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Traditional Chinese太子黨
Simplified Chinese太子党
Literal meaningCrown Prince Party/Faction

The Princelings (Chinese: 太子党), also translated as the Party's Crown Princes, are the descendants of prominent and influential senior communist officials in the People's Republic of China. It is an informal, and often derogatory, categorization to signify those believed to be benefiting from nepotism and cronyism, by analogy with crown princes in hereditary monarchies. Many of its members hold high-level political and business positions in the upper echelons of power.

In contemporary China, "Princelings" are the descendants of senior Chinese Communist Party (CCP) leaders and have themselves risen to high-ranking positions within the CCP. If their parents belong to the first generation of CCP revolutionaries, they are also referred to as the "second Red Generation," "Red Heirs," or "the Red Nobility." Princelings also encompass the sons and daughters of later generations of top leaders, including figures like Jiang Zemin, Li Peng, and Hu Jintao.[1] Princelings exert their influence in the country either by occupying significant roles within the party-state apparatus, which includes the party, government, and military services, or by controlling substantial state-owned enterprises.[2] Opportunities are available to princelings that are not available to common people. Using their powerful connections they have the opportunity to obtain profitable opportunities for themselves and for others. The more aggressive of the princelings have amassed fortunes of hundreds of millions of dollars.[3] However, there is no discernible political cohesion within the group, and as such they should not be compared to other informal groupings such as the Shanghai clique or the Tuanpai ("Youth League clique"), which resemble intra-party factions with some degree of affinity on policy issues.

Under the People's Republic, the term initially came into use during the Cultural Revolution to describe Lin Biao's son Lin Liguo as well as his close friends and allies who had been promoted alongside him into elite positions of the People's Liberation Army Air Force who were envisioned as the future "Third Generation" leadership of the CCP. Following the death of Lin Liguo in a failed coup and the subsequent purges of this group, the term briefly fell out of use until the 1980s to label the children of the Eight Elders and other First and Second Generation leaders who had been increasingly promoted in the party and were opposed to the efforts of reformers Hu Yaobang and Zhao Ziyang to curb corruption and cronyism. Notable contemporary Princelings include Xi Jinping (son of Xi Zhongxun), China's top leader and Party General Secretary since 2012, and Bo Xilai (son of Bo Yibo), a former Party Committee Secretary of Chongqing who was also a member of the Politburo.

In 1966, China's Cultural Revolution [the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution] led many Princelings to be sent to rural China. Princelings lived in similar villages, worked together, and received their educations together.[1] After some years, the Princelings started to return to home (commonly areas like Shanghai or Beijing) however this crucial period of time had already led many Princelings to form lifelong friendships/partnerships.[1] These relationships lasted for decades and led to more cohesion amongst Princelings in the CCP, yielding greater endorsements and promotions.[1]


The term was coined in the early 20th century in the Republic of China, referring to the son of Yuan Shikai (a self-declared emperor) and his cronies. It was later used to describe the relatives of the top four nationalist families; Chiang Kai-shek's kin, Soong Mei-ling's kin, Chen Lifu's kin, and Kong Xiangxi's kin. After the 1950s, the term was used in Taiwan to describe Chiang Ching-kuo, son of Chiang Kai-shek, and his friends. The latest generation of "crown princes" are in mainland China. The first generation of princelings in the PRC were the children of the initial revolutionaries. These children were initially raised in environments where their quality of life far eclipsed that of the ordinary Chinese citizen, often close to other princelings and senior party officials to develop a network of influence.[1] Many senior leaders often lobby directly or indirectly for their descendants and relatives to succeed them.

Xiang Lanxin, professor of international history and politics at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, explains it thus:

Historically, how to control local officials who possessed imperial lineage was always a problem. The Politburo is equivalent to the inner circle of the imperial household. Its members, if assigned a local administrative position, can easily overrule any opposition in their jurisdictions as no other party officials can match them in rank and prestige.[4]

Some of these crown princes are able to hold senior positions at the vice-ministerial level or above while still in their thirties, for which other ordinary cadres would struggle for decades. For national party positions, princelings often were promoted earlier and into higher positions than their non princeling counterparts.[1] Others run companies involved in large- scale corruption and smuggling schemes. All of these misdeeds raise widespread sentiments of resentment and jealousy, and some "crown princes" have fallen victim to the trend towards enmity that is apparent in China. Most political observers see the Princelings as having been at the pinnacle of their power in the 1980s and to have had their power reduced after 1989 for a number of reasons:

First, not only did the Princelings cause resentment among the general public, but they also caused resentment within the vast majority of Party members who did not have a powerful relative;[citation needed] for example, Chen Yuan, son of Chen Yun; and Chen Haosu, son of Chen Yi lost their election in Beijing and had to be transferred to other positions.

Second, the booming Chinese economy caused a new wealthy class to emerge, many of whom demanded fair play and protection of their property.

Third, as the public was unsatisfied with the plague of corruption and cronyism, with resentment and discontent mounting to a degree that could wreak havoc on the CCP's reign, the CCP had to take measures to appease these strong feelings.[original research?]

