Volume 15p1-25 (2014)
Patron-clientelism is the central dynamic propelling leadership change in China, and this model of personal association opened a path for China's current top leaders. Patron-clientelism bolsters the key features of the Chinese political system: Leninist political organization, intra-party divisions, conflictual decision-making processes, and the vital roles played by senior figures. Patron-clientelism is characterized by both vertical and horizontal dimensions, and it is accompanied by endemic personalism, factionalism, corruption, and nepotism. Clientelistic ties have shaped all leadership transitions since the Maoist period, and they were most evident in the falls of leaders Hu Yaobang and Zhao Ziyang in the 1980s. Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang are the latest beneficiaries of the patron-clientelistic system. Xi was propelled by his "princeling" background and his association with the Shanghai faction of former top leader Jiang Zemin. Li is the latest scion of the Communist Youth League faction that produced Xi's predecessor, Hu Jintao. The recent fall of Bo Xilai illustrates some of the pitfalls of factional and "princeling" leadership.
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