Xi Jinping’s first political report, delivered today at the opening of the 19th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party, is a monster that must be carefully dissected through many painful hours of reading — turning it constantly against the mirror of political reports past. So we do not presume to offer a reading here.
But we can point to a few aspects and look at how the congress is being reported through Chinese media, which on this story are naturally dominated by official state media.
The October 18, 2017, edition of the CCP’s official People’s Daily, with an image from the “preparation conference” of the 19th Party Congress the previous day, and a list of delegates.
A number of the initial media reports, like this one from Caixin (which is basically Xinhua, as we can expect of most “reporting”), focus on Xi Jinping’s statements about the “Two Centenary Goals” as a key point of significance. Basically, this is the idea that China is heading into a phase in which it can anticipate, and “struggle” toward, the full creation of a “moderately well-off society” (the first goal), and at the same time push actively and confidently (Xi has spoken of “Four Confidences”) toward the creation of a fully modernized socialist nation (the second goal).
Xi’s report essentially suggests at the 16th, 17th and 18th national congresses of the CCP have focussed on the first of these goals, while the 19th congress and the 20th will focus primarily on the latter (while consolidating the former). Xi Jinping calls this the “new journey toward the building of a comprehensively modernized socialist nation” (全面建设社会主义现代化国家新征程).
So the 15-year period from 2010 to 2035 will be devoted, we are told, to the project of building this “modernized socialist nation.” What is that, you ask? Well, the answer to that question is of course extremely complicated — seeing as it is fundamentally about reading Chinese politics, the business many of us are always imperfectly on about. But part of the answer will be about reading Xi’s political report and the media coverage around it over the next weeks and months. And we do of course know that the “modernized socialist nation” is about the power and prestige of the Party and its governance system, and about China’s place in the world (security, cybersecurity, etc.).
That is very unsatisfying, I know. But let’s be honest enough not to pretend there are easy answers here.
Turning to today’s People’s Daily, the front page news is about yesterday’s “preparation conference” for today’s big meeting. Think of it as coverage of the dress rehearsal. We can expect the political report to be highlighted in tomorrow’s edition. But there is one piece that is perhaps worth our attention today, which sets the tone and offers some hints about language and emphasis — and that is the lead commentary, or shelun (社论), which is highlighted on page one and run on page two, alongside a graphic treatment of all of the superb achievements the Party says it has made in the past 5 years.
This commentary, “Opening New Horizons in Socialism With Chinese Characteristics” (note the clear reference to the second “centenary goal”), also gets the prime spot today at the top of People’s Daily Online.
The commentary stinks of confidence. Does it stink more than usual? That is hard to say. But I found it particularly interesting that it argues that China’s achievements over the past 5 years have offered an example to be emulated by developing nations. At one point it says that “socialism with Chinese characteristics has expanded the path for developing nations in progressing toward modernization, gifting Chinese knowledge to humankind and offering China’s plan.”
The idea of “China’s Plan” (中国方案), which Xi Jinping introduced in July 2014 in a meeting with leaders from Central and South America, might be worth keeping an eye on. As newly prosperous China seeks, under these two overlapping “centenary goals,” to become globally influential China, maintaining and propagating what it sees as its native innovation of socialism — and “Chinese Marxism,” another interesting term in this commentary — will no doubt be central to the project. We might bear in mind the Xinhua commentary yesterday about the “doddering democracy” of the West, and Xi’s remarks today about the success of “socialist democracy.”
The People’s Daily commentary closes with the image of the “ship of great dreams,” which the Party guides bravely through the waves, on to brighter shores. This seems to be a widespread metaphor surrounding the congress, and there is even a short official video making the rounds called “Navigating the Ship” (领航), which might also be translated simply “Navigator,” referring to Xi Jinping himself. Xinhua wrote about the Party and Xi as navigators just a couple of days back, and this idea emerged too in July around Xi’s role as “navigator” of China’s military.
There may be more to this image than stilted Party poetry. Ships, after all, travel away from the shore and out into the wider world.
Our full translation of today’s lead commentary in the People’s Daily follows:
Opening New Horizons in Socialism With Chinese Characteristics (开辟中国特色社会主义新境界)
— Warmly Welcoming the Opening of the 19th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party People’s Daily, October 18, 2017
The tapestry of history is always opened through grinding forward progress; the chapter of the age is always written in new struggles.
Today, the 19th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party opens ceremoniously in Beijing. This congress is an extremely important congress opening at a critical phase in the comprehensive building of a moderately well-off society (小康社会) and in a key period in the development of socialism with Chinese characteristics (中国特色社会主义). Our Party will raise a program of action that is overarching, strategic and forward-looking concerning what [ideological] banner we uphold, what path we take, what spiritual attitude we maintain, what historic mission we bear, and what goals we struggle toward. The success of this conference concerns the past and future business of the Party and the government, concerns the fate of socialism with Chinese characteristics, concerns the fundamental interests of the broad masses of the people — and it has major political, theoretical and practical import for the victory of the comprehensive building of a moderately well-off society, winning great victories for socialism with Chinese characteristics and realizing the Chinese dream of the great rejuvenation of the Chinese people.
