The last five years have marked the transition of power in China from Jiang Zemin to Hu Jintao. One obvious question for pundits now is whether or not Hu has stepped out of his predecessor’s shadow. Has Hu’s power grown or diminished? And what do we make of Jiang Zemin’s influence now? At CMP we answer questions like these by tracking the movement of important political keywords.
In China all top leaders have their own sets of slogans, including core keywords. These slogans define leaders, identify their agendas and bolster their legacies. For top Chinese leaders, the creation of buzzwords is an act of crucial political brand-building. Here are three of China’s biggest leadership brands:
Deng Xiaoping: Deng Xiaoping Theory
Jiang Zemin: The Three Represents
Hu Jintao: Harmonious Society
By analyzing core keywords and how they play out in the Chinese media over time we get a fairly reliable indication of the relative strength of political brands – and this can tell us how leaders and/or their legacies are fairing.
Searching core leadership keywords in the WiseNews Chinese language database, which includes more than 300 Chinese newspapers, we come up with the following results (for the number of articles using a particular keyword over time):
[Please CLICK on graph for a clearer image]
Deng Xiaoping Theory and the Three Represents are both relatively strong terms in the Chinese media. But right now Hu Jintao’s “Harmonious Society” has surpassed them both.
Another of Hu Jintao’s core keywords is “scientific view of development.” Under Hu’s leadership, the Central Party now operates with a slogan combining both buzzwords: “Developing in a scientific manner, building harmony together” (科学发展，共建和谐). Hu Jintao and his circle have branded this formulation as an “innovation of party theory” (党的创新理论).
During the 16th National Congress in 2002 Jiang Zemin’s core keyword, “Three Represents,” was written into the Party Constitution. A key question as we approach the 17th Congress is whether or not any of Hu’s signature phrases – “innovative party theory,” “scientific development view” or “harmonious society” – will make it into the Party Constitution.
In March this year, an article by scholar Dong Degang (董德刚) in the official journal Scientific Socialism (科学社会主义) offered a glimpse of the debate over political legacies and amendment of the Party Consitution. Dong’s article said a number of cadres, “including high-level officials and old comrades”, were wary of attempts to modify the party’s constitution at each CCP session, and urged a cautious approach to adding President Hu’s theories to the document. [Click HERE for CMP coverage]. [Click HERE for Chinese coverage]. “We need to be careful,” wrote Dong, “about building [theoretical] systems too quickly and too excessively” (要警惕过急、过高、过分追求体系化的倾向).
Dong’s views, so openly expressed, make it clear that while Hu Jintao has power over major issues in China, he is by no means a paramount leader who can accomplish his objectives with a wave of his wand. As China transitions further toward a post-totalitarian society (后极权社会), we can expect to see the power of its top leaders continue to weaken.
(Qian Gang, September 17, 2007)
[Translated by David Bandurski]