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Is there anything that prevents Xi from creating a dynasty like the Kim dynasty in North Korea?

The presidency is the one position that had official term limits written into the constitution. In 2018, China’s legislature amended the constitution to lift term limits for presidents, allowing Xi to stay on. But by remaining as general secretary, Xi is breaking norms—not official rules—set by former leader Deng Xiaoping. Communist China’s founding leader, Mao Zedong, ran the country until he died in 1976. Deng, who ultimately succeeded Mao, wanted to prevent future leaders for life, so he set up an informal system in which top leaders served no longer than ten years. That was the case for Deng’s two hand-picked successors, Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao.

https://www.cfr.org/article/xi-jinping-consolidate-power-china-twentieth-communist-party-congress

Now, I am guessing Xi cannot simply appoint a friend or a relative to the Politburo Standing Committee, but is there any rule that prevents him from grooming his son or relative into power? What are the obstacles set in place to prevent such a thing from happening in China?

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    They have already changed it to allow him to stay president longer, why would it not also be possible to make the change to a dynasty as well?
    – Joe W
    Aug 8, 2023 at 16:18
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    Well, the main thing preventing him from grooming his son for power is that he only has a daughter, Xi Mingze.
    – James K
    Aug 8, 2023 at 23:39

5 Answers 5

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The big one is "political culture" - which is always a slippery beast. However there is no real tradition of dynastic leaders in the CCP. Mao didn't have a relative to take over from him, and nor have subsequent leaders.

Political culture can change, but it is a powerful force. Xi is a powerful personality in the CCP, but to place his daughter in a position to become General Secretary he would have to justify why he is different to previous leaders. What makes him so special (compared to Mao or Deng etc.) that only his family can be trusted with the reins of government?

The party is powerful. If things had gone differently in 1976. If Jiang and the Gang of Four had consolidated power, executed Deng and other reformers, then Mao's daughter, Li Na might now be Premier and China would be a very different place. Instead, the Party chose to dump Jiang, and place Deng in power (after a bit of a struggle) - and there is a direct ideological path from Deng to Xi.

But in doing so, the party demonstrated that it is more than the personality. It could choose the leader of China, and that person did not have to be related to the previous leader.

This is what I mean by a political culture. This culture, and the powerful CCP would make it hard for Xi to install his daughter.

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    And it's more speculative, but a second fact is that Xi Mingze has not, to my knowledge, expressed any desire to be a political leader. Wikipedia describes her as "interested in reading and fashion" and her only public role has been "offering new years greetings at a village in 2013" - hardly the kind of CV of an aspiring chairperson of the military commitee.
    – James K
    Aug 9, 2023 at 10:00
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    I'd agree with this, but call it "Legitimacy". IMHO that's one of 2 main features of a government: how it chooses a new leader. This is where Communist nations really differ from standard dictatorships.
    – T.E.D.
    Aug 9, 2023 at 16:29
  • "Mao didn't have a relative to take over from him,". His wife, Jiang Qing, tried but failed. Also, according to Wikipedia, he has 10 children (4 sons). en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mao_Zedong
    – r13
    Aug 9, 2023 at 18:21
  • Of the sons, they were either dead or mad or missing. Would the old men of the politburo accepted a daughter? I'm not sure. The winds of Chinese politics at the time were blowing away from Mao and the Cultural Revolution and towards Deng and Boluan Fanzheng
    – James K
    Aug 9, 2023 at 18:30
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    Note the Xi Jinping himself is what is called a princeling, that is a son of one of the senior leaders in the first generation of Chinese leaders. Most people in the top of Chinas leadership come from a small number of families so there is somewhat of a dinasty, maybe vaguely comparable to the Bush or Kennedy families in the US.
    – quarague
    Aug 10, 2023 at 6:36
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Over time, dictatorships can become democracies, democracies can become dictatorships, and communist party states can become monarchies. This is more a question of the presence of democrats or non-democrats than any formal rule. If people no longer believe in democracy, democracy dies, whatever the written constitution says.

  • Consider how Portugal went from autocracy to democracy.
  • Consider how Hungary went from democracy to autocracy.

