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Provisions for leadership succession in the P.R.C. Campbell, David Nathan


Most analysts study leadership succession in communist states as a "crisis" which ensues after the death of a dominant leader. This study takes an alternative approach. It is a survey of provisions for leadership succession in the People's Republic, of China. This involves a comparison of the strategies and motivations of Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping in providing for their own succession. Deng Xiaoping's more extensive provisions for leadership succession during the CCP's transition towards a more institutionalized one-party bureaucratic rule are likely to be more durable than Mao's provisions in the earlier period. Nevertheless, guarantees of smooth and regularized succession, especially of protégés promoted on the basis of personal ties within the leadership core, may be impossible to obtain. Mao's provisions were aimed largely at what he saw as a probable, but deplorable, bureaucratic future of the PRC. Deng, on the other hand, perceives an element of opportunity in the succession process. He has tried to provide leadership that will, in his estimation, be better able to bring about China's modernization. In both leaders' provisions for succession, the elevation to the status of "heir apparent" of individuals has been a political liability to those individuals, especially when their promotion is perceived to be based largely on personal ties to the dominant leader. This liability becomes more pronounced in a period of bureaucratic, collective leadership. Because of his shifting policy preferences, his status as charismatic leader, and the ambitious nature of his protégés, Mao Zedong was unsuccessful in providing for his own succession. Deng Xiaoping, on the other hand, has been successful in cultivating a reserve of young, well-educated cadres. These provisions, because they are extensive and exist in a more subdued, consensus-oriented political environment, may well be Deng's most enduring legacy.

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