Chinese party politics is generally characterized by the greatest possible lack of transparency. Only a hard core of people in the know know what is going on behind the gates of Beijing’s strictly sealed-off Zhongnanhai government district. The rest of the world, including China’s population, learns next to nothing about internal party voting processes; Decisions are announced, not justified, and how they come about often remains completely obscure.

The most recent example of the inscrutability of Chinese power processes was the abrupt end to the career of top Chinese diplomat Qin Gang. It was only in January of this year that the now 57-year-old was promoted from his former position as ambassador to the USA to head the Beijing Foreign Ministry. Even then, those familiar with Chinese cadre politics raised their eyebrows in astonishment: Party careers usually follow strictly defined promotion steps, in which Qin clearly skipped a few steps. The overturning of the usual hierarchy rules was blamed on his proximity to Xi Jinping: the newly appointed foreign minister was considered a close confidant of the party leader.

But even more astonishing was what happened a few months later.

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