Over the weekend, the China Media Project released the Chinese-language version of co-director Qian Gang’s annual report on Chinese political discourse — his “Discourse Climate Report 2017” — through Taiwan’s Storm Media. For this year’s report, special thanks go to the Robert Bosch Academy in Berlin, where Qian Gang is currently on fellowship.
We will have a full English version of the analysis available soon. Until then, here are a few of the key takeaways from the report.
1. The discourse highlight of the year was the “crowning,” or guanming (冠名), of Xi Jinping in the introduction of his “banner term,” or legacy-marking phrase, which is: “Xi Jinping’s Thought of New Era Socialism with Chinese Characteristics” (習近平新時代中國特色社會主義思想). But Xi Jinping was not just “crowned,” meaning that his name appeared within the formulation of his banner term. The introduction of a “Xi Jinping Thought” — as opposed to a “theory” (like Deng Xiaoping) or “strategy,” or “concept,” marked an unexpected intensity of elevation, arguably putting Xi on parity with Mao Zedong.
2. There were clear and renewed statements in 2017 about the power of the Party and the “core” status of Xi Jinping as the Party’s leader.
3. A clear and continuing downward trend was noted for terms related to political reform.
4. Economic development remains the chief axis and emphasis in political discourse. China’s “principal contradiction,” or zhuyao maodun (主要矛盾), was redefined in Xi’s political report to the 19th Party Congress as “that between unbalanced and inadequate development and the people’s ever-growing needs for a better life” (人民日益增長的美好生活需要和不平衡不充分的發展之間的矛盾).
One of the most important ongoing questions the discourse trends of 2017 pose for 2018 is precisely how the “core” discourse around the personality of Xi Jinping will develop. The fawning language in praise of Xi and his greatness around the 19th Party Congress in October even inspired some expressions of fealty at the local level in China that were eerily reminiscent of the Mao era.
These self-serving local expressions of obedience to Xi were followed by rumors that the Central Party leadership had issued guidelines restricting the use of such phrases. Given language in the Party’s own charter against cults of personality, and related warnings internationally in the wake of the 19th Party Congress, Xi has perhaps been trying to suss out exactly how high his ceiling is. On November 1, the Party released a “Decision” outlining three acceptable phrases that could be used to kiss up to Xi Jinping. They were as follows:
Loved by the entire Party (全党拥护)
Loved and respected by the people (人民爱戴)
Fully worthy and deserving [of core leadership status] (当之无愧)
But not all local leaders, it seems, received the memo. On November 10, 2017, Qianxinan Daily, a local Party newspaper in Guizhou province, referred on its front page to Xi Jinping as “great leader,” or weida lingxiu (伟大领袖). Not long after, however, the digital version of the newspaper was doctored to remove the page in question. In its place (see both pages below) an entirely fictional page layout appeared.