Dylan Levi King

Wang Huning: the man behind Xi Jinping

At the height of the Cultural Revolution, over a billion copies of Mao’s Little Red Book were distributed across the People’s Republic. This small pocket-sized collection of quotations provided the scaffolding for an era of communist purges. Utopians need theory. And while the Maoist orthodoxies of the last century have faded, China’s need for a solid intellectual foundation is as strong as ever.

Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era is that new theory. But it is written not by the General Secretary himself but by an unassuming 65-year-old: his supreme theoretician.

Wang Huning has quietly shaped China over the last three decades, despite the fact that few of his countrymen could pick him out of a line-up. The French language graduate has served as an advisor to three generations of Chinese leadership since the death of Deng Xiaoping in 1997: Jiang Zemin, Hu Jintao, and now Xi himself.

Huning’s core belief in dynamic private enterprise, harnessed by a powerful union of party and state, has defined Chinese political thought

His core belief in dynamic private enterprise, harnessed by a powerful union of party and state, has defined Chinese political thought. While the CCP is nominally governed by the nation’s constitution, decisions are made and legitimated through innovations in theory.

Marxism and its interpretations form the basis of that political theory, but that foundation has been used at various times to explain the necessity of both radical collectivisation and radical capitalism. The pattern for most of the period after 1949 was this: a charismatic leader carried out directives that were backed up by theoretical advances, which were often credited to themselves.

Even the vigorous reformer Deng Xiaoping, remembered now mostly for feeble pronouncements about the benefits of pragmatism, fought his own theoretical battles with liberal reformers and conservative Maoists.

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