The following preliminary observations on the political report to the 19th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party of China were offered by an expert on Chinese politics who wished not to be identified by their real name. The piece is published under the penname Wu Bing (吴冰). We offer only a partial translation of Wu’s observations here, followed by the original Chinese in full. For accuracy, we refer readers to the original — we thought it was important to get these observations out quickly, and so were translating under time constraints.
My overall assessment is that the political report to the 19th Party Congress is a document bearing the clear mark and brand of Xi Jinping, and that it amounts to a declaration of Xi’s intent to hold on to power for an extended period of time.
Impressions on the theme of the congress and thematic language
Political reports to the congresses of the Chinese Communist Party have declared congress themes clearly from the outset since the 15th National Congress was held in 1997. Statements are typically of the nature of holding high the banner of XXXX. In this respect, the author finds three things of note in this year’s report.
First, the way banner terms are used continues to show differences. The reports to the 15th and 16th congresses talked about “raising high the great banner of Deng Xiaoping Theory,” and from the 17th congress in 2007 this became “raising high the great banner of socialism with Chinese characteristics.” These statements on banner terms run continuously through the 17th, 18th and 19th congresses.
Second, the content of “socialism with Chinese characteristics” has been enlarged. Before the 17th congress, “socialism with Chinese characteristics” was generally prefaced with the words “build” (建设) and “initiate” (开创), and it was followed by words like “task” (事业) and “new phase” (新局面). The report to the 17th congress spoke of “opening up the road of socialism with Chinese characteristics, creating a theoretical system of socialism with Chinese characteristics” (开辟了中国特色社会主义道路,形成了中国特色社会主义理论体系), and the 18th congress report elaborated this to “system of socialism with Chinese characteristics” (中国特色社会主义制度体系). To this, the 19th congress has now added the notion of a “culture” of socialism with Chinese characteristics.
Third, beyond enlargement of the content of socialism with Chinese characteristics, there is an elevation of the status of this phrase in the report. The 17th congress report stated: “The great banner of socialism with Chinese characteristics is a banner of development and progress for China, a banner of unity and struggle for the entire Party and the entire country.” The 18th congress report said: “The path concerns the lifeline of the Party, concerns the future prospects of the country, the fate of the nation, the prosperity of the people. . . . For 90 years, our Party . . . . has created and developed socialism with Chinese characteristics, fundamentally changing the prospects and fate of the Chinese people and the Chinese nation.”
The 19th congress report says: “Through long striving socialism with Chinese characteristics has reached a new era; this is a new historical position in the development of our country. Socialism with Chinese characteristics entering a new era . . . . means that scientific socialism shines with vitality and opportunity in the 21st century, that the great banner of socialism with Chinese characteristics is held high in the world; it means that the path, theory, system and culture of socialism with Chinese characteristics constantly develops and expands the path by which developing nations can progress toward modernization, giving those countries and peoples in the world an entirely new choice as they hope to accelerate their development and maintain their own independence, providing Chinese knowledge and Chinese solutions to the problems facing humanity.”
So we see that the status of socialism with Chinese characteristics has been upgraded — from being the lifeline of the Party and the fate of the people, to a global movement of scientific socialism, to a matter finally of the progress of developing nations and even a solution to the problems facing humanity.
I’ll make two further observations concerning the thematic language opening the report. First, we should note that the language about “the great rejuvenation of the Chinese people” appears in much more prominent position as part of the opening section propounding the theme of the congress. This phrase first appeared in the report to the 17th congress, but in the main body of the report. At the 18th congress, it appeared again, this time in a section explaining the themes of the congress. Second, we should note that the notion of the “Chinese dream” is added to the language in the 19th congress report, yielding the phrase, “tirelessly struggling to realize the Chinese dream of the great rejuvenation of the Chinese people.” In this passage, the “Chinese dream” gets its first appearance in a political report. The “Chinese dream” is one of a small number of phrases that make first appearances in this political report. Another is “not forgetting our original intentions” (不忘初心).
We must remark the fact that in the 19th congress report, this language about original intentions and missions bears unmistakable hints of nationalism (民族主义色彩). The language I refer to specifically is: “The original intention and mission of the Chinese Communist Party is to seek prosperity for the Chinese people, and to seek the rejuvenation of the Chinese nation” (中国共产党人的初心和使命,就是为中国人民谋幸福,为中华民族谋复兴).
