On December 2, Xinhua News Agency issued a lengthy official news release with a ponderous headline that included two Chinese Communist Party buzzwords meant to signal the power of General Secretary Xi Jinping. But there was a problem.
The headline, seen in the screen capture below, read in full: “Casting the Soul of the Army Under the Banner of the Party: A General Narrative of the Entire Army Supporting the Use of Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era and Xi Jinping Thought on a Strong Military to Shape the Soul [of the Army] and Educate [Soldiers].”
Last night, the Xinhua article was given further prominence as it was summarized on the nightly official news cast, Xinwen Lianbo (新闻联播). This was a clear sign of official support for the article, which outlined Xi Jinping’s ideas about the importance of “realizing the Party’s goal of building a strong military in the new era.” The Xinwen Lianbo report included the full headline of the article onscreen.
In all, the Xinhua release mentioned the phrase “Xi Jinping Thought on a Strong Military” (习近平强军思想) eight times. Of these, five uses combined the phrase with Xi’s banner term (旗帜语), the political catchphrase meant to subsume all of his ideas and stand as the monument to his legacy. Like the headline of the article itself, these five instances talked about “Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era and Xi Jinping Thought on a Strong Military” (习近平新时代中国特色社会主义思想和习近平强军思想).
By the laws of CCP discourse – remembering that in the formulation of language at the highest levels, nothing is taken lightly – this should be a serious error on the part of Xinhua, and then again on the part of CCTV.
As we have previously written, Xi’s banner term, “Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era” (习近平新时代中国特色社会主义思想), which first appeared in October 2017 at the 19th National Congress of the CCP, is on a winding path toward formalization as the shortened and more potent “Xi Jinping Thought” (习近平思想), putting Xi on par with Mao Zedong. Despite some rather careless and premature references in academic literature and mainstream news reports outside China to “Xi Jinping Thought,” it is worth remembering that “Xi Jinping Thought” has in fact not yet emerged, not formally, and this is a distinction that certainly has not escaped Xi and his acolytes at senior levels, who are busy trying to achieve this transformation.
“Xi Jinping Thought” is the end game, and when we see the emergence of a host of subordinate permutations of Xi thoughts in various policy areas, including “Xi Jinping Thought on a Strong Military” and “Xi Jinping Thought on Diplomacy” (习近平外交思想), these are meant to help pave the way toward “Xi Jinping Thought.” Think of it as a rhetorical game of crossing the river by feeling the stones. In 2018, at least 10 such sub-forms of Xi thought appeared in official sources.
But the point of Xi Jinping’s banner term is to subsume all of Xi’s ideas. There is meant to be one banner, the umbrella phrase under which all lesser banners fly. And any suggestion of equivalence between the lesser thoughts and their parent phrase would serve to diminish the gravity of “Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era.” This is the serious problem in the Xinhua article, the “and” drawing an equivalence between Xi’s banner term and “Xi Jinping Thought on a Strong Military.”
The term “Xi Jinping Thought on a Strong Military” appears in military-related sources, such as the People’s Liberation Army Daily, but is generally marked as being subordinate to the overarching banner term. When Party media in China reported on the release last month of the “People’s Liberation of China Joint Operation Outline (中国人民解放军联合作战纲要), they stressed that “the ‘Outline’ is guided by Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism With Chinese Characteristics for the New Era, and thoroughly implements Xi Jinping Thought on a Strong Military.”
The proper juxtaposition of these two phrases should have been something more like: “ . . . with Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era as the guide, thoroughly implementing Xi Jinping Thought on a Strong Military” (以习近平新时代中国特色社会主义思想为指导, 深入贯彻习近平强军思想).
How did this low-level error happen at Xinhua? How was it perpetuated on the official nightly news program? This is difficult to know. But how these terms appear together in the future will be something to continue watching.