core of the leadership” – the physical person this attribute has been bestowed upon, almost fades (figuratively speaking of course) against the backdrop of the entire political organization he represents.

Below I will add some further reflections to this argument.

First, the idea that “core” is an attribute of the CCP as an organizational structure diminishes the importance of the Party’s representative as the constructor of the CCP’s inward and outward representation. Bourdieu notes that language as a system of differences produces and reproduces social differences, hierarchies, and distinctions. The process of naming solidifies an individuals’ consciousness and sets it apart from other people through difference. By reproducing this difference, the individual in turn produces the groups’ consciousness.

Through his acts, speeches, and writings Xi Jinping creates the Party inasmuch as the Party renders him the “core leader”. Everything he does thus attains greater symbolic value and builds the representation of the Party through him. It is therefore just consequential that the Party has been trying to humanize itself by creating a “charismatic leader” image of Xi to “make the Party more relatable to ordinary people” (MERICS 2016). The “core” designation will further strengthen the symbolic power that is attained.

Second, the symbolic power of the “core” features a distinct moral aspect. This view can not only be deduced from the Party Constitution and language itself, but also from Xi’s own speeches and the 6th Plenum’s communiqué. The “CCP Intra-Party Supervision Regulations” apply to everybody but are being led by the Centre. The “Some Standards for Political Life Within the Party” focus on normalizing the political lives of central high-level leading cadres. In 2014, Xi noted in a speech that it is the “core leadership,” who must be of “magnificently high quality” (宏大的高素质) (Xi 2014). Establishing the moral standards for leading cadres is important, since they “execute the governing power of the Party and the state’s legislative, administrative, and judicial power” (Xi 2014). Xi also stresses the pre-eminence of morality, writing “we stress the possession of both [political] integrity and ability (德才兼备), integrity comes first (以德为先), meaning that the construction of ideological morality takes an outstanding place (突出的位置)” (Xi 2013). A recent commentary in the Central Party School’s Study Times argues that a “qualified party member” (合格党员) is a cadre who adheres to the moral rules set out in the Party Constitution and their exemplifications in the “Integrity And Self-Discipline Standards” (中国共产党廉洁自律准则) (Yuan 2016). Hence, the symbolic power of the “core” is primarily moral/ideological, constructing Xi as a moral ideal of how (high-level) cadres should behave.

The “core” concept cannot negate collective leadership since it does not change underlying organizational structures at the Centre. As an article in the Study Times (October 31) noted, Xi in practice had been “core” leader for some time already. Hence, the “core” should thus be understood as part of a moral/ideological normalizing process aimed at combating the Party’s fragmentation and strengthen the Centre.


imageedit_2_8102233316Jean Christopher graduated with a Bachelor of Laws in International Politics from Peking University, Beijing. After having obtained a Master degree in Human Rights and Humanitarian Action from Sciences Po Paris, he now pursues a DPhil in Politics at the University of Oxford, where he focuses on the relationship between politics and law. With a special interest in the construction of the border between the political and the legal, he looks at the dynamics between intra-Party and legal norms and their realisation in pre-reform China

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