Image of Xi Jinping by VOA, available at Wikimedia Commons under CC license.

In the communique released yesterday by the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), there are plenty of points of substance that might be unpacked — about the “integrating of development and security,” the implication of “patriots governing Hong Kong,” the fight against Covid-19, and so on.

But the central melody, woven throughout the text, is the unassailable role of Xi Jinping as general secretary of the CCP, and of Xi’s governing concepts for the future of the nation. While these may sound one and the same, the dualism of the man and his concepts is a crucial point to grasp just days away from the opening of the 20th National Congress of the CCP.

It may be tempting to focus on the mechanics, on the likely makeup of the Politburo Standing Committee (PSC), possible amendments to the Party Charter, and so on. But Xi Jinping’s ambitions transcend such matters. To gain sufficient worldly power as the “core” of the Party, clearing the way for his agendas over the coming decade, Xi Jinping’s ideas must also be seen to have sufficient spiritual power.

This is where the dualism of Xi’s status comes in. On the one hand, there is the “core status” (核心地位) of Xi as general secretary. On the other, there is the “leading status” (指导地位) of his ideas. This is a balance that Party propagandists have signaled repeatedly in recent months through the so-called “Two Establishes,” a phrase that emerged at the Sixth Plenum in November 2021, along with a resolution on CCP history that put Xi solidly at the center.

The “Two Establishes” dualism is crystal clear in the language that dominates the midpoint of the communique this week (my emphasis and notation of the pairing):

The meeting emphasized that the major achievements of the Party and the government in the five years since the 19th National Congress of the CCP have been obtained by the whole Party and the various peoples of the whole nation through unity and struggle [1] under the leadership of the CCP Central Committee with comrade Xi Jinping as the core, and [2] under the direction of Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for the New Era. The Party’s [1] establishment of comrade Xi Jinping as the core of the Central Committee, with core status within the whole Party, and its [2] establishment of the leading status of Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for the New Era, expresses the common wish of the entire Party, the entire military and the various peoples of the whole nation, and has decisive significance for the development of the objectives of Party and the state in the new era and for the advancement of the historical process of the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.

Immediately after this long-form rendering of the “Two Establishes,” the concept is repeated in shortened form:

The whole Party must deeply understand the [1+2] decisive significance of the ‘Two Establishes,’ enhance the ‘Four Consciousnesses,’ be firm in the ‘Four Confidences,’ and achieve the ‘Two Safeguards,’ uniting more closely around the CCP Central Committee with Comrade Xi Jinping as the core, fully implementing Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for the New Era . . . .

The repetitiveness of the language in these passages is core to what it is intended to convey — the drumbeat of Xi’s political dominance. Unpack associated buzzwords like the “Four Consciousnesses” and the “Two Safeguards” (the first to protect the “core”) and the same basic meanings emerge, the emphasis on Xi as the “core” of the Party and the fountainhead of the ideas propelling it into the glorious future.

Behind the “Two Establishes” is the notion of Xi as the political embodiment of a tradition of thought reaching deep into the historical roots of the CCP’s legitimacy. If that sounds like hyperbole, consider this passage from an official commentary released by Xinhua News Agency back in July, which depicted Xi’s ideas as the culmination of two centuries of profound intellectual ferment that began in 1818 with the birth of Karl Marx in the German city of Trier:

Originating with a red seed in the small German city of Trier, taking root in a vast land in the east of the world, weathering the wind, rain, and snow of the great experiences of the Chinese revolution, [national] construction and reform, drawing on the nutrients of China’s excellent traditional culture, a fruit has been produced that contains the spirit of China and the essence of the times — Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era.

As the communique itself says, these are times of uncertainty. But the sense that modern Chinese history — and even world history — is converging in a resplendent moment of historical return (the “great rejuvenation”), focused on the spirit-person of Xi Jinping, will likely define the mood of the upcoming 20th National Congress.

Arguably more important than all other matters of substance is the question of what imprint this mood of adulation will leave on politics in China for months and years to come.

David Bandurski

CMP Director

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