Generational Churn and the CPC

You may remember a piece I wrote last summer. It was a review of Vladislav Zubok’s book, A Failed Empire: The Soviet Union in the Cold War From Stalin to Gorbachev.1 Zubok contends that the collapse of the Soviet Union should be understood as a consequence of generational turnover. I was attracted to the idea; generational turnover is the very mechanism I had identify as the key to American history in my essay “Culture Wars are Long Wars.” 2

1

The review is Tanner Greer, “As the Generations Churn: The Strategic Consequences of Cultural Change in Communist Russia… and China?,” Scholar’s Stage (28 August 2021); the book, Vladislav M. Zubok’s A Failed Empire: The Soviet Union in the Cold War From Stalin to Gorbachev (Chapel Hill: UNC Press, 2009)

2

Tanner Greer, “Culture Wars are Long Wars,” The Scholar’s Stage (3 July 2021).

In that review I mused on the possible implications of this schema for Chinese politics. I wrote:

When I look for connections between Xi’s cohort, their foundational political experiences, and their current policies today, the most obvious is the CPC’s decision to re-embrace Maoist thought and imagery. While there is a political logic to rehabilitating Mao (which Xi has explained himself), it is clear to me that a lot of this is driven by nostalgia for the Maoist world of Xi’s youth. I do not think this resonates with younger cohorts; I doubt that future generations of Chinese in power, even if they remain committed to an authoritarian future for the Chinese people, will feel the need to Mao things up.

…If there is a cohort more disposed to rapprochement with the Western world it would probably be that which came of age in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. (In Chinese terms these would be the “七零后“ or the ‘post-70s generation.’) This was a time when the outside world was a place to learn from, Chinese society embraced radical change, rules were few, and liberalism had a hopeful sheen. Even today the most committed liberals of the Chinese diaspora tend to be of this cohort. In my personal, purely subjective judgement, this is the most “pro-America” generation of Chinese now living. Younger cohorts’ attitudes towards the United States, especially the ‘post-90s’ and ‘post-00’s’ generations, were shaped by the events of the last two decades, a time when China climbed from strength to strength as America blundered from one catastrophe to another.3

3

Tanner Greer, “As the Generations Churn,”

A few weeks ago I came across an infographic that illustrates why the policies of the modern Chinese Communist Party are even more generationally bound than either the old CPSU or the current U.S. federal government:

The graphic comes from a piece by Damien Ma and Joshua Henderson published by Marco Polo last year.4 The graphic displays two bodies of decision makers: the 205 members of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China, and the 535 Americans elected to the 117th Congress. The oldest member of Congress (Diane Feinstein) is eighty-eight years old; the youngest (Madison Cawthorne) is twenty-six. That is a sixty-two year spread! The oldest and youngest members of the Central Committee, on the other hand, were born only 17 years apart.

4

Damien Ma and Joshua Henderson, “Age Rules: The Arrival of the Post-60s Generation in Chinese Politics,” MacroPolo, December 21, 2021.

The generational concentration of Chinese upper officialdom reflects “up or out” Party rules. After serving for several years in a position, Party officials either advance up the ranks or are forced into retirement. Each stage up the ladder has an enforced age limit.

Ma and Henderson provide another graphic:

The current politburo is dominated by “post-’50 generation”(“五零后”)party leaders. This will still be true after the next congress in 2022—but the level just below them is set for a generational transition. Ma and Henderson report that 80% of the Central Committee will be “post-’60s” by the end of this year. They provide some survey data to suggest why this matters:

As I wrote in my last piece, my personal conclusion based off of nothing more than meeting many Chinese of all ages is that the “post-’70 generation,” not the “post-60” is the most ‘liberal’ age block living in China today. The fact that current Party rules—rules that have no reason to change in the near future—force out the older generations at a set rate, and keep the younger generations from power until it is their turn to wield it, suggests that a window for accommodation may open up in the 2030s.

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13 Comments

One issue I’ve always had with popular analyses of generational trends is the tendency to apply American terminology to societies where its not that helpful, and I’m glad more specialist analyses do not do this (Xi is not a “Boomer”).

