Which elders will reappear for the Chinese Communist Party’s national congress? And are they more than window-dressing?
- Elected members of party congress presidium preside over key functions of the event
- But party elders are more like ‘window-dressing’, with real power lying in Politburo Standing Committee, analyst says
In the past, the presidium members have been elected by delegates at a preparatory meeting held the day before the congress.
However, under the party’s constitution, the existing Politburo will have authority over day-to-day party affairs during the congress.
At the 19th party congress five years ago, more than half of the presidium standing committee were Politburo members at that time, with retired party elders making up the rest of the group.
Many of the party elders are well into their 80s or beyond, and wield little power, but their presence in the presidium presents the image of a united party leadership and support for the younger leaders.
The public appearance of the elders is also a rare opportunity for Chinese citizens and the outside world to gauge their health.
Jiang last appeared in public at the 2019 National Day celebrations marking the 70th anniversary of the People’s Republic.
Zhu, who did not attend the 2019 celebrations, is reported to be in poor health. A photo of him celebrating his birthday at a hospital was circulated on Chinese social media in October 2020.
In April last year, he sent a congratulatory note on the opening of a building at Tsinghua University, his alma mater.
Party veteran Song Ping, who is now 105 years old, appears to be in more robust health and is expected to join the presidium again this year. Song, secretary to former premier Zhou Enlai, became a member of the Politburo Standing Committee after the reshuffle following the Tiananmen crackdown in 1989, together with Jiang and former Tianjin mayor and party boss Li Ruihuan.
A video recently circulating on social media showed Song at a charity event, in which he said that opening up and reform is a necessary path for China’s development. The remark sparked online speculation about why Song made the rare public appearance just days ahead of the party congress.
Long absent from major party events, including the centenary celebration and the 19th party congress, has been former security tsar Luo Gan, a previous ally of Jiang’s. No reasons have been given for his absences.
Alfred Wu, an associate professor National University of Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, said the party elders are mostly for “decoration” as the real power will lie with the new line-up of the Politburo Standing Committee.
“What I really would look into is how many of Xi’s people can get into the new Politburo Standing Committee. [The appearance of the party elders] is like window-dressing, and Xi is very capable of doing that to show that everyone is with him. It is very much Xi’s show,” Wu said.