Impressions Concerning the Language Describing the “Overall Situation” (全局) 
These types of phrase in the political report include: “New Era” (新时代); “The Thought of New Era Socialism With Chinese Characteristics” (新时代中国特色社会主义思想); “the leadership of the Party” (党的领导); “transformation of the principal contradictions in our country” (我国主要矛盾转化) 我国国主要矛盾转化). I’ll address these one by one.
New Era
On its surface, this phrasing doesn’t provide much in the way of information — so we need to look at its placement and context within the report. In my view, the raising of “new era” in the 19th congress report is to make clear that a line can be drawn distinguishing the leadership period since the 19th congress and after the 19th congress, essentially accentuating its historical status and historical purpose.
Looking at theoretical formulations of the CCP in the past, we notice that the Party at its most senior levels not only interprets eras in light of domestic circumstances, but more importantly in light of the trends shaping the development of human civilization (人类文明) more broadly in the world. After the Party came to power in China in 1949, Mao Zedong held that the world was in the midst of an era of revolution and war, and the notion that “class struggle is the guiding principle” (阶级斗争为纲) wove through every aspect of the work of the Party-state. During the Cultural Revolution, we saw slogans like, “preparing for war and natural disaster” (备战备荒), and “digging the tunnels deep, keeping vast stores of grain” (深挖洞广积粮) — the entire ethos of the era being one of impending calamity for which China must be prepared.
When Deng Xiaoping introduced economic reforms, the Party’s priorities were transferred to the economy, and one important precondition of this was Deng’s view that Mao had made a strategic error in judging the era. In the late 1970s, Deng Xiaoping’s judgement was that this was “an era of peace and development” (和平与发展的时代), that a third world war was unlikely, and that China must seize this historic opportunity to develop itself. From this point on, the reports at successive congresses and other major political meetings tended to emphasize that while the situation in the world was complex, we were still living through “an era of peace and development,” and the Party’s basic line must be followed.
In the 19th congress report, the notion of a “new era” is based essentially on changes inside China, and doesn’t involve a reading of changes in “human civilization” or global trends. We see the idea basically that after 40 years of economic reform, China’s economy and society have made remarkable gains, and now China’s development is at a new point where it faces new contradictions, new situations and new problems. In my view, given the justifications in the report, the word “phase” might have been a more accurate characterization. But of course, talk of a “new phase” would likely have been insufficiently strong to match the idea of a new thought of socialism with Chinese characteristics. “Era” and “phase” are hugely different. Theories are derived from practice, but eras give birth to thoughts. [NOTE: talk of a “new era,” in other words, lends much more gravity to Xi Jinping’s banner term, his own refinement/enlargement of “socialism with Chinese characteristics”].
Thought of New Era Socialism With Chinese Characteristics (新时代中国特色社会主义新思想)
The 19th congress report offers an explanation of the “New Thought of New Era Socialism With Chinese Characteristics” (新时代中国特色社会主义新思想). The report says that the “new thought” must answer the question: “What kind of socialism with Chinese characteristics must be upheld and developed, and how can socialism with Chinese characteristics be upheld and developed?” The principal content of the “new thought” are the so-called “8 Clearlies” (8个明确), and later there is mention too of the “14 Adheres” (14个坚持). My overall sense is that this “new thought” has not reached a theoretical apex, but is mostly right now a set of thoughts and statements on the national situation, tasks, missions, objectives, steps and demands. Its main emphasis is on arranging tasks, and most of it is providing direction. It lacks analysis and exposition on larger historical principles. While it definitely has some significance in terms of guidance, I’m afraid it cannot avoid, owing to its exhausted reservoir of ideas, the familiar problems of loss of direction, wavering and vacillation.
This “New Thought of New Era Socialism With Chinese Characteristics” is the soul of the 19th congress report. It is also forms the root and basis for future actions in specific areas such as the economy, politics, society and culture, ecological civilization, Hong Kong and Taiwan affairs, foreign affairs, the military and the Party.
