China’s political battles are complicated affairs, waged largely behind the scenes between flesh-and-blood Party leaders with their own, competing agendas. But the language of China’s Party politics, the script that emerges as “consensus” from this backstage melee, can offer us important clues to emerging trends.
The trick is knowing how to read the Party’s script.
Since September this year, Qian Gang, a veteran Chinese journalist and director of the Journalism & Media Studies Centre’s China Media Project, has made an in-depth study of the political discourse, past and present, of the Chinese Communist Party in a series called Watchwords: Reading China Through its Party Vocabulary.

Qian Gang’s study, which ran in Chinese on the New York Times website and in English on the China Media Project website, looked at the development over time of the Party’s distinctive political phrases, referred to in Chinese as tifa.
On the basis of his analysis, Qian Gang developed a “report card” that could be used to assess the language used in Hu Jintao’s most recent political report to the 18th National Congress of the CCP and answer key questions. What direction is China heading? Is political reform on the Party’s agenda? How does it plan to tackle issues like corruption?
Qian Gang’s initial conclusions based on President Hu Jintao’s 2012 political report were shared on the China Media Project website. Mr. Qian also summed up his findings in an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal on November 12 (“China Stand Still at the Crossroads”):

Just like a quarter century ago, real political reform in China requires a change in the Party’s power structure. This entails tough questions, and even tougher answers, about the origin of power, the independent exercise of power, and safeguards to ensure power is effectively checked and monitored. Instead, Mr. Hu’s pronouncement that China “will resolutely not follow Western political models” revives a hardline phrase that has often presaged a stubborn unwillingness to carry out any sort of meaningful reform.

Those interested in learning more about Qian Gang’s research on China’s political discourse are encouraged to attend his public lecture on Monday, November 26.
The 18th Party Congress and Prospects for Political Reform in China
Nov. 26, 2012 (Monday)
CPD-3.28, The Jockey Club Tower, Centennial Campus
The University of Hong Kong
The talk will be conducted in Putonghua
For enquiries, please contact Miss Emma Dong at [email protected]
Admission is Free
Currently director of the China Media Project, Qian Gang is a veteran Chinese journalist and the author of The Great Tangshan Earthquake. In this talk, Mr. Qian shares his perspectives on the 18th Party Congress of the Chinese Communist Party, based on textual analysis of historic CPC party documents, including Hu Jintao’s most recent. He’ll also discuss the prospects for political reform in China under Xi Jinping.

David Bandurski

CMP Director

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