Wang Huning

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Wang Huning (b. October 6, 1955)[1]

After PLA tanks crushed the dreams of liberal democracy sprouting in China, CCP leadership began searching desperately for a new political model on which to secure the regime. They soon turned to Wang Huning. When Wang won national acclaim by leading a university debate team to victory in an international competition in Singapore in 1993, he caught the attention of Jiang Zemin, who had become party leader after the Tiananmen massacre. Wang, having defeated National Taiwan University by arguing that human nature is inherently evil, foreshadowed that, “While Western modern civilization can bring material prosperity, it doesn’t necessarily lead to improvement in character.” Jiang plucked him from the university and, at the age of 40, he was granted a leadership position in the CCP’s secretive Central Policy Research Office, putting him on an inside track into the highest echelons of power.[2]

Wang Huning served all three of Deng successors, Xi, Hu, and Jiang.

What is singularly remarkable about Wang is that he’s managed to serve in this role of court philosopher to not just one, but all three of the PRC's previous top leaders, including as the pen behind Jiang Zemin’s signature “Three Represents” policy, Hu Jintao’s "Harmonious Development of Economy" and "Scientific Development View,"[3] and Xi Jinping's "Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era." In the brutally cutthroat world of CCP factional politics, this is an unprecedented feat. Wang was recruited into the party by Jiang’s “Shanghai Gang,”[4] a rival faction that Xi Jinping has worked to ruthlessly purge after coming to power in 2012

A member of the CCP’s seven-man Politburo Standing Committee (ranked 5th), he is the party’s top ideological theorist, quietly credited as being the “ideas man” behind each of Xi’s signature political concepts, including the “China Dream,” the anti-corruption campaign, the Belt and Road Initiative, and a more assertive foreign policy.

in 1988, Wang won a coveted scholarship (facilitated by the American Political Science Association) to spend six months in the United States as a visiting scholar. Wang recorded his observations in a memoir that would become his most famous work: the 1991 book America Against America. In it, he marvels at homeless encampments in the streets of Washington DC, out-of-control drug crime in poor black neighborhoods in New York City and San Francisco, and corporations that seemed to have fused themselves to and taken over responsibilities of government. As the 2020 Marxist insurrection roiled American politics, Chinese people began turning to Wang’s America Against America for answers. And when a mob stormed the U.S. Capitol building on January 6, 2021, the book flew off the shelves. Out-of-print copies began selling for as much as $2,500 on Chinese e-commerce sites.[5]

At the start of 1989 the young Wang returned to China and, promoted to Dean of Fudan’s International Politics Department, became a leading opponent of liberalization. He began to argue that China had to resist global liberal influence and become a culturally unified and self-confident nation governed by a strong, centralized party-state. He would develop these ideas into what has become known as China’s “Neo-Authoritarian” movement. This reflected his desire to blend Marxist socialism with traditional Chinese Confucian values and Legalist political thought, maximalist Western ideas of state sovereignty and power, and nationalism in order to synthesize a new basis for long-term stability and growth immune to Western liberalism.

In October 2021 Revolver News published an extensive review of Wang's book entitled, Chinese President Xi’s “Secret Philosopher” Analyzed America And His Findings Could Reverse Our Country’s Decline.[6] The authors concluded:

"in 2021, the real lessons of America Against America aren’t for China. They’re for the United States. Studying Wang’s book is invaluable for Americans because it captures a key turning point in America’s existence vis-à-vis the rest of the world. Before Wang, America was studied by others for its successes. Wang, writing at the absolute zenith of America’s global power, studied America for its failures as well. In the same year the USSR fell, Wang anticipated the day many years in the future where the US might collapse as well. [...]

Wang visited America from a country with thousands of years of history and achievements which had fallen into several centuries of poverty and backwardness. By studying the successes and shortcomings of America, he was able to envision a way forward for China. For the past 25 years, as a central figure in China’s ruling elite, he has put that vision into practice, and been very successful.

Like Wang’s China of 30 years ago, America is a highly accomplished country that has fallen off a step. In order to become “great again,” America must learn to view itself with the critical eye of a foreigner, and it must be willing to consider that other nations might even have developed values and priorities superior to our own. To simply fall back on “American exceptionalism” without the greatness and achievement to back it up is to embrace a crass and stubborn parochialism, a smug belief in one’s invincibility even as America’s buildings crumble and its society implodes.

The rise of Wang Huning’s China, then, is not a calamity for the United States. It is an opportunity for a deep, harsh, even brutal self-reflection. This is the necessary first step toward the fundamental transformation we need if we want future observers to look at us as a positive example for anything, rather than a cautionary tale of a once great empire that eagerly hurled itself onto the ash heap of history.


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