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China's new leaders can't rule by pedigree

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As communist ideology has declined in popularity, the party has fallen back on old traditions to maintain power, such as nationalism and the promise of quick wealth. With a new leadership under Xi Jinping (son of a former vice premier who was a protégé of Mao Zedong), the party has reached for legitimacy by claiming that the grandsons of the Mao generation deserve to be treated as quasi-royalty. Mr. Xi himself reportedly once described top officials without a strong background to the Mao generation as “shopkeepers’ sons.”

World history, however, is moving in the opposite direction, toward a less artificial view of individual worth. Rulers must rise by the merit of their qualities – qualities learned and not passed down simply by bloodlines of family, clan, or tribe. “Power is never a good, unless he be good that has it,” said King Alfred the Great.

In the 2011 book “The Origins of Political Order: From Prehuman Times to the French Revolution,” famed scholar Francis Fukuyama states about ethnic nepotism:

“Since virtually all human societies organized themselves tribally at one point, many people are tempted to believe that this is somehow a natural state of affairs or biologically driven. It is not obvious, however, why you should want to cooperate with a cousin four times removed rather than a familiar nonrelative just because you share one sixty-fourth of your genes with your cousin.”

China’s emerging form of hereditary privilege and nepotistic rule may provide the country some stability. People often prefer a known name to an unknown one. But it borders on personality cult and defies a global trend toward higher views of humanity, such as equality and rule of law.

Perhaps social changes in China, driven by the Internet and a rising middle class, will push Beijing’s new elite rulers to see that history is not on the side of those who claim power by pedigree.

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