Xu Qiliang’s Journey in China’s Military Is the Epitome of CCP’s Infighting and Self-Destruction

News AnalysisXu Qiliang, former First Vice Chairman of the Central Military Commission of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), is a figure whose career trajectory within the CCP military ranks is remarkably smooth and successful. Having served under four generations of Chinese leaders—from Deng Xiaoping to Xi Jinping—Xu enjoyed an uninterrupted rise until his retirement at the age of 72.In early January, however, two overseas Chinese public figures revealed on the Internet that Mr. Xu had been taken away and placed under investigation by the authorities.Overseas political commentator Zhou Xiaohui wrote in a Jan. 4 post that he learned from “a friend in the military” that Xi Jinping was preparing to investigate Xu Qiliang. Mr. Zhou commented that after former Chinese leader Hu Jintao was publicly removed from the CCP’s 20th National Congress and Li Keqiang died under mysterious circumstances, it was no surprise that Mr. Xu, one of Mr. Hu’s loyal confidants, would become the new target of Xi’s political purge.Li Jun, a well-known Chinese writer living in Australia, posted on the social media platform X on Jan. 8 that she had received a letter from a friend that read, “Explosive news: Xu Qiliang, former vice chairman of the Military Commission and air force general, has been taken away from his home and is under investigation.”Against the backdrop of a series of purges within the CCP military in 2023, it is widely believed that this rumor is likely to be true.Related StoriesAmid the escalating rumors, Mr. Xu publicly appeared at a New Year’s performance hosted by the CCP Military Commission in late January. If the rumor of the investigation is true, Mr. Xu’s reappearance seems to indicate that Chinese leader Xi Jinping is temporarily halting his sweeping military purge.Unusual Promotions During Deng’s EraIn his early career, Mr. Xu was one of the best pilots and performed a flying show over Tiananmen Square during a military parade in Deng Xiaoping’s era.His rise through the military ranks was, like his flying operations, soaring straight to the clouds. In the CCP’s step-by-step promotion system, he repeatedly broke age records, becoming a division commander at age 33, deputy commander of the Fourth Air Force at age 34, commander of the Eighth Air Force at age 40, a full-time officer in the Grand Military Region at age 44, a member of the Central Military Commission at age 57, and a vice chairman of the Military Commission and a member of the Politburo at age 62, making him one of the fastest-rising generals in the post-Cultural Revolution era.Amidst these promotions, he was sent several times to the National Defense University to further his studies.Mr. Xu’s critical step in his career came shortly after Liu Huaqing and Zhang Zhen became vice chairmen of the Military Commission at the CCP’s 14th National Congress in 1992.Before the 14th National Congress, Mr. Deng approached Mr. Liu and Mr. Zhang. He instructed them, “The most important task in these few years is to select successors, and a group of people between 40 and 50 should be selected throughout the whole army and put into certain positions for cultivation. The selection of people can not be completely step by step, the general use of the customary. Certain individuals should be allowed to break the rules.”Mr. Deng’s instruction directly led to Mr. Xu’s promotion in the following years. He climbed two ranks from 1993 to 1994 and became a full-time officer in the Grand Military Region when he was as young as 44.It is well-known that the armed forces sustain the CCP’s political power, and mastery of the military means mastery of political power.Mr. Deng was in control of the military and, therefore, the real paramount leader of the CCP for many years. Former Chinese dictator Jiang Zemin had control of the military for 10 years and was able to exercise control during Hu Jintao’s 10-year reign.In terms of qualifications, almost all CCP princelings—the second generation of influential Party elders—can become the top CCP leader like Xi. Consequently, they pose a potential threat to Xi’s leadership position.After Xi Jinping came to power, the princelings in the military were purged one by one. As of today, they have all basically been eliminated, and Zhang Youxia, the only one left, is being marginalized.In other words, as the history of the CCP entered the Xi era, the much-envied princeling background turned out to be a political risk.Some China watchers believe that Mr. Xu’s commoner background actually gave him an advantage and saved him from political turmoil.Xu’s Connection with Hu JintaoIn January, Mr. Xu was suddenly rumored to be under investigation, and there is a good chance that the rumor is not just a rumor. Mr. Xu’s was promoted to become the vice chairman of the Military Commission by Hu Jintao, and before Zhang Youxia succeeded him, he had built a lot of connections and prestige in the military.On the eve of the CCP’s 20th National Congress, the

Xu Qiliang’s Journey in China’s Military Is the Epitome of CCP’s Infighting and Self-Destruction

.

News Analysis

Xu Qiliang, former First Vice Chairman of the Central Military Commission of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), is a figure whose career trajectory within the CCP military ranks is remarkably smooth and successful. Having served under four generations of Chinese leaders—from Deng Xiaoping to Xi Jinping—Xu enjoyed an uninterrupted rise until his retirement at the age of 72.

