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The Power of China's 'Princelings'

July 27, 2021 08:48 IST
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Two elderly Chinese aerospace experts are hospitalised after a violent attack by a 'Princeling', states Jayadeva Ranade, the distinguished China expert and retired RA&W officer, highlighting the power the 'Princelings' ironically hold in the Communist People's Republic.

IMAGE: Xi Jinping, general secretary of the Communist party of China, is the People's Republic of China's most prominent 'princeling'. Photograph: Carlos Garcia Rawlins/Reuters

China's 'princelings', or children and first-degree relatives of Chinese Communist revolutionary cadres or senior Chinese Communist Party cadres, are a very privileged segment of Communist China's society.

They are protected by a high degree of unstated immunity. They go to special schools, get preference for jobs, enjoy special privileges and have ready access to the country's leadership.

Chinese President Xi Jinping also favours the appointment of 'princelings' or 'Red Descendants' (children of CCP members) because of their implied commitment and loyalty to the Party.

At the same time, because of their privileged status the princelings are envied and, at times, receive unwanted media attention.

Examples of such media attention include the coverage of former premier Li Peng's daughter on her arrival for a National People's Congress session in a fashionable outfit and expensive handbag, and of the son of incarcerated Politburo member Bo Xilai driving around an American university in a red Ferrari! The sense of privilege and immunity of the princelings has also prompted bad behaviour.

An instance of egregious behaviour by a princeling erupted in China's media just days ago.

The incident became public within days of the concluding public ceremonies for the CCP's hundredth founding anniversary on July 1.

The incident involved the physical assault of two distinguished and elderly Chinese aerospace experts by a princeling, who is also the chairman and party secretary of China Aerospace Investment Holdings.

China Aerospace Investment Holdings is a State-owned Enterprise and a subsidiary of China's prestigious China Aerospace Science and Technology, which is a Fortune 500 company founded in July 1999 and the main company for China's space programme.

CASC has a number of subordinate entities which design, develop and manufacture a range of spacecraft, launch vehicles, strategic and tactical missile systems, and ground equipment.

Though the incident occurred on June 6, it has become public only this month and comes at a time when defence-related research is being boosted and receiving especially close high-level attention.

China's media splashed reports that two distinguished elderly aerospace experts were violently attacked by Zhang Tao, chairman and Communist party secretary of China Aerospace Investment Holdings, on June 6 and hospitalised.

The case received fresh prominence after a report was released last week by China Newsweekly through its official WeChat public account.

Adding details to earlier online reports, it said that Zhang Tao had invited the two scientists, Wang Jinnian and Wu Meirong, both academicians of the Stockholm-based non-governmental organisation, International Academy of Astronautics, to dinner to persuade them to recommend him for membership of the Stockholm-based IAA.

According to the IAA, the group's membership consists of 'individuals who have distinguished themselves in one of the fields of astronautics or one of the branches of science of fundamental importance for the exploration of space.' Wang Jinnian was appointed to the IAA's Board of Trustees in 2019.

China Newsweekly said the 85-year old Wang Jinnian was cautious, saying that because this was the first time they had met Zhang and they were unfamiliar with his work, it would be best to defer the matter until they knew more.

China Newsweekly reported that Zhang became furious and got up to strike Wang Jinnian.

Wu Meirong, who is in his late 50s, was terrified and suggested that they leave.

Later, Zhang and his subordinates from the company accompanied the two academicians back to Wang Jinnian's Beijing residence.

Before Wang Jinnian entered the elevator, Zhang kicked Wang to the ground and started beating him.

He later pushed Wu Meirong to the ground and dragged Wang out of the elevator to continue beating him.

A China Newsweekly reporter disclosed that both scientists remained hospitalised as of July 2.

Wang Jinnian had broken ribs and multiple bruises across his body; Wu Meirong was awaiting surgery for a fractured spine.

China Newsweekly said it had confirmed from staff at China Aerospace Investment Holdings that Zhang Tao remained at work, apparently having suffered no consequences for his brutal assault on the two scientists.

The release online of a notice from China Aerospace Science and Technology, the parent enterprise of China Aerospace Investment Holdings, renewed interest in the case.

Issued by the 'Party Group Work Department' at China Aerospace Science and Technology on July 2, the 'Notice' cautioned Party cadres.

It said 'The group has given this matter high priority, and it is in the process of fully understanding the situation. Afterward, according to the true circumstances and abiding by rules and regulations, it will handle [the case].'

'We hope that Party cadres will not spread or disseminate this matter, and will strictly abide by political discipline and political rules.'

The matter has an additional interesting dimension. According to reports, Zhang Tao is a well-connected individual and 'princeling'.

At least one report suggests his paternal grandfather was Zhang Zongxun, one of the 'founding generals' of the PLA and his maternal grandfather was a former member of the Politburo Standing Committee till he was purged by Mao Zedng during the Cultural Revolution and died.

Zhang Tao's father is a leader in Chinese aeronautics. Significantly, the report claims that General Zhang Youxia, the current vice chairman of the Central Military Commission, is his father's younger brother.

Reports on July 20 said Zhang Tao had been arrested and dismissed by his company.

The adverse media publicity would undoubtedly have been an embarrassment for the Chinese Communist Party.

Communist Party General Secretary Xi Jinping had declared at the CCP's centenary celebrations in Tiananmen on July 1, that 'the Party has no special interests of its own -- it has never represented any individual interest group, power group, or privileged stratum.'

Jayadeva Ranade, former Additional Secretary, Cabinet Secretariat, Government of India, is the President, Centre for China Analysis and Strategy.

Feature Presentation: Aslam Hunani/

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