When you are the leader of a political party that has unchallenged rule over a powerful authoritarian state, it’s your prerogative, for better or worse, to decide what is and isn’t history. On day three of the 19th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party, we can read just about everywhere in China’s official state media about how President Xi Jinping’s report and its boldly articulated ideas have brought us to a pivotal moment in history.
Just listen to this writer, Xiao Yu (晓夕), in a commentary run prominently at People’s Daily Online. Xiao seems on the verge of sublimating — and this is just the opening paragraph:
On October 18, 2017, a day that will be fixed and forever remembered in history, the entire Party and the entire nation held their breath in rapt attention, hanging on every word of the 19th report read by General Secretary Xi Jinping. The China Path and China Solution, as contributions to the journey of human civilization toward modernization — Xi Jinping’s Thought on New Era Socialism With Chinese Characteristics, for the first time came concretely and comprehensively into the world, appearing distinctly.
We might have a good chuckle at Xiao’s expense. But beyond the obvious sycophancy we should hear something else in this commentary bearing the gasping title, “Striding Forward Under the Guidance of Xi Jinping’s Thought on New Era Socialism With Chinese Characteristics.” (That, by the way, is one of a growing number of headlines these past two days using Xi Jinping’s new banner term, or qizhiyu (旗帜语), which I’ve bolded.)
A guiding “thought” attached to the name of a top Chinese leader is something we have not seen since the days of Mao Zedong. Note this propaganda poster from the 1960s, which bears the slogan: “Advance Courageously Under the Guidance of the Red Flag of Mao Zedong Thought” (在毛泽东思想红旗指引下, 奋勇前进). Source: Thomas Fischer, Flickr.com.
What we should hear, and what we should consider very seriously, is the fact that Xi Jinping’s banner term, the phrase meant to be the quintessence of his governing vision, is marching out into the world.
This is something quite noteworthy if we look back on the history of banner terms emerging from other Chinese leaders in the reform era. None of these — not “Deng Xiaoping Theory,” not Jiang Zemin’s “Three Represents,” nor Hu Jintao’s “Scientific View of Development” — was ever presented so manifestly, or at all, as a vision for not just China but for the entire world.
The banner of “Xi Jinping Thought” (and that is almost surely what his phrase will become in short order, bespeaking Mao-like power) is marching out into the world. And all of us, we are told, huddled in our underdeveloped nations or our failing democracies, should flock to the Chinese standard, under which Xi Jinping offers a steady hand.
“Humanity is entering a new era,” writes the author of the People’s Daily Online commentary, “in which technologies constantly emerge, in which challenges constantly pile up, in which there is unequal development among nations, and in which regional confrontation grows ever more severe.”
At such a moment in history, the appearance of Xi Jinping’s solution, dubbed often as the “China Solution,” is an “event of milestone importance” (to continue with the writer’s unguent language). There is the sense that China has, at last, stood up, and even perhaps transcended its sense of victimhood. But the victories, of course, are not Xi’s alone. The writer persists:
This political party which has been called “the most innovative team in history” (史上最强创业团队), in this eastern nation that for more than a century was poor and weak, has brought changes for 1.3 billion people that make the heart leap, earth-shattering changes . . . As everyone everywhere listened to this report, they quietly became participants, observers, witnesses, and even more beneficiaries, of this major historical turning point.
Why, the writer asks, does Xi Jinping’s Thought on New Era Socialism With Chinese Characteristics merit the attention of the world? Because the “rich and great deeds of the past five years have demonstrated that this thought [of Xi Jinping’s] is ‘reliable,’ effective, and full of boundless potential.”
China’s annual GDP growth rate of 7.2 percent during the 2013-2016 period, argues Xiao, contributed roughly 30 percent of the global economy (对世界经济平均贡献率达到30%). Moreover, through its “courage and intelligence,” the Chinese Communist Party has resolved many old problems such as corruption, its “striking both tigers and flies” strategy offering “a new proverb and a new plan.” The CCP, in short, has figured it out — though one should take a long moment to ponder what exactly it might look like if countries with rule of law, or without, resort to the “tigers and flies” plan.
None of this is very new in one sense. Scholars like Daniel Bell have argued the merits of The China Model for years, and plenty of scholars, pundits and politicians have essentially defended Xiao’s fawning idea that the CCP is “the most innovative team in history.”
But these ideas are now codified at the very top in the banner term for the most powerful CCP leader in three generations. So I suggest we pause from our adulation, pull away from Tencent’s “Clap for Xi Jinping” app, and keep our wits about us. This is going to be a long ride.