Factionalism In China: Between ‘Princelings’ And ‘Tuanpai’ – Analysis


By Shreya Singh

With the conclusion of the 18th National Congress of the Communist Party of China, Xi Jinping will be the President of the People’s Republic of China and Li Keqiang, the Premier. Xi Jinping is from the ‘princeling’ faction and Li Keqiang is from the ‘tuanpai’ faction. This raises the questions, what do these factions constitute, and what is their relevance to current Chinese politics?

With Xi Jinping coming to power, it would be the first time a ‘princeling’ would be at the top position in the PRC. Western media reports have looked at this transition as having the probable aim of balancing the influence of Xi and the powerful ‘princeling’ faction with the ‘tuanpai’. The ‘princelings’, or the elitist faction, consists of the descendents of the revolutionaries. The ‘tuanpai’ on the other hand are groomed as potential leaders in the Chinese Communist Youth League.


The ‘princelings’ are part of China’s modern sectors of economic growth and actors in ‘crony capitalism’, steering China towards a high levels of state-assisted economic growth. A majority of the ‘princelings’ reflect the growth of a new tendency within the CCP, the ‘new left’, which stresses the return to the ‘red cult’ – a return to Maoist style socialism with changes to suit contemporary China. Hu Qiaomu, daughter of Mao’s secretary, says, “We are the red descendants, the descendants of the revolution. We have no choice but to be concerned about the fate of our party, state and people. We cannot turn our back on the crisis the party faces.”

On the other hand, ideologically, the ‘tuanpai’ focus on the lesser privileged, are more populist in character and have served in China’s hinterland. Their main concerns are the farmers, migrant labourers, and the urban poor.

Then there is also the ‘Shanghai Gang’ and the ‘Tsinghua Clique’, the former is associated with former President Jiang Zemin and the latter consists of graduates from Tsinghua University within the CCP. The ‘Shanghai Gang’ has no particular ideological moorings and is a term used to describe the group of people associated with Jiang Zemin’s administration in Shanghai. The ‘Tsinghua’ group is purported to have pro-reformist ideas and pro-democratic ideals. However, on close observance one can identify the nuances of these ‘factions’, and that they have many ideologically common characteristics. Many individuals may also be in more than one faction – Xi Jinping is from Tsinghua University and is also a ‘princeling’. In addition, one can see that the differences in the factions are just lip service and rhetoric, in reality most intend to maintain the status quo in China. Moreover, the ‘princelings’ are neither a cohesive unit nor are they an organized faction. The case of Bo Xilai, the biggest political scandal to rock the party circles in decades, was like an exposé of how archaic party policies can be and how divided opinion really is within party circles.

The ‘red nobility’ or the ‘princelings’ are not the only ones with large stakes in the economy, even the populist coalition control large chunks of the economy. Most of the children/relatives of the second and third generation leaders are embedded in the industrial and financial sectors. Jiang Zemin’s son was part of a deal between DreamWorks and the Chinese film studios and Wen Jiabao’s son Wen Yunsong heads a state-owned satellite communications network.

With China’s booming economy there is a rising middle class that has emerged in China’s ‘state capitalist’ economy and is demanding fair play in the market. They want the eradication of informal protectionist policies and end of nepotism that helps the relatives and family members of the CCP members flourish in this highly competitive scenario. One may wonder whether the privileged will survive these new waves of consciousness sweeping China – will the political leadership help usher in the much-needed reforms in China or will they be actors in state assisted ‘socialism with Chinese characteristics’? Being stakeholders in the fastest growing economy of the world which is mostly state-controlled gives these people the much needed edge in this competitive economy. Reforms would mean changing the present scenario which would translate into lesser privileges for the political leadership as a whole.

The shift from the pre-1989 socialist economy to the post-1989 ‘socialist market economy’ was characterized by ‘crony capitalism’. This kind of a setup in the subsequent years made self-preservation and maintaining the status quo a primary agenda of the state. In fact, the Chinese state’s defense budget allocation to the People’s Armed Police is more than the People’s Liberation Army, with its internal security allocation at USD111 billion, which proves as much.

The political leadership would intend to maintain the status quo of the ‘socialist market economy’, and as the defense expenditure on internal security has shown, the main intention of the political leadership in such a volatile period of leadership transition is self-preservation.

Shreya Singh
Research Intern, IPCS
email: [email protected]


IPCS (Institute for Peace and Conflict Studies) conducts independent research on conventional and non-conventional security issues in the region and shares its findings with policy makers and the public. It provides a forum for discussion with the strategic community on strategic issues and strives to explore alternatives. Moreover, it works towards building capacity among young scholars for greater refinement of their analyses of South Asian security.

One thought on “Factionalism In China: Between ‘Princelings’ And ‘Tuanpai’ – Analysis

  • June 1, 2012 at 10:39 pm

    The CCP’s time has arrived to step aside and allow the people to run the country. The entire world knows that the people who run China only have power because of their army and not because the people of China want them there.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *