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Chinese Politics and Foreign Policy Workshop featuring Joseph Torigian – Succession Politics and the Xi Family in the 1980s: The “Three Types of People,” “Princelings,” and Center-Provincial Relations in Hebei and Fujian

March 1, 2023 @ 4:00 pm 6:00 pm

Speaker: Joseph Torigian, Assistant Professor, School of International Service, American University

After the Cultural Revolution, a three-fold succession crisis loomed for the People’s Republic of China. First, at the very top, old party cadres dominated and were reluctant to relinquish their positions – especially after spending so much time with no power whatsoever during the Cultural Revolution. Second, at the grassroots level, the party faced the question of how to manage those young individuals who displayed questionable behavior during the Cultural Revolution but who, at the time, thought they were just enacting Mao’s wishes. Third, while “princelings” – the offspring of top party officials – were seen by many old revolutionaries as the most trustworthy inheritors of the revolution, as a group they suffered a poor reputation in society. Xi Zhongxun was the top figure on the secretariat managing these issues at the same time that his son Xi Jinping was rising the ranks in the 1980s, but family ties were a double-edged sword for the young Xi Jinping. The situation was further complicated by disputes in Beijing and provincial capitals on how quickly to reform. Twice, pro-reform leaders close to Xi Zhongxun were pushed out shortly after his son arrived to work in the provinces they led. Ultimately, the story of the Xi family in this decade is a microcosm of how the party struggled to resolve the succession controversies bestowed by Mao.

Dr. Torigian studies the politics of authoritarian regimes with a specific focus on elite power struggles, civil-military relations, and grand strategy. His philosophy as a scholar is to select topics based on the widest gap between the under-utilization of available documents and their theoretical and empirical importance, extract broader lessons, and use those lessons to help us to understand two nations of crucial geopolitical importance – Russia and China. His research agenda draws upon comparative politics, international relations, security studies, and history to ask big questions about the long-term political trajectories of these two states. In particular, he is interested in how leaders in those countries create security against threats from within the elite, their own people, and other states.

Previously, Torigian was a Stanton Fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, a Postdoctoral Fellow at Princeton-Harvard’s China and the World Program, a Postdoctoral (and Predoctoral) Fellow at Stanford’s Center for International Security and Cooperation (CISAC), a Predoctoral Fellow at George Washington University’s Institute for Security and Conflict Studies, an IREX scholar affiliated with the Higher School of Economics in Moscow, a Fulbright Scholar at Fudan University in Shanghai, and a research associate at the Council on Foreign Relations. His research has also been supported by the Stanford Center on International Conflict and Negotiation, MIT’s Center for International Studies, MIT International Science and Technology Initiatives, the Critical Language Scholarship program, and FLAS. I am also a Global Fellow at the History and Public Policy Program at the Wilson Center.


March 1, 2023
4:00 pm – 6:00 pm
Event Category:


Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies


CGIS South, Room S050

1730 Cambridge St
Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138 United States

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