Something however I’m more curious about is what Chinese Liberals (to the extent the term is accurate) think in terms of reasons, if any, for optimism. Generational Turnover is something that gave traditionalists in the Catholic Church reason for hope, believing that the waywardness of those who went through seminary in the 70s would eventually die out and be replaced by morally incorruptible, rigorous types who would clear out the rot of the post Vatican II clergy, and its fair to say that they have been disappointed in this hope so far. If there is a parallel here, it may be that less anti-American types in the middle ranks of the party may be “compromised” by the need to stay on side of Wolf Warrior diplomacy as they ascend the ranks, and that this too may be a faint hope.

But personally, as someone who definitely suffers in my social circle of ex-pats and students from what you call the “My Friend from Beida” problem, I really am curious – what figures or tendencies do realistic Chinese Liberals have reason to put their hope in? If your contacts are more broad than what I’ve described, it would be interesting to hear about!

I agree that as a whole, the post-70s generation may be the most liberalized and hopefully the easiest to reach accommodation with and apply reforms through. But up-or-out promotion naturally serves as an annealing mechanism that strips away all those who don’t fit the organization’s preferred mold. This is true in any organization that uses it, from the US military to academia to large accounting or law firms; often generating personality profiles not at all like the wider pool that the organizations are drawing from or even the initial pool of entry level personnel. In all these cases, the upper cadre becomes a kind of monoculture with norms and worldview very disparate from the general population.

Private sector companies, even those with well-defined internal promotion cursus honorum, staff all levels of their firm with lateral hires from different companies, forming an important source of dynamism and innovation, and breaking apart the monoculture. And to be fair, even organizations with up-or-out promotion will often staff their senior leadership teams with external hires to encourage the same effect. But while the Department of Defense may be happy to laterally hire Deputy Assistant Secretaries of Defense and higher, it is far rarer to externally hire a GS-15 or Senior Executive to run a division of a large federal agency, especially in agencies without obvious private sector equivalents. Of course, in the actual military, it is rarer still, close to 100% of senior military officers came up through the ranks, and only narrow specialists such as physicians are “direct hired” at any rank other than lieutenant or ensign. This results in both organizational stagnation and cultural bubbles at those levels in the organization.

The CCP, then, is an organization which both almost never performs “external lateral hires” and screens heavily screens at every level of promotion for both ability to meet specified benchmarks (perhaps this has some connection to merit but frankly it probably has a lot more connection to “ability to meet specified benchmarks”) and ideological fit. This is not really bode for an optimistic prognosis for the liberalness of the CCP’s post-70s generation.

With that having been said:

I am curious as to what happens to Party cadres who fail to promote to the next level of administration and are not being shuffled out by Party discipline; even taking into account large purges I would have to imagine that this describes most cadres. Do such cadres retain their Party membership but find themselves hunting for private sector or civil service jobs? Or do they just continue getting shuffled around unimportant sinecures that exist to provide jobs to all the 50-somethings who missed getting selected to the Guangxi Standing Committee?

If there is something that could falsify the narrative I have described above, it may be the answer to “where do all the post-70s who get filtered out by the CCP’s promotion system go?”.

Greetings Tanner and fellow guests,

Speaking of cadres Chinese and American, remember what we were saying the other day about Musk acquiring Twitter heralding a national frequency shift and the Red Deep State rolling back the excesses of the World War Woke waging Blue Deep State?

https://mobile.twitter.com/ClintEhrlich/status/1521293082469158912?cxt=HHwWgMCqvfL_25wqAAAA

Someone besides the global depopulation fears musing Musk has understood that Americans are going to need to procreate more in an era of the CCP favoring its affluent and educated cadres having more kids. Don’t forget the medals for the Hero Mothers of Novorossiya either after this bloody war is over in Ukraine.

Xeno,

We were not talking about American cadres, and we were especially not talking about abortion. Please keep on topic.

I think this is very much on topic, even if it’s dismissed as dollar doomer speculation regarding the Shanghai lockdown being a form of gray zone economic warfare, including by CPC hardliners vs the perceived liberals in China itself (from former CIA analyst Larry Johnson):

https://sonar21.com/ukraine-cuts-off-gas-to-europe-and-the-inflation-double-whammy/

‘Now for a newsflash (I am burying the lede)–China is using Covid as a convenient excuse to sabotage the U.S. economy and it is helping fuel inflation. The recent lockdown in Shanghai, for example, makes no sense. For the first two years of the pandemic, China reported one of the lowest infection rates in the world and did not embark on massive lockdowns. Now, out of nowhere, China claims to be battling a deadly disease.’

