It's all about Xi's Centenary Speech

Before I begin, I’d like to share two things. First, my first book, Smokeless War: China’s Quest for Geopolitical Dominance, is now available for purchase. Do check it out here.

In a nutshell, the book offers an account of the Communist Party of China’s political, diplomatic and narrative responses during the pandemic. I’ve drawn on academic research, scholarly frameworks, and lots of official Chinese sources to talk about the story of 2020 within the context of the Party–State’s efforts to achieve greater discourse power and political primacy.

Second, I’d like to share my take on the CCP@100, which was published in the Hindustan Times today.

And now, here are the stories and pieces from the People’s Daily’s July 2, 2021, edition that I found noteworthy.

Page 1: The front page today is basically about yesterday’s celebrations and Xi’s speech. There’s very little text, as you can see in the picture above. But let’s look at the only story that then runs onto the next page.

Xinhua English too has the details: It tells us that Xi delivered a nationally-televised speech from Tiananmen Rostrum before a 70,000-strong crowd. The historic event also witnessed a chorus of Party songs, a flypast of fighter jets and helicopters, a 100-gun salute, and a flag-raising ceremony.

I’ll discuss Xi’s speech below, but for the moment, the PD story tells us that he spoke about how the Party had “united and led” the people over 100 years, and expressed confidence regarding and determination to achieve the goal of socialist modernisation. The next paragraph basically makes this point:

“‘This means that we have brought about a historic resolution to the problem of absolute poverty in China, and we are now marching in confident strides toward the second centenary goal of building China into a great modern socialist country in all respects,’ Xi said.” And as the PD story adds: “This is the great glory of the Chinese nation, this is the great glory of the Chinese people, this is the great glory of the Communist Party of China.”

The PD story then discusses the day’s proceedings beginning with this:

“Under the leadership of the great Communist Party of China, the Chinese nation, which has experienced many hardships since modern times, has ushered in a great leap from standing up, becoming rich to becoming strong, and more than 1.4 billion Chinese people are walking on the magnificent journey of socialism with Chinese characteristics in the new era.” 在伟大的中国共产党领导下,近代以后久经磨难的中华民族迎来了从站起来、富起来到强起来的伟大飞跃,14亿多中国人民正意气风发走在中国特色社会主义新时代的壮丽征程上.

Wan Exiang, chairman of the Central Committee of the Revolutionary Committee of the Chinese Kuomintang, read a congratulatory message on behalf of the eight non-CPC political parties in China, the All-China Federation of Industry and Commerce, and personages without party affiliation. He said that they “would unite more closely around the CPC Central Committee with Comrade Xi Jinping at its core.” Members of the Communist Youth League and the Young Pioneers delivered speeches, expressing the younger generation's commitment to the Party’s mission.

Following this, the piece points to different parts of Xi’s speech. Here are the key points from it. I am using the official English translation while also running through the Chinese language text

To me, the underlying or essential message is the same in both these texts, but there are, of course, differences in terms of how evocative the comments are in Chinese. This, from my view, matters, because it’s not like this was an off-the-cuff set of comments. The language would have been carefully chosen to convey the message and have maximum impact with regard to the primary audience, i.e., the 95 million Party members and the Chinese people. But of course the leadership would have known that the world is watching. So the choice of words and phrases tells us about a certain comfort with if not desire for being interpreted/seen a certain way externally. In that sense, it is an active choice that is being made. Anyway, from a policy point of view, the essential message - i.e., expression of confidence, aggressive nationalism at home, the inevitability of China’s rise and CCP rule, signalling strength to a foreign audience, and an emphasis on China’s might and willingness to use force - is what’s important.

Here’s goes my breakdown:

“we have realized the first centenary goal of building a moderately prosperous society in all respects. This means that we have brought about a historic resolution to the problem of absolute poverty in China, and we are now marching in confident strides toward the second centenary goal of building China into a great modern socialist country in all respects.”

Xi then shares his historical narrative from 1840 till the founding of the PRC. It’s not something you’ve not read here before. But he ends with this: “The victory of the new-democratic revolution put an end to China’s history as a semi-colonial, semi-feudal society, to the state of total disunity that existed in old China, and to all the unequal treaties imposed on our country by foreign powers and all the privileges that imperialist powers enjoyed in China. It created the fundamental social conditions for realizing national rejuvenation.” The question to me is how much of this bit that I’ve highlighted informs actual policy even today?

