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The Princelings in China: How Do They Benefit from their Red Parents?

Mon, August 14, 4:30 to 5:30pm, Palais des congrès de Montréal, Floor: Level 5, 517B


The rise of the “princelings” in the Chinese Communist Party has caught the attention of both the general public and academia. It is commonly assumed that China’s princelings have inherited competitive advantages because of their family background, yet no empirical study or dataset substantiates this claim. Moreover, it is unclear how their family background helps them to get advantages if any. In addition, existing studies based on the theories of factional politics and meritocracy all face serious theoretical and methodological challenges. To fill the void, I created a new dataset with the profiles of more than 220 princelings who have held or currently hold senior positions in China’s state apparatus. Analysis of the data reveals that princelings have some advantages in their chances of entering the Central Committee, the Politburo, and the Politburo Standing Committee; this finding refutes the arguments of meritocracy. For the sample of high-ranking princeling officials, ostensible family advantages such as parents’ rank and longevity do not significantly contribute to an individual’s promotion. The fact that parental rank and longevity do not contribute to children’s achievement challenges factionalism and elite reproduction explanations. This paper suggests “princeling” identity works as a membership status instead of factions; different from elite reproduction elsewhere, China’s elite formation is embedded in the context of Mao’s central resource allocation system and shaped political power shift in the Deng-era.