One watershed event occurred during the 15th National Congress of the CCP in 1997, when several prominent Princelings suffered great losses as candidates. Xi Jinping, son of Xi Zhongxun, and Deng Pufang, eldest son of Deng Xiaoping, were narrowly elected as alternate members of the Central Commission of the CCP, but were listed at the very bottom, due to the low number of votes received. Bo Xilai, son of Bo Yibo, was unable to get elected as an alternate member. However, both Xi and Bo emerged as major figures in China's next generation of leadership in 2007 (though Bo fell from power in 2012). Indeed, Xi succeeded Hu Jintao as General Secretary at the 18th Party Congress in 2012, and became president in 2013.

It is speculated that when Jiang Zemin was close to the end of his term for his age, he put many Princelings into important positions to appeal to senior leaders of the CCP and win their support for his continued influence. There is a trend towards Princelings taking over power step by step. Of these, Yu Zhengsheng, son of Huang Jing, former mayor of Tianjin, was already a member of the powerful politburo of the CCP; Wang Qishan, son-in-law of Yao Yilin (former vice premier and member of politburo), mayor of Beijing; Xi Jinping, Bo Xilai, Zhou Xiaochuan, son of Zhou Jiannan (former minister of the First Machinery Ministry and Jiang Zemin's former boss), governor of the People's Bank of China, have also occupied important positions since the 17th Party Congress. Princelings also hold a steady 5-6% of the National People's Congress and have since the 12th party Congress.[1]

The number of princelings in the CCP Central Committee peaked in the 18th Central Committee, where there were a total of 41 princelings. By the 20th Central Committee, their numbers decreased to 10. Similarly, there were four out of the seven members of the 18th Politburo Standing Committee members were princelings. In the 20th Politburo Standing Committee, Xi Jinping is the only remaining princeling.[5]

In 2013 a "sons and daughters" program instituted by JPMorgan Chase to hire young princelings for positions in its Chinese operations came to light during a bribery investigation by the SEC. At times standards for hiring young princelings were more lenient than those imposed on other Chinese.[6]

At least twelve of the princelings were revealed to have used companies in the offshore tax haven of the British Virgin Islands to store wealth in an investigation by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists.[7]

The leader or Godfather of the Princelings was Ye Xuanning, the second son of Ye Jianying. Ye Xuanning was low-profile but influential in political, military and business circles. Many people who ran into troubles looked for Ye and Ye was known for being able to resolve their problems.[8]


Li Xiaolin

The following are some of the most famous crown princes:

A list of 226 princelings has been published (see link below).

Popular culture

Main article: Zhao family (Internet slang)

In late 2015 and early 2016 the term "Zhao family" from Lu Xun's novella The True Story of Ah Q, went viral in China after it was used in an anonymous article "Barbarians at the Gate, Zhao Family Inside" to allude to princelings involvement in a business dispute.[14]

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Zhang, Tony Huiquan (July 2019). "The Rise of the Princelings in China: Career Advantages and Collective Elite Reproduction". Journal of East Asian Studies. 19 (2): 169–196. doi:10.1017/jea.2019.11. ISSN 1598-2408.
  2. ^ Ho, Wing-Chung (September 2013). "The New 'Comprador Class': the re-emergence of bureaucratic capitalists in post-Deng China". Journal of Contemporary China. 22 (83): 812–827. doi:10.1080/10670564.2013.782128. ISSN 1067-0564.
  3. ^ a b David Barboza (October 25, 2012). "Billions in Hidden Riches for Family of Chinese Leader". The New York Times. Archived from the original on October 27, 2012. Retrieved October 27, 2012.
  4. ^ Xiang, Lanxin (Apr 20, 2012). "Bo Xilai probe shows up China's outdated system of government". South China Morning Post
  5. ^ "How China's political clans might determine its future". The Economist. 4 April 2024. ISSN 0013-0613. Retrieved 2024-04-04.
  6. ^ Jessica Silver-Greenberg; Ben Protess (August 29, 2013). "JPMorgan Hiring Put China's Elite on an Easy Track" (Dealbook blog). The New York Times. Archived from the original on September 4, 2013. Retrieved August 30, 2013.
  7. ^ James Ball (January 21, 2014). "China's princelings storing riches in Caribbean offshore haven". The Guardian. Retrieved January 21, 2014.
  8. ^ "中國太子黨的崛起:紅二代真正的大佬葉選寧". Archived from the original on 2016-07-13. Retrieved 2016-07-23.
  9. ^ a b c "Profiles: China's new leaders". BBC News. 15 November 2012. Archived from the original on 14 November 2013. Retrieved 26 October 2013.
  10. ^ Children of the Revolution Archived 2018-07-01 at the Wayback Machine, Jeremy Page, The Wall Street Journal, 26 November 2011.
  11. ^ Lifting the lid on the secret life of Point Piper's grand princeling Archived 2012-06-04 at the Wayback Machine, John Garnaut, The Sydney Morning Herald, 16 October 2010.
  12. ^ A Home Fit for a Princeling Archived 2017-08-16 at the Wayback Machine, Dinny McMahon, The Wall Street Journal, 26 November 2011.
  13. ^ Allen T. Cheng and Li Yanping (3 February 2008). "China May Tap 'Princeling' Wang for Top Economic Policy Post". Bloomberg. Archived from the original on 29 October 2013. Retrieved 26 October 2013.
  14. ^ Kiki Zhao (4 January 2016). "Leveling Criticism at China's Elite, Some Borrow Words From the Past". The New York Times. Archived from the original on 9 January 2016. Retrieved 9 January 2016. ... a disparaging term for China's rich and politically well-connected.