Also this is noteworthy:

“By carrying out socialist revolution, we eliminated the exploitative and repressive feudal system that had persisted in China for thousands of years, and established socialism as our basic system. In the process of socialist construction, we overcame subversion, sabotage, and armed provocation by imperialist and hegemonic powers, and brought about the most extensive and profound social changes in the history of the Chinese nation. This great transformation of China from a poor and backward country in the East with a large population into a socialist country laid down the fundamental political conditions and the institutional foundations necessary for realizing national rejuvenation.”

I also find it interesting that Xi talks about how the Party led people in “freeing the mind.” It’s not the first time this has been said, of course. He talked about this in the context of “dismantling the old world, but also building a new one, that only socialism could save China, and that only socialism with Chinese characteristics could develop China.” Depends on how one wants to read this; the last bit can be a jab at those resisting reform in the 1980s or a statement about the adaptability of the Party.

Key highlights after the 18th Party Congress: “coordinated implementation of the five-sphere integrated plan and the four-pronged comprehensive strategy, upheld and improved the system of socialism with Chinese characteristics, modernized China’s system and capacity for governance, remained committed to exercising rule-based governance over the Party, and developed a sound system of intraparty regulations.”

He said: “Through tenacious struggle, the Party and the Chinese people have shown the world that the Chinese nation has achieved the tremendous transformation from standing up and growing prosperous to becoming strong, and that China’s national rejuvenation has become a historical inevitability.

He talked about the original aspiration and founding mission, which entails “fighting bravely without fear of sacrifice, and remaining loyal to the Party and faithful to the people. This spirit is the Party’s source of strength...We will continue to promote our glorious traditions and sustain our revolutionary legacy, so that the great founding spirit of the Party will always be kept alive and carried forward.” Now the Chinese text is a little different; roughly it says: “History flows on, the spirit is passed on from generation to generation. We must continue to carry forward the glorious tradition, continue the red bloodline, and always carry on and carry forward the great spirit of Party building forever! 历史川流不息,精神代代相传. 我们要继续弘扬光荣传统、赓续红色血脉,永远把伟大建党精神继承下去、发扬光大! (The essential message is the same, but the language is much more evocative in Chinese.)

Xi praised leaders from the past:

“Mao Zedong, Deng Xiaoping, Jiang Zemin, and Hu them, we express our highest respect. Let us take this moment to cherish the memory of comrades Mao Zedong, Zhou Enlai, Liu Shaoqi, Zhu De, Deng Xiaoping, Chen Yun, and other veteran revolutionaries.” He added: “The people are the true heroes, for it is they who create history. On behalf of the CPC Central Committee, I would like to pay my highest respects to workers, farmers, and intellectuals across the country; to other political parties, public figures without party affiliation, people’s organizations, and patriotic figures from all sectors of society; to all members of the People’s Liberation Army, the People’s Armed Police Force, the public security police, and the fire and rescue services; to all socialist working people; and to all members of the united front.”

He then went on to identify the key lessons from history that he has drawn and that must be kept in mind:

  • Uphold the firm leadership of the Party: “We must be deeply conscious of the need to maintain political integrity, think in big-picture terms, follow the leadership core, and keep in alignment with the central Party leadership. We must stay confident in the path, theory, system, and culture of socialism with Chinese characteristics. We must uphold the core position of the General Secretary on the Party Central Committee and in the Party as a whole, and uphold the Central Committee’s authority and its centralized, unified leadership.

  • Unite and lead the Chinese people in working ceaselessly for a better life

  • Continue to adapt Marxism to the Chinese context

  • Uphold and develop socialism with Chinese characteristics: Thought this bit was interesting-- “We must promote high-quality development and build up our country’s strength in science and technology. We must ensure it is our people who run the country, continue to govern based on the rule of law, and uphold the core socialist values. We must ensure and enhance public wellbeing in the course of development, promote harmony between humanity and nature, and take well-coordinated steps toward making our people prosperous, our nation strong, and our country beautiful.”

Also this is noteworthy:

“The Party has also acquired a wealth of experience through its endeavors over the past 100 years and during more than 70 years of governance. At the same time, we are also eager to learn what lessons we can from the achievements of other cultures, and welcome helpful suggestions and constructive criticism. We will not, however, accept sanctimonious preaching from those who feel they have the right to lecture us.”

  • Accelerate the modernization of national defense: The people’s military has made indelible achievements on behalf of the Party and the people. It is a strong pillar for safeguarding our socialist country and preserving national dignity, and a powerful force for protecting peace in our region and beyondWe will take comprehensive measures to enhance the political loyalty of the armed forces, to strengthen them through reform and technology and the training of competent personnel, and to run them in accordance with the law.”