‘One of the major consequences of this effort to quell Covid in China is a further disruption of critical exports to the United States. Instead of coming out and declaring it was retaliating economically against the United States, China is using Covid as a convenient excuse to damage the import dependent U.S. economy.’

‘Making the picture even more complicated is that the United States is demanding stridently that China sign on to draconian sanctions to punish Russia. China ain’t playing that game.’

‘Inflation in America is rising like a massive Tsunami wave and will sweep over all of the economy. We are already experiencing shortages of chips and baby formula. Food shortages will continue to appear and multiply and desperate consumers will have to pay more for a limited number of key commodities. We are not talking about an isolated event. This is the equivalent of a nuclear bomb going off over New York City and Washington, DC. It is a perfect storm–shortages of key commodities, rising fuel prices, massive cuts imposed by sanctions of key minerals only available from Russia, and trillions of U.S. dollars floating around the globe as key international trading partners shift to other currencies.’

I’m not buying all of this…yet. But I definitely think there’s something odd about the Kremlin being in no hurry to wrap up its Donbass main offensive while taking the Ukrainian counterattacks around Kharkov quite calmly (is it a trap?) before Kyiv can reconstitute its forces with NATO equipment in western Ukraine. What do they know that’s coming down and about to hammer the Atlanticist/5 Eyes world?

Beijing and Moscow are certainly coordinating countersanctions. If Israel continues sending more than token volunteers and arms to Ukraine under Anglo-American pressure, that coordination will accelerate with Tehran as well. The sons of GOSPLAN ners as well as their counterparts in Beijing’s econ ministry should be able to calculate quite easily how quickly EU gas reserves will drain this coming winter…without additional stocks and with Qatar balking at a reselling LNG deal with Germany it’s grim (for the post West) arithmetic.

China being more liberal and pro-market is inevitable as the 50’s generation dies out. However, that will not mean that China will ever compromise over Taiwan. China will also not stop developing and further capturing market share of advance technology. It is these two that drives the growing conflict between China and the West, and this will not change regardless of the generational shift.

Also no guarantee that Chinese Zoomers won’t embrace the pro-Russian sentiments of their grandparents prior to the Sino Soviet split (everybody in China knows ‘Katyusha’), and more baizuo Western decadence bashing ‘based-ness’.

https://twitter.com/Cyberspec1/status/1530005589429850112
A message in the skies over the Amur River border city of Heihe to their neighbors in Blagoveshchensk

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WcFpayP3-LE

I jumped the gun on Elon Musk aborted purchase of Twitter signaling a major frequency shift among the .001% elites. But Kissinger’s warning at WEF that doubling down on total proxy war with Russia — hell let’s just call it a full on semi-disavowed NATO hybrid war since there are American/British ‘volunteers’ on the ground firing NATO issued RPGs at BTRs in Kharkov region and CIA added two anonymous stars to its memorial wall since 02/24/22 — is apropos. There was a ‘leaked’ report out of Guangdong from a regional CCP meeting this past week where the regional Party bosses discussed the need to draw lessons from Russia’s widening war with NATO in Ukraine for China’s own psychological and military mobilization:

https://twitter.com/jenniferatntd/status/1526445524395642880

Looks like the Shanghai lockdown, thank God, is being eased from mid-May.

Even days before the final surrender of the once criticized then lionized overt Nazi runes-symbol using Azov Regiment in the ruined Azovstahl plant, there was a detectible change in the NYT tone of covering the war. NYT admits that Russia now controls 20% of Ukraine’s internationally recognized territory. They could’ve added that the loss of Mariupol effectively has destroyed Ukraine’s steel export capacity and a Russian seizure of the iron ore center of Kryvyi Rih, though unlikely for the near future due to the city being about the same size or larger than Mariupol, could finish off what’s left of a key Ukrainian export earnings industry. If Mariupol is to be rebuilt minus the Azovstahl ruins it’s likely Chinese state owned firms that don’t care about getting sanctioned get first dibs on the coal port.