Another question is how often the children of formally non-monarchist leaders go into politics themselves. It can be a factor that the parent is aiding the career of a child. But it can also be a factor that children are more aware of politics as an attainable career. For instance, if a parent is a hobby beekeeper, a child becomes more likely to become a beekeeper than someone who knows honey only from a jar. If a parent is a hunter, that increases the likelihood that the child becomes a hunter, too. Same for politics. If a parent has run for elected office, the child will be more aware of the required processes.

  • In the Soviet Union, children of the Nomenklatura had privileged access to education and careers.
  • In the United States, George W. Bush became president after George H. W. Bush. Note that there was a democrat in betweeen, so this is a very good example how children inherit a 'family tradition' of political activity (and a family reputation and name-recognition) rather than office, directly.
  • In the EU, Ursula von der Leyen is the daughter of Ernst Albrecht, who had been governing a major German state before he went into EU politics.

So as to your question, what keeps China from devolving into a monarchy is the CCP. They did do away with term limits, and they accept privileges for so-called princelings, but from that it does not follow that they will accept monarchy. They might, in a couple of years. Or not. (Personally, I think they won't.)

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    Isn't Hungary merely illiberal, not an autocracy? The supposed "autocratic" measures include things like subordinating the judiciary or the rich-owned press, who aren't democratic institutions in the first place. And the majority of criticism is of foreign origin - Orban is fairly popular with Hungarians, and elected by them.
    – Steve
    Aug 9, 2023 at 11:08
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    @Steve The line between illiberal and autocracy is a thin one. Putin has taken measures such as reducing presidential powers, it is (or at least was until 2022) very popular with russians, and nearly all of the criticism is of foreign origin - not only foreign, in fact, but coming from enemies. Is Russia an autocracy, or merely illiberal?
    – Rekesoft
    Aug 9, 2023 at 11:44
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    @Rekesoft, my understanding of Russia is that it's quite a corrupt place, having undergone a liberal revolution in the 1990s, but we were talking of Hungary. Typically the more liberal, the more autocratic - the more things controlled by the rich, and the more interference by the rich in democratic processes (such as by buying the means of communication). The accusation against Hungary seems to be that it's "undemocratic", because it's unelected judges can't overrule it's elected politicians, because rich liberals can't buy newspapers to attack the government, or because it defies the EU.
    – Steve
    Aug 9, 2023 at 17:49
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    +1 but Hungary is a bad example as they're still a democracy if you ignore the hype by various activist groups. Russia would be a better example - they did have fair elections back in the 1990s. Aug 9, 2023 at 18:22
  • And you could add Trudeau to their list, who's dad was a PM as well. Aug 9, 2023 at 18:23
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Generally agree with the points made in the other answers.

However, I also want to add that, even if was acceptable to the system and even if he wanted to, at a personal level, Xi does not have a child that is a credible heir. They do have a daughter, who is 31:

Xi keeps a low profile, and not much of her personal information has been revealed to the public. She studied French at her high school, Hangzhou Foreign Language School, from 2006 to 2008.5 Xi enrolled in Harvard University in the US in 2010, after a year of undergraduate study at Zhejiang University.[6] She enrolled under a pseudonym[7][8] and maintained a low profile.[9] In 2014, she graduated from Harvard with a Bachelor of Arts degree in psychology and was thought to have returned to Beijing.[10]

Following the 2008 Sichuan earthquake, Xi volunteered as a disaster relief worker for one week in Hanwang, Mianzhu.[1][11][12][5] In 2013, she made her first public appearance with her parents at the Liangjiahe village in Yan'an, Shaanxi, where they offered Chinese New Year greetings to the locals.[13] She has been described as interested in reading and fashion.[1][11]

Here's why I don't think she could do it:

  • CCP mostly seems run by old guys. Their one big foray into a female leader was Mao's widow. And whatever can be said about discrediting predecessors with propaganda in Communist systems, she, according to Chang and Halliday's Mao was an exceptionally nasty and petty character.

  • She's too young and Communist dogma would frown on a psych degree from a Western university in a top politician. They tend to go for national engineering/scientific degrees, maybe with allowances for Marxist theory degrees.

  • She isn't being groomed to take over. If she were, she'd be appearing doing stuff in the public light, doing diplomatic engagements, appearing presidential. Contrast that with Kim's high-profile sister in North Korea. There is some speculation that she is being groomed to take over if needed (his kids are apparently very young, about 10), in a society that is heavily patriarchal.

