Wang Huning: the low-profile, liberal dream weaver who’s about to become China’s ideology tsar
The former Fudan University professor has been influencing presidents behind the scenes for 30 years, but now he’s set to take centre-stage
Wang Huning is one of the new members of the Communist Party’s Politburo Standing Committee. Here we have a look at his road to the top:
Despite having served as an adviser to three Chinese presidents, remarkably little is known about the personal life of Wang Huning, who as the top official in charge of ideology, propaganda and party organisation is now one of the most powerful politicians in the country.
While his face might be unfamiliar to the public, his words will not be. Wang has been credited with being one of the architects of the “Chinese dream” concept, President Xi Jinping’s widely promoted vision for the rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.
For the past 15 years, the 62-year-old academic-turned-politician has headed the Central Policy Research Office – a party think tank – combining the roles of national policy adviser, chief speech-writer and principal theorist to the country’s top leader.
Wang is also known to have played a significant role in drafting former presidents Jiang Zemin’s “Theory of the Three Represents” and Hu Jintao’s “scientific theory of development”, both of which were written into the party’s constitution.
In 2007, Wang was appointed to the party’s Secretariat – the nerve centre of the Politburo – and at the end of his five-year term was elevated to the Politburo itself. As a member of the Politburo Standing Committee, the once low profile adviser will be one of the principal protagonists in Xi’s second term in charge.
“He is largely known as a thinker and an introvert,” Shanghai-based political scientist Chen Daoyin said.
Before entering politics, Wang was best known for being the youngest associate professor – specialising in international relations – at Fudan University in Shanghai, a position he achieved at the age of 30 after starting his academic career with a bachelor’s degree in French.
His ex-wife Zhou Qi – the couple divorced in 1996 – is a specialist in Sino-US relations and the head of the National Security Institute at Tsinghua University.
Wang later remarried and has one child.
In his memoir Political Life, published in 1994 and before his move into politics, Wang said his goal in life was to keep writing books and teaching students.
What is known about Wang is his political ideology, the seeds of which can be found in his earlier publications.
In the 1980s, Wang advocated that a centralised government could maintain stability and drive growth, while gradually expanding its democratic principles from within.
His article “Analysis on the Ways of Political Leadership During the Modernisation Process”, first published in 1986, is thought to have been what first brought Wang to the attention of Jiang, who became president in 1989 in the wake of the bloody crackdown in Tiananmen Square.
“At the time being, centralised decision-making power and modernisation is more ‘politically efficient’,” he wrote. “This model has achieved stunning economic results, but it has also been criticised … because of the low level of democracy involved.”
He ended the seven-page article by saying that a society experiencing rapid economic growth and modernisation would face growing conflicts and greater demands for democracy.
“When the society reaches this stage, political reform would be inevitable,” he wrote.
Although Wang did not specify when those political reforms should take place he has since provided ideological backing for Xi’s ambitious reform programmes.
In his work report speech delivered at the opening of the 19th party congress, Xi emphasised the need to “better arm ourselves with theory” and “work faster to develop philosophy and social sciences with Chinese characteristics”.
Another of Wang’s articles that showed his liberal views was also first published in 1986. A fifth edition of “Reflections on the Cultural Revolution and the Reform of China’s Political System” was released in 2012, the same year he was promoted to the Politburo.
“It is very important to comply with the constitution,” he wrote. “If citizens can be taken away without following the law and constitution, and actions that infringe people’s personal freedom, or even using violent threats and storming academic activities can be immune from responsibility, the Cultural Revolution could happen again.”
While Wang has been seen at Xi’s side several times this year – during the BRICS summit in Xiamen, the G20 meeting in Hamburg and in Hong Kong for the 20th anniversary of its return to China – as the principal official for ideology and propaganda he would play a much more significant role on the world stage.
He could even become the new face of China’s diplomatic relations. His predecessor Liu Yunshan was in 2015 the last Chinese politician to meet North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.