“The yearning for a good life, that is the goal toward which we struggle.” Looking back on a five years past that were anything but ordinary, the Central Committee of the CCP with Comrade Xi Jinping as the core (习近平同志为核心的党中央), and with great political courage and a fierce sense of responsibility, carried out great struggles with many new historical characteristics, facing challenges head on as they climbed, breaking new ground in pushing forward the agenda, discarding old ways and introducing new. [The Party] advanced the overall plan of the “Five In One” (五位一体) [NOTE: this term from the 19th Congress refers to: 1. economic development; 2. political development; 3. cultural development; 4. social development; and environmental development], coordinating with the advancement of the strategic arrangement of the “Four Comprehensives” (四个全面), achieving along with the people a clear raising of national economic strength, technological strength, national defense strength, comprehensive national power (综合国力) and international influence. On the foundation of the advancements made since the founding of the new China, and particularly since the commencement of economic reform and opening, [the Party has] advanced socialism with Chinese characteristics to a new phase of development. The achievements of the past 5 years are omni-directional [comprehensive] and innovative (开创性的). The changes of the past 5 years are deep and fundamental in nature. These historic achievements and historic changes mark the fact that our country now stands at a new historical juncture, and they have deep and major significance for the business of our Party and the state.
The leadership of the Party is the most fundamental character of socialism with Chinese characteristics, and it is the greatest advantage of the system of socialism with Chinese characteristics. In the past 5 years, opening and reform and the construction of socialist modernization (社会主义现代化) have made historic achievements, and socialism with Chinese characteristics has achieved new brilliance and vitality most fundamentally because of the firm leadership of the Chinese Communist Party with Comrade Xi Jinping as the core. In the grinding advance of the past 5 years, the ingenuity, cohesion, fighting strength, leadership strength and rallying power of the Party has risen constantly, and its core leadership role in maintaining overall control and coordinating various aspects [of governance] has been fully at play — and this is the fundamental reason we have made deeply significant achievements, progress and development. Of particular importance has been the spirit of the series of General Secretary Xi Jinping’s important speeches (习近平总书记系列重要讲话精神) and his new concepts, thoughts and strategies on the governance of the nation (治国理政新理念新思想新战略). [These] have raised to a new level our Party’s principles for holding power (执政规律), principles for building socialism (社会主义建设规律), and principles for developing human society (人类社会发展规律), and they constitute a full and scientific theoretical system (科学完整的思想理论体系) — amounting to the newest fruits of the sinicization of Marxism (马克思主义中国化), and opening up new horizons for the development of contemporary Chinese Marxism (当代中国马克思主义).
The question of [development] path is an arch question that concerns the success or failure of the Party’s work; path determines destiny, and path is the life of the Party. It is by cleaving to the path of socialism with Chinese characteristics that the Chinese people have, through long struggle, achieved the historic leap of standing up, then becoming prosperous and finally becoming powerful. In the grinding advance of the past 5 years, socialism with Chinese characteristics has achieved new brilliance and vitality and opened constant new horizons in its development, and socialism with Chinese characteristics has expanded the path for developing nations in progressing toward modernization, gifting Chinese knowledge to humankind and offering China’s plan (中国方案) [NOTE: This is a concept Xi Jinping apparently first raised in a meeting with leaders from South and Central America in July 2014].
At this new historical juncture,in an era of rapid transformation, if our Party wishes to win the [advantage] of initiative and to make new victories in the great struggle, [we] must be ever firm in the “Four Confidences” (四个自信) [NOTE: This is: confidence in [the Party’s] path; confidence in [the Party’s] theory; confidence in the system; and confidence in [Chinese] culture], firmly grasping the characteristics of our country’s development phase, firmly grasping the yearning of the people for beautiful lives. We look forward to this congress, with a broad and far-seeing vision, considering and grasping a series of major challenges facing the future development of our country, [and look forward to it] opening new theoretical horizons, taking new practical steps, leading the whole of the Party and the various peoples of the nation to a new attitude of striving, carrying out the great struggle, building great projects, advancing great deeds, achieving great dreams, steadily advancing socialism with Chinese characteristics.
All great achievements are the result of continued struggle, and all great tasks require moving forward as we build a bridge between the past and the future. Today, we are closer to achieving our goal of the great rejuvenation of the Chinese people than at any stage in our history, and we are more confident than at any period in history that this goal can be achieved.
[We must] realize the first centenary goal of winning a comprehensively well-off society, and for the second centenary goal, starting off on the journey toward the building of a modernized socialism nation, our great Party will move ahead, not veering from our original intentions (不忘初心再出发), bravely bearing this heavy responsibility, guiding the ship of the Chinese peoples great dream through the waves, toward even brighter shores.
We wish the congress full success!