November 13, 2012, by China Policy Institute

New Chinese Leaders Should Burn Their Three Fires (1)

by Shujie Yao.

“The traditional Chinese metaphor, which implies that new leaders must tend to three big things, or burn three fires, refers to the effort by new leaders to win the heart of the people and to distinguish themselves from their predecessors. The three fires for the new leaders emerging at the Party Congress must include promoting sustainable and equitable economic growth, fighting corruption, and clean up the environment.”

While the Party Congress is on-going, it remains top secret to outsiders who will be selected to be the 7 or 9 members of the Politburo Standing Committee and the 25 members of the Politburo.

These men and women will become the most powerful decision makers in China for the next decade. It is also unclear as to what these leaders will do to take China forward after they assume the supreme power within the Party from next week.

But no matter who are to emerge as the top seven or nine leaders of China, and who of them will take up the economic portfolios, they must do at least three important things for the country to achieve its ambitious goals.

Doing these things is like burning three fires in the traditional Chinese metaphor, which implies that new leaders must tend to three big things, or burn three fires, to win the heart of the people and to distinguish themselves from their predecessors.

In my view, the three fires that the new leaders will burn must include (1) improving people’s livelihood and happiness, (2) creating a clean government, and (3) containing pollution.

This post will dwell on the first point, while points (2) and (3) will be elaborated in the next piece.

People’s livelihood was an important issue deeply rooted in traditional Chinese society, where a new emperor always tried to help his people improve their living standards to gain their trust and ensure political stability. The Communist Party is no different from any ancient ruler, whose legitimacy and ability to rule the country depends on its willingness and ability to constantly improve people’s quality of life. Before economic reform, people’s livelihood was simple, as it mainly consisted of food and clothing for a Wen Bao(温饱), or warmth without hunger, living standard.

After 34 years of fast economic expansion, China has become the second largest economy of the world and is set to overtake the US to be the largest by 2025. Apart from an absolute minority, all the Chinese people have been able to resolve the Wen Bao problem. As people’s living standards have improved, they go on asking for more, aiming to achieve being so-called well-off, or Xiao Kang(小康), in the standard of their living.

Apart from Wen Bao and Xiao Kang, people’s livelihood should also include social equality, freedom and democracy.

Freedom and democracy are higher levels of people’s desire for livelihood and this may be difficult to achieve in the short term. Due to the increasing popularity of internet and micro-blogging, however, the government should not underestimate people’s desire for freedom and democracy, as a total blackout of internet access and micro-blogging will prove impossible. The government has no choice but to be more prepared to engage with people to meet their demands for more freedom and democracy.

At present, the urgent task for the new leaders is to make sure that the fruits of economic growth should be more equally shared among the people. State monopoly should be suppressed to allow more competition from the private sector and foreign invested enterprises.

Only when these policies are effectively designed and implemented, will China be able to increase innovation activities and improve its international competitiveness so that people’s livelihood can be constantly improved.

Next: New Chinese Leaders Should Burn Their Three Fires (2)

Shujie Yao is Senior Fellow in the China Policy Institute, and professor and head of the School of Contemporary Chinese Studies at the University of Nottingham.

Opinions expressed in the CPI blog do not represent the views of the China Policy Institute or the School of Contemporary Chinese Studies at the University of Nottingham. They are the personal views of the bloggers/authors.

Posted in EconomicsPoliticsSocietySustainable Development