So, whatever Xi's and the CCP's faults are, I don't think one can lay on them the extremely perverse notion of trying to hobble together a Communist monarchy, something that makes about as much sense put together as an honest scammer. It is only really possible in North Korea's Alice in Wonderland context, where starving people are looking for salvation by a glutton whom they literally consider as parts of a family of gods on Earth.

According to legend, a bright star appeared on the sky the night he was born

(that's for daddy Kim, not current Kim, but you get the idea. btw, apparently current Kim is finding it useful to tone down either the godhood bit or the emphasis on his ancestors rather than himself)

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  • That's a point I hadn't thought of. Due to the former (ended 2016) 1-child-policy, the old monarchal-style "Heir and a spare" wouldn't really have flown there. Perhaps the next ruler could pull it off.
    – T.E.D.
    Aug 9, 2023 at 16:26
  • @T.E.D. JamesK put it as a comment to the Q but did not elaborate. Aug 9, 2023 at 16:28
  • Ah, I see. But there's a further implication here, which is that a hereditary succession isn't really well suited to a nation where leaders only have 1 child at most (who has a 50/50 shot of not being the gender that the authoritarian types who tend to like dictatorships prefer).
    – T.E.D.
    Aug 9, 2023 at 16:33
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This is a question of legitimacy of succession. In their system, as it exists now, all power theoretically resides in a small council, or "politburo", who delegates the day-to-day running of the country to one figure, usually for life. Many Communist countries use this kind of system for succession, as do some Theocracies like The Vatican, and Iran.

Its difficult for one family to capture a state's politburo. Remember that the newly-dead leader no longer gets a say. Depending on how its appointed, the individuals making up that body are unlikely to be all his family members, and would generaly prefer to see themselves, or failing that their friends, in that position of power. Usually they appoint the politically most powerful of one of their members, or failing that someone in the structure under them who is agreeable to most members.

However, it can happen. North Korea's Kim Il Sung in the 1960's completely politically neutered North Korea's Polutburo, effectively transforming his nominally Communist country into more of a Personalist Dictatorship. Since then, all North Korean premiers have been his direct descendants.

Currently it appears that China's Politburo self-selects its replacement members, which means for now its power base is largely independent of the General Secretary (their top leadership position).

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    I wonder if the Holy Roman Emperor would be an enlightening historical parallel: elected by a small committee, but the roles on that committee were themselves heriditary, so there was a tendency towards dynasties, if not direct inheritance.
    – IMSoP
    Aug 9, 2023 at 15:58
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    @IMSoP - IIRC, the phrase Colin McEvedy used was "If the electors were willing to allow a monopoly on the position to the Hapsburg family, it was only because it was a position of weakness rather than strength."
    – T.E.D.
    Aug 9, 2023 at 16:05
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Question:

Is there anything that prevents Xi from creating a dynasty like the Kim dynasty in North Korea?

Short Answer:

No, China has a long history of dynastic rule and nothing about the communist party would withstand a return of a dynastic rule given their predilection with instilling absolute power on their leaders.

Longer Answer:

The entire Chinese Communist system of governance is designed to ensure the continuation of communist rule. Their is nothing incompatible with dynastic rule and communism; see N. Korea. Given this ultimate and overriding objective of Communism in China, it's greatest flaw is that it permits an ambitious leader to gain unrestricted power. No individual, No law, no constitution, no political body can or has withstood the power of Mao or now Xi. Both have used the power of their office to coerce, intimidate, arrest, detain, and kill their potential rivals while consolidating absolute power unto themselves. In China potential rivals are often anyone who would try to restrict one's authority, certainly that is how Mao and now Xi define them. The only thing standing in the way of a dynastic rule in China is the self interest and ambitions of the men in leadership when the last leader dies. While this can be a substantial challenge in some countries, countries which allow absolute power to be installed in a leader will always be at risk of dynastic governance, or the ultimate shrine of ego to the last leader. It's really not that hard to engineer the bureaucratic self interest to work for dynastic rule instead of safeguarding against it. Historically all it takes is the elevation of a group of interdependent secondary leaders who have a joint self interest in continued rule. If none is strong enough to accede to the #1 spot they would support dynastic rule as a means to assure their own continued authority. When you think about it, it's surprising China isn't already under a dynastic system.

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