In December 2012, the Communist Party of China’s political bureau, or politburo, the highest political body in the country, adopted a document that spelt out eight regulations for the functioning of its own members. Among these were that members should reject extravagance, reduce inefficient meetings, avoid unnecessary travel abroad and remain in close contact with the grassroots. Xi Jinping had taken over the previous month as the party’s general secretary, and the eight regulations were seen as his way of initiating a campaign against corruption in the party.
Beginning this 18 October, when the party, also called the CPC, meets at the Great Hall of the People, in Beijing, for the party congress meeting—which convenes every five years and will be held for the nineteenth time—much of the party’s leadership will be reconfigured. New leaders will be chosen in an “election” that usually involves party rank and file falling in line with the diktats of top-rung leaders. Several party bodies will be reconstituted: specifically, the politburo standing committee, which has seven members; the central committee, which has 205 “full” members and 171 “alternate” members; the politburo, which has 25 members; and the central military commission, which has 11 members. The new members will all be less than 68 years old, in keeping with strictures that the party adopted in 2002. Xi, who is 64, will retain the three central posts he currently holds: general secretary of the party, chairman of the central military commission, and president of the People’s Republic of China. This will ensure his continuance as “paramount leader,” as many of China’s most powerful politicians have been known. Prominent on the minds of those watching developments at the party congress will be the question of how successful Xi has been in his goal of rooting out corruption in the party and the economy at large.
Despite facing a slowdown, the Chinese economy, which is growing at 6.9 percent, is one of the fastest growing in the world. But it is an accepted fact in the country that corruption is widespread. In the corruption watchdog Transparency International’s 2016 rankings, China was placed seventy-ninth out of 176 countries—sharing that rank with India. Corruption in the country includes senior party leaders and their relatives partaking in rent-seeking—manipulating policies to increase profits for those they favour. Party membership is seen as the first step for the political entrepreneur who entertains aspirations to public office, either within the party or in the state administration. Leaders who have entrepreneurial interests outside their political careers regularly use the organisation to boost their incomes. It is also known that senior officials of the party build support networks by dispensing favours to followers through quasi-legal means, using holding companies and front companies to mask questionable deals. This has severely damaged the CPC’s self-projected image as a party of the people, especially among peasants, urban workers and the elderly—groups that have been overlooked since China entered a period of economic reform in 1978, two years after Mao Zedong’s death.