The Leadership of the Party
The leadership of the Party is a principle that the Chinese Communist Party cannot and will not allow to be shaken. This is a principle that has been reaffirmed at every successive party congress through history. What is quite astonishing about the report to the 19th Party Congress is that we see the return of a phrase we have not seen since the Mao era: “Party, government, military, people and education, east, west, south and north, the Party leads everything” (党政军民学,东西南北中,党是领导一切的). This amounts to the resurrection of language from the Maoist era. Deng Xiaoping was very clear from the outset of reforms that strengthening the leadership of the Party would have to first mean improving the leadership of the Party, and this idea was emphasized repeatedly. The language in the report to the 13th congress in 1987 was especially explicit about this in its content about political system reforms (政治体制改革). The report to the 16th congress too talked about reforming and improving the Party’s methods of leadership and governance.
This language is not carried forward in the report to the 19th congress. If we take the language in successive Party congress reports together for comparison, we notice something quite noteworthy in the 19th congress report. While upholding and strengthening the leadership of the Party remains a fundamental and consistent position, the 19th congress report diverges from reports of recent decades on the question of why and how the Party leads — and there are indications, it seems, of a return to the Mao era.
Transformation of the Principal Contradictions of Our Country 
The political report to the 13th congress in 1987 offered a reaffirmation of the Party’s conclusions at the 8th congress concerning the principal contradictions of Chinese society, saying: “The chief contradiction we face at the present stage is the ever-growing material and cultural needs of the people versus backward social production.” The report to the 19th congress said: “Socialism with Chinese characteristics has entered a new era, and the principal contradiction of society in our country has been transformed into a contradiction between steady advancing lifestyles and unequal and inadequate development.” This expression has new meaning, and it provides practical space for future deepening of reforms. If this notion of principal contradictions is hardened into a formal expression, it might come to serve as an ideological guide to promote and legitimise attempts to deep reforms in different areas.

19大报告提出的“新时代”,基本上立足于国内的变化,而不涉及对当今人类文明发展潮流的分析和对世界大势走向的判断。即,经过将近四十年的改革开放,中国经济社会取得了长足的发展进步,中国发展既处在新的节点上又面对一系列新矛盾新情况新问题。就此,笔者以为“新时代”的论断依据并不充分,说是“新阶段”更为恰当一些。当然,比之“新时代”,假如提“新阶段”,显然要与“中国特色社会主义新思想”匹配,似乎份量不够。时代和阶段有着很大的不同。理论来自于实践,时代是思想之母。不同的时代面对许多重大的甚至带根本性的不同问题,由此因时代主题不同而在实践中产生相对自成体系的新思想是可能的。而“新阶段”仅仅是一个历史过程中的某个时间段,尽管会出现新情况新特点,但因为没有走出那个历史过程,历史本身还不会出现本质不同的新情况新现象,也就不可能提出与此前截然不同的全新问题。由历史和实践本身所限,人们面对新情况可以深化对问题的认识与思考,但似乎难以形成一个具有不同时代主题的相对独立的思想体系。鉴于此,将实际中的“新阶段”说成是“新时代”, 尽管在一定程度上是出于某种需要而苦心构建的结果,但很可能因为立基不稳,降低党内外对“新时代中国特色社会主义新思想”的接受度和信服度。
回顾党的历次代表大会,1987年党的十三大报告首次提出“党的自身建设也必须进行改革,以适应改革开放的新形势”;1994年江泽民在全国农村基层党建会议上提出以“改革创新的精神加强党的基层组织建设”。此后“以改革创新精神加强党的建设”逐步在党建各个方面扩展,直至明确写入17 大报告。“以改革创新的精神加强党的建设”作为党的建设的重要指导思想延续十年,对党的建设产生了很好的积极推动作用,现在这一提法戛然而止,其在党的建设理论和实践上可能产生的后续效应有待观察。
一般说来,标题性语词都意味着党在某一方面工作的核心指导思想。“以改革创新精神全面推进党的建设伟大工程”和 “全面提高党的建设科学化水平”分别作为中共17大和18 大报告党的建设部分标题,既是相互联系和递进的关系,表明改革正向中共自身推进和深化,既显示出开明开放、努力顺应时代要求的政党形象,又推动党的建设理念逐步发展更新,给执政党自身增添新的活力。但十九大报告摒弃了这一新的党建理念。


CMP Staff

The China Media Project

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