China’s president has been going to funerals lately — it’s a sign of trouble

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Chinas_president_has_been_going-65997d77eaf7510ce2dd86d1a369e867(Flickr/Thierry Ehrmann)
Chinese President Xi Jinping.

Chinese President Xi Jinping has been attending a lot of funerals lately, and it’s because he needs friends, badly.

For months, Reuters reports, the president has been attending to the funerals of high-level, retired party officials from various factions of the Chinese government.

All of them are members of the all-encompassing Chinese Communist Party (CCP), but some are from the right-wing, market-friendly faction, and others are in the left-wing faction, which believes in a more pure version of communism.

Where Xi sits on the spectrum is a bit murky, a good thing for a politician who needs to build support at an incredibly delicate time.

For a little over a year the Chinese economy has been slowing down. That slowdown was crowned, most recently, with two major market meltdowns this summer and a devaluation of the Chinese yuan.

During that time, Xi instituted a party-wide anticorruption campaign, which experts also consider his way of consolidating power. He promised to go after “flies” and “tigers,” even ensnaring the country’s former security czar, Zhou Yongkang.

Zhou, sentenced to life in prison at age 73, was the most powerful person to go down since the brutal purges of Mao Zedong.

So Xi, who will be in power until 2023, has made some powerful enemies, and we know he knows it.

Read it in the news

Chinas_president_has_been_going-19503fbe41dd0e9b32e72d31dfe6b9b3(Twitter via Weibo)
Zhou Yongkang at his sentencing.

“It should become a norm for officials to relinquish their power after retirement,” said an editorial published last month in government mouthpiece The People’s Daily.

That was a not-so-veiled message from Xi to members of the party who may not be happy with the direction in which things were going. The message was: back off.

This after Xi and other officials attended an annual agenda-setting meeting at a seaside resort in Hebei, China.

“The in-depth reform touches the basic issue of reconfiguring the lifeblood of this enormous economy and is aimed at making it healthier,” the article said. “The scale of the resistance is beyond what could have been imagined.”

It was written under the pen name “Guoping,” used by party leadership when it wants to get its message across.

The visits

Reuters reports that Xi has attended the funerals of the following officials:

  • Deng Liqun, a leftist, who died at age 99. Xi went to the funeral in February, even though Deng was an enemy of his father.
  • Xi also attended General Zhang Zhen’s funeral. He was a very powerful military official who died in September.
  • Finally Xi attended former parliament chair Qiao Shi’s funeral. He was a legal reformer who died in Beijing at age 90.

Xi also sent a wreath when Zeng Yanxiu died in March at age 93. Zeng was the first rightist to be purged from the Communist party in 1957.

State-related funerals are carefully orchestrated affairs in China, so Xi is sending a message by even showing up. Likely he’s letting his enemies know that he can still derive power from all over the CCP.


A woman takes pictures of wreaths sent by Chinese President Xi Jinping and other leaders to Zeng Yanxiu at Zeng’s flat, in Beijing, March 10, 2015.


Regardless of his friends, though, Xi will have to show that his policies are producing results. He’s grabbed more power than any president since Mao and, as such, bares more responsibility.

For example, economic matters used to be under the purview of the office of the Premier — in this case Li Keqiang. But when Xi took over, he created special committees called “small leading groups” that supersede the power of everyone else in the party.

And so even though Li Keqiang is getting blamed for the governments botched handling of its stock market crisis, it’s well known that Xi was and is at the helm.

What’s more, this isn’t just about the stock market, or even the fact that the country’s economy is slowing down rapidly with indicators flashing warning signs unseen since the darkest days of the global financial crisis.

The deadly chemical blasts that leveled parts of the port city of Tianjin last month have also outraged citizens. They embody the corruption and environmental destruction that Xi and his people have vowed to stamp out.

To the Chinese people, these are broken promises.

And when the government breaks promises, the people start to break away. That’s why Xi’s enemies are sharpening their knives. That’s why he’s attending funerals.

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