Speaker calls Chinese transition revolutionary

Ian Kriegish

The passage of power from Jiang Zemin to Hu Jintao represented a revolutionary change in the nature of Chinese politics, said visiting professor Zhiyue Bo, whose views drew debate from Northwestern students Thursday.

Bo, the Joe and Teresa Long Chair in Social Sciences at Tarleton State University in Stephenville, Texas, spoke to about 30 students and faculty members at the Center for International and Comparative Studies. His speech was titled, “Political Transition in China: From Jiang Zemin to Hu Jintao.”

“Between November 2002 and March 2005, China underwent the first peaceful political transition in 50 years,” Bo said.

During that time Jiang was forced to surrender his positions — general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party, chairman of the Central Military Commission and president of the People’s Republic of China — to Hu, who was designated China’s future leader by late Chairman Deng Xiaoping.

Bo said Chinese politics has experienced “institutionalization,” or a move towards the separation and specialization of powers in the national government. Power in China is increasingly becoming tied to position, not personal rule, he said.

“There has been a shift from rule by person to rule by law,” Bo said.

The transition from Jiang to Hu is important, Bo said, because it marked a break from factional struggles that dominated Chinese politics in the late 20th Century.

The idea that “institutionalization” has occurred is a highly debated topic among Chinese political experts, Bo said. Bo defended his position during the question-and-answer session.

Bo said limits to personal power have arisen “de facto” among the ruling elite. Members of the Politburo, the ruling council of Communist Party officials, are now expected to serve no more than two terms and not retire at age of 70.

“He has a very specific view of the transition that is not presented in texts,” said Anastasia Boreiko-Slivker, a Weinberg junior. “It was very insightful.”

Political science Prof. Victor Shih, who teaches Chinese Politics, brought Bo to campus Thursday so his students could benefit from Bo’s expertise.

Bo is originally from the Shanxi Province of China. He has taught at a number of American and Chinese universities, including the University of Chicago, and is considered a leading expert of Chinese provincial politics.

Bo is working on a new book, tentatively titled “Elite Politics in Twenty-First Century China: Power, Groups, and Structures.”

Reach Ian Kriegish at [email protected]