Meanwhile, Ukraine is now a semi-permanent ward of the post West. The once allegedly miniscule in comparison to GDP amount required to ‘bleed Russia’ to death in Ukraine is now starting to look a lot larger, with Kentucky Republican Congressman Thomas Massie tweeting that that tally is now up to $500 per taxpaying American family: https://twitter.com/RepThomasMassie/status/1524718387460710400

https://asiatimes.com/2022/05/ny-times-shifts-pro-war-narrative/

Here’s Foreign Policy on lessons the CCP may be drawing from the Ukraine conflict, which are more macro rather than tactical micro (like the much vaunted Javelins being largely too heavy and bulky for urban warfare, presumably the Taiwanese military wouldn’t have trouble with changing the batteries):

https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/china/2022-05-16/what-china-learning-russias-war-ukraine

‘Taiwan and the United States, therefore, would be well advised to do the same, and to scrutinize each stage of the war in Ukraine from the perspective of a Chinese official. By doing so, they may be able to identify facts or patterns that may already be giving Chinese officials pause as well as capabilities that Taiwan should adopt to buttress deterrence. Although it would be a mistake to assume that Moscow’s actions have any direct influence on Beijing’s decisions, identifying the kind of evidence that could convince China that Putin’s decision to attack Ukraine was a colossal strategic blunder could also help Taiwanese and U.S. strategists deter China from a catastrophic attack on Taiwan.’

‘As the United States has built a coalition of countries, including many of the world’s top economies, to impose severe sanctions on Russia, China has been examining these efforts for evidence of declining U.S. influence. From Beijing’s perspective, any cracks in the coalition are heartening news, and it has certainly noted that some close U.S. partners, such as India, have not sanctioned Russia or forcefully condemned its invasion of Ukraine, even after reports emerged of alleged Russian war crimes. China likely assumes that global support for Taiwan will be more muted than support for Ukraine has been, as few countries maintain diplomatic relations with Taiwan, and many lack even robust unofficial relations with the island. Moreover, Russia has successfully leveraged its economic ties with some countries to keep them on the sidelines, which has likely reassured China that its far greater economic might will prevent many countries from supporting Taiwan.’

‘The most important thing China has learned from war in Ukraine may be that the U.S. will not directly intervene against a nuclear-armed opponent.’

‘China will also study the sanctions applied to Russia and take steps to decrease its own vulnerability to similar actions. As a first measure, Beijing will accelerate its “dual circulation” strategy—seeking to promote exports while simultaneously encouraging stronger domestic demand—in a bid to increase other countries’ economic dependence on China and reduce its dependence on others. This strategy would serve two purposes: insulating China’s economy from sanctions and making any sanctions that Western countries apply to Beijing to deter or punish an invasion of Taiwan hurt the West more than China. China will also attempt to produce critical technologies such as semiconductors domestically, reduce its reliance on the U.S. financial system and the dollar, and support an alternative to SWIFT, the dollar-based international payments system. Regardless of how much progress China makes on this front, its leaders are likely confident that U.S. allies would be far more reticent to impose wide-ranging sanctions against China, given its centrality to global supply chains.’

‘Potentially the most important lesson China has learned from war in Ukraine is that the United States will not contemplate direct military intervention against a nuclear-armed opponent. ‘ Of course this takeaway could be wrong, since Taiwan is of much greater importance to the U.S. semiconductor/tech industry as well as security guarantees in Asia and global credibility than a Ukraine the U.S. never formally extended any guarantees toward.

Another loud message from the CCP to Washington, London and Brussels. All those stern lectures about not daring to help the Russians evade sanctions really had Uncle Xi shaking in his loafers. I expect we’ll hear about drone parts from China for RU Orlans destroying M777s soon as well:

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2022-05-19/china-in-talks-with-russia-to-buy-oil-for-strategic-reserves

https://asiatimes.com/2022/04/cardinal-richelieu-explains-vladimir-putin/

I expect Beijing will be placing big orders for Ka-52 and the Bayrektar blasting TOR SAMs soon as well.

‘“I expected better from you, Spengler, than to repeat the nonsense one reads in the newspapers,” Richelieu spat back. A glowing blob of ectoplasm stuck to my Oculus visor. “A quick victory, indeed? And what makes you think that Putin ever wanted a quick victory?”

That stumped me. “Pardon my effrontery, Eminence, but if Putin didn’t want a quick victory, what did he want?”

“Time,” said Richelieu, “is the ultimate weapon. I understood this, and Putin has learned his lesson well.’

The more the Ukraine war drags on, the more inflationary and supply chain pain for the post West. China’s been stockpiling like mad against this day…maybe Spengler’s hunch is right and someone in the Zhongnanhai has read the story of Joseph and the Biblical famine in Egypt.

Tanner — will be interested in your take on Biden’s remarks this week vs the White House walk back of them after Beijing expressed its fury to the status quo Taiwan policy.