dance,” or zhongziwu (忠字舞), was a
collective dance that became prevalent during the Cultural Revolution, at a
time when Mao Zedong and his image reigned supreme over all aspects of life in
China. The dancers, grasping their copies of the “little red book,” Quotations
From Chairman Mao, would dance, leap and shout to the impassioned ring of
the music – all to express their boundless loyalty to the Chairman.
older Chinese may remember from that time, related to the loyalty dance, is the
“Three Loyalties” (三忠于): loyalty to Chairman Mao; loyalty to Mao
Zedong Thought; loyalty to Chairman Mao’s revolutionary line. It is tempting to
think of the loyalty dance and the “Three Loyalties”
as relics of China’s political past. But in
fact, there are unmistakable echoes in the present.
How, in Xi
Jinping’s so-called “New Era,” does one dance the loyalty dance?
Last month, CMP
wrote about how the top leader in the city of Wuhan stirred up trouble as he
tried to signal
his “gratitude” toward Xi Jinping, suggesting that the people of Wuhan,
then still in recovering from the coronavirus epidemic, should undergo
“gratitude education.” This leader, Wang Zhonglin, was
previously the top Party official in the city of Jinan in Shandong province,
and when official media recently reported the news of Wang’s replacement taking
up his post, certain words caught my eye.
provincial Party secretary praised Wang Zhonglin’s replacement in Jinan, we had
a pair of loyalties: “He is loyal to the Party,” said Shangdong Secretary
Liu Jiayi (刘家义), “and loyal to the General Secretary.”
did the music start in this present-day loyalty dance?
After Xi Jinping
came to power, the word “loyalty” was, at least on the surface, applied to the
Party and not to any individual. Xi said
during his first five-year term: “Absolute loyalty to the party lies in the
word ‘absolute’, which is the only, thorough, unconditional, uncontaminated,
and undiluted loyalty.” Xi is of course unlikely to talk himself of the need to
be loyal to himself; signaling the need for such expressions of loyalty is
something that can be left to others at the top of the CCP.
But as Xi consolidated
power at the top and emphasized the need for loyalty to the Party, Li Hongzhong
(李鸿忠), the top leader
in the municipality of Tianjin, offered what could be considered the most
innovative (and perhaps humorous) rendition of the loyalty equation:
“If loyalty is not absolute, then it is absolutely not loyalty,” he said.
2016, as the Party held its 6th Plenum, Xi Jinping’s status as the “core,”
or hexin (核心) became definitive, an unmistakable sign of his
solidified position. In fact, the writing had been on the wall through much of
2016, and local leaders correspondingly signalled their loyalty. In February
2016, Chen Quanguo (陈全国), then Party secretary of the Tibet Autonomous
Region, led the way, introducing
the phrase “firmly protecting, supporting and remaining loyal to the core
that is General Secretary Xi Jinping.”
After the 6th
Plenum a slew of different phrases denoting loyalty to Xi cropped up in the
Party media. These included:
“Trusting the core in thought, loyal to the core politically, loving
the core emotionally, and maintaining the core in action.” – vice-governor of Qinghai
province Zhang Guangrong (张光荣), appearing
in the Qinghai
Daily on November 24, 2016
“Clean, and loyal to General Secretary
Xi Jinping.” – Pan Wujun (潘武俊), political commissar of the Ningxia
Military Region, appearing in Ningxia Daily
on January 11, 2017
“To General Secretary Xi Jinping,
absolute loyalty and pure loyalty.” – Jilin Party
Secretary Bayanqolu, appearing in Jilin Daily on January 11,
“Loyalty to the Party, loyalty to the
General Secretary.” – spoken first by a forestry official in Jilin province, appearing
in the Yichun Daily on December 22, 2017
use of the “two loyalties” (两个忠诚) as he
introduced the new leader in Jinan is only the latest example. But so far, the “two
loyalties” and related phrases have not yet appeared in the People’s Daily.
The loyalty dance is not yet a national dance, and whether it will become so
remains to be seen.
speaking, the Chinese Communist Party has three attitudes toward political
slogans and key phrases. The first is to welcome and promote slogans, encouraging
their use, which applies to mainstream CCP phrases like “Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism
with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era,” the “two protections,” or “Belt and
Road.” The second attitude is to prevent or restrict the use of certain
phrases, particularly those regarded as sensitive, including “judicial
independence,” “freedom of speech,” and so on. These are often blocked
outright, prohibited from appearing in the media or online.
are those terms on which the Party’s attitude might be characterized as ambiguous.
These are words or phrases that can, depending on context, be regarded as either
sensitive or non-sensitive. In the Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao eras, for example,
terms like “constitutionalism” and “civil society” were not necessarily
regarded as negative, and could be found in the media (particularly the
commercial media), but these terms were never used by top leaders, and they
could seldom if ever be found in the flagship People’s Daily. Since
terms have been more explicitly designated as unacceptable, and have
virtually disappeared from use in the media.
At the other
end of the ambiguity spectrum are terms of praise or positivity that run the
danger of being unseemly owing to historical associations or the potential for blowback.
One of the most classic recent examples might be “great leader Xi Jinping” (伟大领袖习近平), a phrase that appeared
in at least one local newspaper but was subsequently removed.
The phrase “loyalty
to the Party, loyalty to the General Secretary” can be regarded as an ambiguous
phrase under the current political environment, meaning that, though positive
from the standpoint of CCP leaders, it does not appear in the People’s Daily
or high-level speeches or other documents. But local officials know, at the
same time, that there is little or no risk for them in shouting the phrase to
the heavens, which might actually put them in good favour with senior
Liu Jiayi, the
Party secretary of Shandong province, knows this principle only too well, which
is no doubt why he chose to express his loyalty to Xi Jinping and the CCP while
inviting a new city leader to his post.
Nor is this Liu’s
first time going beyond the call of duty to shower praise on Xi Jinping.
Shortly after the 19th National Congress in October 2017, the CCP issued
a notice standardizing the discourse of praise for Xi, okaying the use of “a leader
cherished by the whole Party, loved and respected by the people, and worthy of
the title” (全党拥护, 人民爱戴, 当之无愧). But even this moderated phrase, designed to tone down the parade of
unctuous accolades for Xi, was soon withdrawn amid concerns of the emergence of
a personality cult around the general secretary.
Liu Jiayi was determined to keep the adulation going. He spoke of Xi Jinping as
“the staunch core, wise leader and great commander” (坚强核心, 英明领袖, 伟大统帅), the last of
this trinity redolent of the title “commander”
given in the pre-reform era to Mao Zedong.
So far, Liu Jiayi
is in a league of his own when it comes to dancing the loyalty dance. Since
January 2020, the country has focused on fighting the coronavirus. When we search
newspapers over the past few months, we find Liu is the only leader in the
country openly signalling loyalty to Xi Jinping. Liu’s remarks appeared only
in Dazhong Daily, Shandong’s official Party mouthpiece, the newspaper
directly under Secretary Liu’s thumb, and a few other local Party papers – though
they were included in several online sources
(including on the People’s Daily news app, shown below).
there are no signs anywhere else in China’s official Party media of phrases of obeisance
such as “loyal to General Secretary Xi” (对习总书记忠诚), “loyal to General Secretary Xi Jinping” (对习近平总书记忠诚), “loyal to the General Secretary” (忠诚于总书记), “treating General Secretary Xi with loyalty” (忠诚于习总书记) and so on.
In this “New Era,” will the loyalty dance become as popular as it was during the Cultural Revolution? As we observe Chinese politics, this is another interesting question to bear in mind, looking for signs of the dance in the ever-shifting discourse of the Party.