In early January, however, two overseas Chinese public figures revealed on the Internet that Mr. Xu had been taken away and placed under investigation by the authorities.

Overseas political commentator Zhou Xiaohui wrote in a Jan. 4 post that he learned from “a friend in the military” that Xi Jinping was preparing to investigate Xu Qiliang. Mr. Zhou commented that after former Chinese leader Hu Jintao was publicly removed from the CCP’s 20th National Congress and Li Keqiang died under mysterious circumstances, it was no surprise that Mr. Xu, one of Mr. Hu’s loyal confidants, would become the new target of Xi’s political purge.

Li Jun, a well-known Chinese writer living in Australia, posted on the social media platform X on Jan. 8 that she had received a letter from a friend that read, “Explosive news: Xu Qiliang, former vice chairman of the Military Commission and air force general, has been taken away from his home and is under investigation.”

Against the backdrop of a series of purges within the CCP military in 2023, it is widely believed that this rumor is likely to be true.

Amid the escalating rumors, Mr. Xu publicly appeared at a New Year’s performance hosted by the CCP Military Commission in late January. If the rumor of the investigation is true, Mr. Xu’s reappearance seems to indicate that Chinese leader Xi Jinping is temporarily halting his sweeping military purge.

.

Unusual Promotions During Deng’s Era

In his early career, Mr. Xu was one of the best pilots and performed a flying show over Tiananmen Square during a military parade in Deng Xiaoping’s era.

His rise through the military ranks was, like his flying operations, soaring straight to the clouds. In the CCP’s step-by-step promotion system, he repeatedly broke age records, becoming a division commander at age 33, deputy commander of the Fourth Air Force at age 34, commander of the Eighth Air Force at age 40, a full-time officer in the Grand Military Region at age 44, a member of the Central Military Commission at age 57, and a vice chairman of the Military Commission and a member of the Politburo at age 62, making him one of the fastest-rising generals in the post-Cultural Revolution era.

Amidst these promotions, he was sent several times to the National Defense University to further his studies.

Mr. Xu’s critical step in his career came shortly after Liu Huaqing and Zhang Zhen became vice chairmen of the Military Commission at the CCP’s 14th National Congress in 1992.

Before the 14th National Congress, Mr. Deng approached Mr. Liu and Mr. Zhang. He instructed them, “The most important task in these few years is to select successors, and a group of people between 40 and 50 should be selected throughout the whole army and put into certain positions for cultivation. The selection of people can not be completely step by step, the general use of the customary. Certain individuals should be allowed to break the rules.”

Mr. Deng’s instruction directly led to Mr. Xu’s promotion in the following years. He climbed two ranks from 1993 to 1994 and became a full-time officer in the Grand Military Region when he was as young as 44.

It is well-known that the armed forces sustain the CCP’s political power, and mastery of the military means mastery of political power.

Mr. Deng was in control of the military and, therefore, the real paramount leader of the CCP for many years. Former Chinese dictator Jiang Zemin had control of the military for 10 years and was able to exercise control during Hu Jintao’s 10-year reign.

In terms of qualifications, almost all CCP princelings—the second generation of influential Party elders—can become the top CCP leader like Xi. Consequently, they pose a potential threat to Xi’s leadership position.

After Xi Jinping came to power, the princelings in the military were purged one by one. As of today, they have all basically been eliminated, and Zhang Youxia, the only one left, is being marginalized.

In other words, as the history of the CCP entered the Xi era, the much-envied princeling background turned out to be a political risk.

Some China watchers believe that Mr. Xu’s commoner background actually gave him an advantage and saved him from political turmoil.

.

Xu’s Connection with Hu Jintao

In January, Mr. Xu was suddenly rumored to be under investigation, and there is a good chance that the rumor is not just a rumor. Mr. Xu’s was promoted to become the vice chairman of the Military Commission by Hu Jintao, and before Zhang Youxia succeeded him, he had built a lot of connections and prestige in the military.

On the eve of the CCP’s 20th National Congress, the military’s expression of loyalty and support to Xi suddenly dialed down, and Mr. Xu made no mention of “establishing the core leadership status of Comrade Xi Jinping within the Party’s Central Committee and of the whole Party” in a public speech at a meeting. This is extremely unusual in the CCP’s military system.

Moreover, an online article on the CCP’s military newspaper and the Defense Ministry’s website argued against “rule by man” in military management, implicitly denying Xi sole decision-making power.

Mr. Xu may have offended Xi with these subtle moves.

Then, at the 20th National Congress, Mr. Hu was publicly removed from the venue, and no one in Mr. Hu’s faction remained in the CCP’s top political body. One year later, former Chinese premier Li Keqiang, a key member of Hu’s faction, died mysteriously.

As a confidant of Mr. Hu, Mr. Xu’s future is still uncertain at this point. The rumor of Mr. Xu being investigated and his public appearance to deny the rumor may indicate that Xi has made a concession to the Hu faction.

.