  • Promote the building of a human community with a shared future: “The Chinese nation does not carry aggressive or hegemonic traits in its genes...We will work to build a new type of international relations and a human community with a shared future, promote high-quality development of the Belt and Road Initiative through joint efforts, and use China’s new achievements in development to provide the world with new opportunities...We will continue to champion cooperation over confrontation, to open up rather than closing our doors, and to focus on mutual benefits instead of zero-sum games. We will oppose hegemony and power politics, and strive to keep the wheels of history rolling toward bright horizons…

And then this:

“We Chinese are a people who uphold justice and are not intimidated by threats of force. As a nation, we have a strong sense of pride and confidence. We have never bullied, oppressed, or subjugated the people of any other country, and we never will. By the same token, we will never allow any foreign force to bully, oppress, or subjugate us. Anyone who would attempt to do so will find themselves on a collision course with a great wall of steel forged by over 1.4 billion Chinese people.” This highlighted sentence has been the cause for so much consternation and debate. Here’s SCMP translating it as: “Anyone who would attempt to do so will have their heads cracked and bleeding against the great wall of steel built from the flesh and blood of 1.4 billion Chinese people.” Here’s NYT: “Whoever nurses delusions of doing that will crack their heads and spill blood on the Great Wall of steel built from the flesh and blood of 1.4 billion Chinese people.” Here’s Hu Xijin telling us that the comment’s trended on Chinese social media. Anyway, my take’s as mentioned above.

  • Carry out a great struggle with many contemporary features: “On the journey ahead, we must demonstrate stronger vigilance and always be prepared for potential danger, even in times of calm. We must adopt a holistic approach to national security that balances development and security imperatives, and implement the national rejuvenation strategy within a wider context of the once-in-a-century changes taking place in the world. We need to acquire a full understanding of the new features and requirements arising from the change to the principal contradiction in Chinese society and the new issues and challenges stemming from a complicated international environment.”

  • Strengthen the great unity of the Chinese people - This includes “Chinese people, both at home and overseas.”

  • Advance the great new project of Party building: Xi talked about “self-supervision and full and rigorous self-governance.” For this, here’s what Xi wants the Party to do:

“On the journey ahead, we must keep firmly in mind the old adage that it takes a good blacksmith to make good steel. We must demonstrate greater political awareness of the fact that full and rigorous self-governance is a never-ending journey. With strengthening the Party politically as our overarching principle, we must continue advancing the great new project of Party building in the new era. We must tighten the Party’s organizational system, work hard to train high-caliber officials who have both moral integrity and professional competence, remain committed to improving Party conduct, upholding integrity, and combating corruption, and root out any elements that would harm the Party’s advanced nature and purity and any viruses that would erode its health. We must ensure that the Party preserves its essence, color, and character, and see that it always serves as the strong leadership core in the course of upholding and developing socialism with Chinese characteristics in the new era.” Honestly, to me, this is the most intriguing part of the speech. This is about how Xi moulding the Party’s future. For instance, the mention of moral integrity ahead of professional competence for officials implies priorities. Likewise, the call to ensure that the Party serves the core is in line with greater efforts to centralise policymaking and leave implementation to lower levels of government. Also, when I read that “self-governance is a never-ending journey” I am reminded of the recent WSJ story about the corruption campaign targeting retired officials.

  • Resolving the Taiwan question and realizing China’s complete reunification is a historic mission and an unshakable commitment of the Communist Party of China. It is also a shared aspiration of all the sons and daughters of the Chinese nation. We will uphold the one-China principle and the 1992 Consensus, and advance peaceful national reunification. 

Page 3: There’s a commentary based on the speech; nothing particularly different said. There’s a piece on foreigners praising Xi’s speech. Elon Musk gets a mention here. More foreigners praising Xi’s speech and the CCP in general. A story about congratulatory comments from politicians abroad. Finally, a piece about domestic reaction to Xi’s speech among regular folks.

Page 5: A report about the centenary events in Hong Kong. Here’s CNA’s report drawing from AFP on HK

“More than 10,000 officers - one-third of the city’s force - were deployed to prevent any public gatherings, local media reported, as officials warned that any attempt to protest would lead to arrest. With Hong Kong’s chief executive Carrie Lam attending the festivities in Beijing, her deputy John Lee oversaw a flag-raising ceremony in an exhibition centre as police and water cannon trucks patrolled streets nearby. Lee delivered a speech praising China's imposition of a sweeping national security law in Hong Kong which came into effect just an hour before last year's handover anniversary. ‘While safeguarding national security, residents continue to enjoy freedom of speech, freedom of press, freedom of assembly and demonstration and others according to the law,’ Lee said.”