The Year of the Tiger: The Zhejiang Faction

Reading Time: 4 minutes

On 1 February 2022 Chinese nationals around the globe entered the 24th solar term of the traditional Chinese Calendar, known as Da Han 大寒 , and celebrated the Spring Festival, or Chun Jie 春节 . While celebrations occurred throughout Chinese homes on The Mainland, and around the globe, in the home of Chinese politics – the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, Chinese decision-makers prepared for an event of a different kind. The all-important 20th National Party Congress of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). This event will shape Chinese domestic and international politics and influence the lives of people around the world, whether they are aware of it or not.

This year’s CCP Congress will have a profound political and economic effect stretching far over the Chinese borders.  The country’s leaders are getting ready to re-elect Xi Jinping for the unprecedented 3rd term as the General Secretary of the CCP, the Chairman of the Military Committee, and President of China.  This will confirm his authority as the undisputed leader of China and solidify the ever-growing power of Xi’s faction in the CCP, known as the “Zhejiang Clique”, or “Zhejiang New Army”, as it is often referred to by its opponents.

The rise of Xi and the Zhejiang Clique  began in early 2008 when it was becoming clear that Xi Jinping was the most likely to succeed Hu Jintao as the Chairman of the CCP and the President of China.  However, the faction was formed much earlier, when Xi served as the Party Secretary of the highly-developed and prosperous, coastal Fujian Province, and its neighboring  Zhejiang Province.  Zhejiang is one of the richest province in China with its capital Hangzhou’s GDP easily surpassing GDPs of more than a few European countries combined. 

It was at that time that officials who held important provincial and local posts under Xi’s governance formed a strong alliance and became closely associated with him.  These individuals identified themselves with his political views of Socialism and Chinese Neo-Nationalism. The Clique members have since taken on prominent political posts throughout provincial levels and at central government levels.

The Zhejiang Clique has been expanding its power at the expense of the Chinese Communist Youth League (CYL) or Tuan Pai 团派 , as it is commonly known.  The CYL previously served as a path for aspiring party-cadres and a powerbase for former president Hu Jintao.  Xi and his group systematically neutralized all potential threats from the CYL .  This included the immensely powerful former Mayor of Dalian and Chongqing, Bo Xilai.  He was  Xi’s biggest rival to his leadership and is now serving a life sentence for corruption and abuse of power.

Ahead of the 20th Party Congress the Clique is still removing cadres affiliated with the CYL Faction, still led by Hu Jintao.  These cadres form a large bloc within the 25-member Politburo.  Ex-president Hu, a former First Secretary of the CYL, is generally considered a timid, bureaucratic politician.  Nevertheless, he served in the Politburo Standing Committee (PBSC) for 20 years until his retirement in 2012, a retirement orchestrated by Xi and his clique.

President Xi’s tough tactics for eliminating the CYL faction were summed up by his widely-circulated internal assessment of the league.  Xi stated that it was “paralyzed from the neck down.”  The CYL was also labeled as being too “bureaucratic, procedurally minded, aristocratic and entertainment-oriented (Chinese: 机关化、行政化、贵族化、娱乐化)”.  Xi gave orders that the personnel establishment of CYL units both at central and regional levels should be cut. The CYL’s budget from 2016 onwards was cut.  Last year it was decreased by over 50 percent and the China Youth University of Political Studies (CYUPS), which is responsible for training cadres within the CYL system, is expected to further curtail its student enrollment this year. However, the final blow came to the league came last year, when the Central Commission on Disciplinary Inspection (CCDI) stationed a task-force in the CYL to look at problems of corruption and infractions of party discipline.  In effect this would mean  game over for CYL and full hegemony within the CPC for Xi and the Zhejiang New Army in the year of the tiger.