Composite of screenshot of top banner on the website of Seeking Truth and the publication’s official logo, the characters originally penned by Deng Xiaoping in 1988.
the Chinese Communist Party’s bi-monthly theoretical journal, rang in the New Year
on January 1 with a headline piece from the most
prominent political contributor possible – none other than General Secretary Xi
Jinping. The article, “Working Together to Build a Community of Shared Destiny
for Mankind” (共同构建人类命运共同体), was
addressed to an audience of international diplomats. “Ladies, gentlemen and
friends,” it began.
with the topic of international cooperation at the start of a new year, and
following a year full of rancor over trade, technology, Covid-19 and other
concerns, Xi’s article seemed to point toward a more neighborly future. Its publication
was apparently big news as well. All of China’s mainstream media – the word
“mainstream,” or zhuliu (主流),
referring in a Chinese context specifically to Party-state media – reported on the
General Secretary’s “important article” in Seeking Truth.
who follow Chinese politics closely could not fail to notice something odd. In
fact, Xi’s article in Seeking Truth, speaking so hopefully of the
future, was a relic from the past. It was a reprinting of the speech he delivered
four years earlier, on January 18, 2017, at the United Nations
headquarters in Geneva.
Jinping’s January 1 article clues us in to an important and interesting change
that has unfolded at Seeking Truth over the past two years – the
apotheosis of Xi himself within a core Party journal as a reflection of his
Xi on Repeat
closer at Xi Jinping’s headline appearances in Seeking Truth, we find
that from 2013 up to now, the journal has published 68 of his speeches. But
this regular arrangement was apparently not formed until the end of 2018,
before which time only about two or three articles per year from Xi had
appeared in Seeking Truth.
start of 2019, Xi has provided the lead article in every single issue of the
Party journal, without exception. The following graph plots the total number of
articles with Xi Jinping’s byline appearing in Seeking Truth each year
since 2013, his first full year as general secretary.
numbers also include one special case, an issue of the journal in which three of
Xi’s speeches appeared back to back, right at the top of the table of contents.
This issue was released on September 30, 2020, on the eve of China’s National
the National Day articles published in the September 30 issue of Seeking
Truth were drawn from current or recent speeches. All of them, in fact, had
been delivered for the 70th anniversary of the founding of the
People’s Republic of China in 2019, the first two speeches at major
commemorative events, the third an address to honor
“outstanding people” (杰出人士)
who were deemed to have made major contributions to the nation.
speeches do not just appear in the publication as ornamental flourishes, or as
routine nods to the leader’s ideas. They are meant to lead and set the tone for
each issue, placing Xi himself at the center of the Party’s theoretical life. Following
the central Xi article at the top of the table of contents are supporting
articles, usually commentaries selected by the editorial office, that interpret
the topic concerned and provide supporting materials.
The January 1 edition of Seeking
Truth, for example, deals chiefly with China’s international role,
centering on the Xi-era foreign policy concept of “building a community of shared
destiny for mankind,” or renlei mingyun gongtongti (人类命运共同体), which first
emerged the political report to the 18th
National Congress of the CCP in November 2012,
delivered by Hu Jintao but having a strong imprint of Xi’s policy priorities. A
hint of the phrase appeared in the 2007 political report by Hu
Jintao, as the phrase “community of shared destiny” (命运共同体) was used to refer
to relations between the PRC and Taiwan. Since September 28, 2015, when Xi Jinping
addressed the United
Nations General Assembly (text in Chinese) and
spoke of the need to “forge a new partnership of win-win cooperation and a
community of shared future for mankind,” the phrase has been central to China’s
insistence that in the pursuit of its own development it seeks to promote the common peaceful
development of all countries.
the Chinese notion of a “community of shared destiny for mankind” has had a mixed reception
globally, and we can see some signs of this is the question of
the translation of the phrase itself. Note that in the English translation of
the UN speech above, the phrase appears as “community of shared future,”
avoiding the reference to “destiny,” or mingyun (命运), which remains
closer to the Chinese original. In fact, earlier references in English to Xi’s
foreign policy phrases used the word “destiny,” as when Xi Jinping addressed Indonesia’s
parliament in October 2013. “Destiny” appears again in this December 2013
speech by Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi.
January 1, 2021, issue of Seeking Truth, Xi’s 2017 Geneva speech is
meant to inspire a deeper elaboration of the “community of shared destiny” as
the core of China’s foreign policy, now under the flying banner of “Xi Jinping
Thought on Diplomacy” (习近平外交思想). Xi’s “article” is followed by a contribution from the
journal’s editorial office on the “China plan” (中国方案) as a means of
breaking through the world’s problems and challenges, and another from Yang Jiechi, a
Politburo member who chairs the Central Commission for Foreign Affairs.
a May 2020 issue of Seeking Truth ran as a signature article a 2019
speech called “Concerning the Problem of Addressing Weaknesses in Building a
Moderately Prosperous Society,” chosen to underscore the CCP goal of achieving
a so-called moderately prosperous society during the first half
of 2021. This was followed by an editorial office
article called “Running the ‘Last Mile’ Toward Full Building of
a Moderately Prosperous Society,” which summarized the main points of Xi’s
speech and addressed related trends in 2020.
Jinping’s contributions as Seeking Truth’s headline columnist are also
treated, as previously mentioned, as major official news events. On each day
that corresponds to the release of a new issue of the journal, the People’s
Daily generally highlights the general secretary’s “important article” on its
front page, in a prominent position. The front page below, from the January 2,
2021, edition of the People’s Daily, shows Xi’s article just below the
masthead. The headline reads: “’Seeking Truth’ Journal Issues Important Article
by General Secretary Xi: Working Together to Build a Community of Shared
Destiny for Mankind.”
As Xi has
come to dominate Seeking Truth, appearances by other members of the
Politburo Standing Committee (PSC) have occurred less frequently – a trend at
odds with what we could observe in the Hu Jintao era.
period from 2003 to 2012, Hu Jintao speeches published as articles in Seeking
Truth each year were consistently four or less, making for a total of just
24, less than half that of Xi Jinping in just eight years. In Hu’s time, a top
spot was always reserved in the first issue each year for a speech by Hu
Jintao, and from 2013 Xi Jinping initially kept to this tradition. But aside
from Hu, other PSC members at that time could be readily seen in the pages of
the journal – including Wu Bangguo, Wen Jiabao, Jia Qinglin, Li Changchun, and
to the Jiang Zemin era, Jiang’s own appearances in Seeking Truth are
similar in frequency to Hu Jintao. The difference is that there appears to be
no rule or regularity to Jiang’s articles. In many cases, they are associated
with major events, and in that sense they are tied more closely to the news
Of the two
Jiang speeches that appeared in the journal in 1999, for example, the first
deals with the NATO bombing of the
Chinese embassy in Belgrade, Yugoslavia, and the other addresses
the 50th anniversary of the founding of the PRC.
only one case when two Jiang Zemin speeches appeared in a single issue. This
was in 1997, and both dealt with Hong Kong’s return to China on July 1 of that
year – both speeches having been delivered on the same day in Beijing and Hong
Kong, and both printed the next day in the People’s Daily.
no doubt that no top leader in modern China since Mao Zedong has had his
thoughts and theories as strongly publicized as Xi Jinping. And a look at the
frequency of top-leader contributions to Seeking Truth is a strong
visual illustration of this fact.
Even as the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted economic development in China, it has not upset the continued consolidation of Xi’s status as the absolute center of an increasingly centralized system.