Very bad news for billionaire Xi Jinping: Communist Party Chairman Xi Jinping wants to place curbs on excessive wealth

In devastating news for Xi Jinping, whose wealth is estimated to be at least 1.5 billion, Chairman of the Chinese Communist Party Xi Jinping this week signalled his intention to “regulate” excessively high incomes.

As investigative reporting from Bloomberg nearly a decade ago showed, the family of Xi’s elder sister Qi Qiaoqiao owns tens of millions in real estate investments in Beijing and Hong Kong, as well as controlling stakes in a number of companies whose value has exploded as a result of her involvement. It seems quite safe to assume that such wealth has only grown over the past decade as Xi’s power has grown.

And as investigative reporting by Nick McKenzie at the Age has shown, Xi Jinping’s cousin Ming Chai is a high-stakes gambler who flies around the world wasting the Chinese people’s hard-earned money on his gambling problem: what would be a sad and potentially devastating addiction for others becomes significantly less of a problem when your cousin runs the largest country on earth with zero accountability.

Yet Communist Party Chairman Xi Jinping’s announcement of his intention to place curbs on excessive wealth is certain to have zero impact on excessively wealthy Communist Party Chairman Xi Jinping.

We should remember, after all, that Xi’s initial consolidation of power was based on an “anti-corruption drive.”

There was a lot of debate at the time about whether Xi’s anti-corruption drive was actually an effort to oppose corruption, or rather just a campaign to eliminate enemies and rivals under the legitimizing pretext of opposing corruption.

Supporting evidence for the latter interpretation included (1) the fact that basically every new leader engages in an anti-corruption drive in order to eliminate rivals and consolidate power while corruption continues to run wild, and (2) any genuine anti-corruption drive could have focused plenty of energy on Xi Jinping, his family, and many of his allies.

After all, based on his official annual salary of just around 20 thousand US dollars (less than even an anthropologist like myself makes per year), even with quite generous bonuses, the numbers don’t quite add up to a billion and a half. Yet somehow the anti-corruption drive managed to overlook Xi!

Supporting evidence for the former interpretation basically boiled down to the fact that corruption is a problem in China. So, if Xi says he is opposing a genuine problem, he must be genuinely opposing it.

Yes, there are people who actually believe this. No, I don’t know why.

Such naïveté reveals the ways in which Xi has drawn upon actually existing problems in society in the service of continually enhancing and intensifying control.

From opposing corruption to protecting consumer privacy (LOL, good one, Xi) to cracking down on stressful after-school study programs to regulating those annoying yet also lovable old ladies who blast cheesy music outside your window starting from 6:00am, Xi has displayed a unique ability to seize real problems and use them to consolidate control over ever more aspects of society.

Optimism is here deployed in the service of the worst possible outcomes; the road to a stifling dictatorship is paved with the best of intentions. This is the history of communism.

I have long said that Chinese society today is too complex to be governed by an anachronistic dinosaur like the Chinese Communist Party. The only solution is to start over to develop a more sophisticated political system that can begin to reflect the inherent complexity of society today.

Xi Jinping’s prescription, it seems, is precisely the opposite: controlling and flattening an increasingly complex and dynamic society to correspond to the dictates of an anachronistic political system. No more ride-sharing apps, no more after-school study programs, no more dancing in the park: just sit back with a nice tall glass of hot water and the latest book on Xi Jinping Thought.

The result is a genuine disservice to the Chinese people. Research has shown a generally quite nuanced understanding of the issue of wealth distribution in Chinese society: a nuance that will undoubtedly be lacking in Xi’s approach.

Martin Whyte’s Myth of the Social Volcano, for example, draws upon extensive public opinion surveys conducted in China on the topic of inequality. Whyte finds that citizens are, to make a long story short, generally not overly worried about income inequality.

This finding may be surprising if one is the type of feebleminded person who believes that communism is actually about equality. Yet looking at recent Chinese history, there are still plenty of people alive who know what life is like when a communist government controls all aspects of work and income: one achieves not a redistribution of wealth but rather the collective enforcement of poverty. Many lengthy tomes of communist history could be far more succinctly written in four words: it does not work.

When considered against the extensive human suffering unleashed by every attempt to create a so-called “classless society,” some inequality in the reform era is really the least of anyone’s concern.

The surveys show, however, that what people are genuinely concerned about is the accumulation of wealth by improper means. Anyone who has spent any time in China knows what that means: corruption.

This is an extremely important distinction that often gets lost in discussions of class, particularly among academics eager to conceal their cushy bourgeois lives via identification with pseudo-radical politics. People who know communism do not resent the neighbor who started their own company or built up a restaurant chain from scratch. They do resent the official who uses power for self-enrichment.

Something tells me, however, that the billionaire who became Chairman because his daddy was a revolutionary may not be itching to address this issue in his pseudo-war on inequality.

One may reasonably ask whether Xi’s announcement is a sign of his putting the “communist” back in the Communist Party. It all comes down to how we understand communism.

If we envision communism as some sort of utopia in which class divisions are superseded, then no, that’s definitely not happening.

Yet if we understand communism as a ruling class bossing you around in the name of “the people” and forcing you to comply, while at the same time living comfortably beyond the reach of its own arbitrary rules, then I suppose this is indeed communism.

It’s just that this communism never really went away.