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Blowing Down the CPC’s House of Cards

Deng Xiaoping understood that a rules-based system was essential to avoid a repeat of the fanatical terror unleashed under Mao Zedong. But his conviction could not overcome his self-interest, and, as President Xi Jinping has shown, the institutional edifice Deng built in the 1980s turned out to be hollow.

CLAREMONT, CALIFORNIA – At the 20th National Congress of the Communist Party of China this month, Xi Jinping will almost certainly be confirmed for a third term as the Party’s general secretary and China’s president. With that, he will become China’s longest-serving paramount leader since Mao Zedong, and the rules and norms that are supposed to govern the CPC regime will be shattered.

Those rules and norms were put in place largely by Mao’s successor, Deng Xiaoping, who took power in 1978. Deng knew firsthand the damage the Party’s ideological fanaticism could do. During the Cultural Revolution, one of his sons was paralyzed by rampaging Red Guards. Deng himself was stripped of his official positions and sent to work at a factory in a remote province for four years – one of three times he was purged from government during his long revolutionary career.

To ensure that China would never again be gripped by such terror, Deng – with the support of other veteran revolutionaries who had survived the Cultural Revolution – restored collective leadership and imposed age and term limits for most senior CPC positions. In the decades that followed, China’s top leaders served no more than two terms, and Politburo members respected an implicit age limit of 68.