As anyone whose profession it is to parse the language of Chinese Communist Party can tell you, reading Chinese discourse is a frustrating and bewildering exercise, full of rigid and ritualistic formulations that come and go, ebb and flow. Sum up Party-speak with a jingle and it might go something like this:
Deng Xiaoping had Four Basic Principles,
Jiang Zemin, Three Represents
Xi Jinping has Two Undeniables.
And nothing at all makes sense.
Given the opaque nature of Chinese politics, however, the official language of the CCP is one of the best clues we have to the internal dynamics of the leadership. Which people, or which ideas, can we see being advanced or elevated in official-speak?
Whether or not Xi Jinping is referred to a “the core” may seem trivial to your average news reader — but it can be a very real reflection of the power he commands internally, as is the question of whether or not he will get a “banner term” (旗帜语) that includes his name, something that has not happened since the days of Mao Zedong Thought and Deng Xiaoping Theory.
With the 19th National Congress of the CCP just around the corner — though we still don’t know how far around the corner — it is prime time for China’s official discourse. In the coming weeks at CMP, we will be watching the discourse closely for any possible signs.
But let’s start first with the language coming out of President Xi’s “important speech” (a label familiar to discourse watchers) on July 26, 2017, just before top leaders headed off to the seaside resort of Beidaihe to consult, confabulate and contrive — in what more than one Western media outlet referred to as China’s “game of thrones.”
That speech, made at a two-day gathering in Beijing, was all about preparations for the 19th National Congress. And the official Xinhua News Agency reported that General Secretary Xi Jinping had “pointed out that socialism with Chinese characteristics has entered a new development phase,” and that he “profoundly laid out a series of major theories and practical questions in adhering to and developing socialism with Chinese characteristics under new historical conditions.”
Zzzzzz . . . Are you asleep yet?
Well, suffering students of Chinese discourse, I’m here to tell you that there are CliffsNotes versions of these befuddling speech acts. China’s official state media understand that official-speak is here to stay — despite official pledges , even by Xi himself, to tone it down — and that it is a dialect of Chinese that few, even well-read, Chinese can understand. Enter state media products like “Xi Speak in Pictures” (习语图解), which set out to demystify (sort of) official speeches like that Xi Jinping made on July 26.
In this case, the magic numbers are: 2, 3, 5, 9, 8, 3, 2. And here is what they add up to, according to Xinhua News Agency.