What would it take for conventional wisdom to accept that we are presently witnessing the beginning of the PRC’s third act: the Xi Era?
Currently, analysts look at post-1949 Chinese domestic politics as falling into two distinct periods: a Mao Period from 1949 until the Chairman’s death in 1976 and a Reform Era after Deng comes to power in December 1978 (Hua Guofeng‘s interregnum is usually omitted). China under Mao is dominated by the eponymous man and his whims. Of particular note, the Chinese Communist Party under Mao saw substantial number of dismissals of high level officials, usually for arguing with Mao (e.g., Peng Dehuai) or conspiring independent of him/beyond his wishes (e.g. Gao Gang & Rao Shushi; Lin Biao), while the Reform Era has seen relative stability among the upper echelons of the party elite until the past few years.
However, Xi’s anti-corruption work–led by Wang Qishan and the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI)–are weeding out flies (bit players) and tigers (key leaders). Both Caixin and ChinaFile had great visualizations of important players being removed from office and expelled from the party.
Wang Qishan’s CCDI itself as an institution is growing as well, as the often stealthy organization noted in a press release last week. This wave of forced turnovers shows no sign of abating. Even absent radically different propaganda or policies–both of which have changed with Xi, to be sure–the personnel changes alone imply a serious break with the past.
What would it take to establish this as a third act in PRC history? Twice the number of removals of high and elite officials than in previous transitions? Three or ten times? The Mao era lasted for 27 years. If we believe it continues, then the Reform era is going 35, 36 years. Perhaps it is time.