INNER SANCTUM (2): For top party officials, decisions must be unanimous

July 31, 2013

By NOZOMU HAYASHI/ Correspondent

Editor's note: This is the second in a series of articles on Zhongnanhai, the seclusive political enclave in central Beijing, and the power struggles that have transpired within the Communist Party there. The series will appear on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

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BEIJING--Qinzhengdian (hall of industrious government) is located on a narrow strip of land sandwiched between two artificial ponds in the Zhongnanhai compound. Inside is a drab room where the Politburo Standing Committee meetings are held—and where the most important decisions are made.

In these meetings, one principle rises about the rest: Decisions must be unanimous.

This is the description given by Bao Tong, 80, who served as a political aide to Zhao Ziyang when he was general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party in the 1980s.

“There was nothing in the way of decorations in the meeting room,” Bao said. “About the only thing that was appealing to the eye was the greenery of the trees that could be seen from the large windows.”

Chinese authorities have never publicized even the holding of such meetings.

The Qinzhengdian building is said to be where Guangxu worked when he was emperor in the latter part of the Qing Dynasty. The building was later rebuilt by the Communist Party.

Bao recalled a meeting around 1987, when the statement was made: “I want to nominate Jiang Zemin as secretary of the Shanghai municipal Communist Party committee. What do all of you think about that?”

After Zhao was dismissed as general secretary in May 1989 for being sympathetic to the demands of pro-democracy activists, Jiang was named to replace him. The 1987 meeting discussed promoting Jiang to the important post in Shanghai.

The Politburo Standing Committee meetings are called by the general secretary. In the 1980s, one or two meetings were held every week. The meetings were generally conducted by having all participants state their opinion on agenda items brought up by the general secretary.

Party elders, such as Yang Shangkun, Wan Li and Bo Yibo, were allowed to participate and speak.

After supreme leader Deng Xiaoping stepped down from the Politburo Standing Committee in 1987, he never attended those meetings, but his aides always showed up and took copious notes.

The meeting room was about 100 square meters in size with rectangular tables about 5 to 6 meters long. While the general secretary always sat at the most important position, all other participants could sit wherever they wanted.

Aides sat on chairs lined up along the walls of the room.

The principle for the meetings was unanimous agreement. If opposing opinions were raised, revisions to the original proposal were possible.

If no unanimity was achieved, the general secretary said, “fangxi,” and a decision was put off until later.

Bao said that in the nine years he attended the meetings, there was never a case when a majority vote on an issue was taken.

That tradition was put in place to prevent the formation of splits within the top leadership group.

However, friction and confrontation inevitably arose within that group. When no majority vote was taken, the leaders of that time had only one alternative for making decisions--a judgment handed down by the supreme leader.

Bao said Zhao made a proposal in 1987 soon after becoming general secretary at a Central Committee plenary session immediately after the National Party Congress.

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The previous installment of this series is available at:

(1): At secretive Zhongnanhai, decisions are made that can change the world

By NOZOMU HAYASHI/ Correspondent
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Qinzhengdian hall within the Zhongnanhai compound in a photo taken in 1949, when the People's Republic of China was established (Provided by China Foto Press)

Qinzhengdian hall within the Zhongnanhai compound in a photo taken in 1949, when the People's Republic of China was established (Provided by China Foto Press)

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  • Qinzhengdian hall within the Zhongnanhai compound in a photo taken in 1949, when the People's Republic of China was established (Provided by China Foto Press)

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