China Power

The End of Funeral Politics in China

Funerals of high-ranking CCP officials are no longer useful as a window into CCP politics.

Bo Zhiyue
The End of Funeral Politics in China
Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Funeral politics, at least in their familiar form, apparently ended on February 17, 2015 when Deng Liqun’s funeral was held. As a matter of fact, they may have ended sooner, at Zhang Wannian’s funeral on January 22, 2015.

First, at both funerals, all members of the Politburo Standing Committee were present, with one exception. Li Keqiang was absent from Zhang Wannian’s funeral because he was attending the World Economic Forum at Davos, Switzerland but all seven were present at Deng Liqun’s funeral. In a sense, funerals for former Politburo members or Secretariat members have become major political occasions with the highest rank. Only incumbent Politburo Standing Committee members are allowed to attend and to be mentioned by name. Even Politburo members could not have the honor of being mentioned in the official report, though some of them were possibly physically present.

Even retired leaders, especially Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao, were allowed to be “present” in name only. Among the retired leaders, only Jiang and Hu were mentioned in name in the official reports about the funerals. Neither of them was actually present physically. This is a very important departure from the past, when retired leaders were allowed to attend the funerals of former high-ranking officials/officers in person. This change a bit harsh for these elderly comrades because they have lost their right to bid farewell to their former colleagues and subordinates. But the new practice has avoided the thorny protocol issue of who comes before whom, putting an end to the funeral politics by retirees.

All other high-ranking officials/officers in attendance are classified as “party leaders, state leaders and military leaders.” They were not individually acknowledged in the report even if they were physically present. This means funerals are no longer a convenient way for the media to get a glimpse of who might be in political troubles and who might be okay for the moment. Political information is not available any more.

Neither is it useful to scan the media for political information on the funerals of officials/officers of lower ranks. Related reports provide very little information on who attended their funerals. In a report on the death of General Wang Dinglie, a former deputy commander of the PLA Air Force who had been awarded the rank of major general in 1961, only “concerned leading comrades of the Center” were mentioned. A report on the funeral of General Zeng Mei, former political commissar of the Hebei Provincial Military District who had been awarded the rank of major general in 1955, is “not available” online.

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The trends mentioned above mark the new reality for CCP funerals. Farewell to funeral politics!