Why Xi Wants the Party to Study History

Here are the stories and pieces that I found noteworthy from the April 1, 2021, edition of the People’s Daily.

Page 1: The front page carries a short story based on Xi Jinping’s February 2021 speech on the significance of studying Party history, which was published in the Qiushi journal today. Let’s do a breakdown of the speech:

First, the purpose of studying Party history as per Xi: “Party history is the most vivid, the most persuasive textbook. Our party has always attached importance to party history...focusing on the party’s struggle and great achievements to inspire morale, clear direction, use the party’s glorious tradition and fine style to strengthen beliefs and gather strength, use the party's practical and historical experience to enlighten wisdom and sharpen character.”

He adds: “The history of our party is the most evocative chapter in Chinese history since modern times. History has created the Communist Party of China in the exploration and struggle of the people. Our party united and led the people to create a new Chinese civilization with a long history.” Xi says that for cadres, studying Party history is mandatory, adding that “reliving this great history one can be vividly educated by the party's original mission, nature and purpose, ideals and beliefs...and inherit the red gene.”

He further argues that looking back at history is not an empty act of cherishing successes of the past and not acting. Rather it is an activity that should allow cadres to “summarize historical experience, grasp the laws of history, enhance the courage and strength to forge ahead.” In essence, history must act as a motivator rather than simply evoking nostalgia. Finally, he stresses on looking at history from the prism of historical materialism.

After saying this, he outlines the tasks ahead for Party members. Here’s how he introduces these tasks:

“Today, at the important moment of celebrating the centenary of our party, at the key node of the historical intersection of the ‘two centenary’ struggle goals, it is very necessary to carry out party history study and education in the whole party. The 100 years of our party are the one hundred years that we are committed to fulfilling our original mission, the 100 years that we have laid the foundation, and that we have created brilliance and opened up the future. In a hundred years of continuous struggle, the party united and led the people to blaze a great path, build great achievements, forge a great spirit, accumulate valuable experience, and create impressive miracles in the history of the development of the Chinese nation and the history of human social progress. Looking back on the past road of struggle and looking at the road ahead, we must study and summarize the party’s history well, and carry forward the party’s successful experience.” He summarises the significance of learning history in three broad points then.

First, he emphasises the importance of party history study and education as critical to keeping in mind the original mission. In this section, he talks about the Opium Wars and the desire for national rejuvenation. Interestingly, he links the Taiping rebellion, 1898 100 Days Reform, Boxer rebellion and Xinhai Revolution as expressions of this desire. Then he talks about the arrival of Marxism-Leninism, which was a “ray of light in the darkness, showing the direction.” From then he says that “the Chinese nation began to move towards a great rejuvenation with difficulty but irreversibly.” He then talks about how since that period the Party has led China on the path of socialist modernisation, leading up to the 2035 and then mid-century goals.

Note this: “This generation of people have a generation of responsibility. The dawn of the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation is ahead, the future is bright. At the same time, we must be soberly aware that the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation is by no means easy and can be achieved by beating a drum. We are facing a rare opportunity, but also faced with serious challenges. At this critical juncture, there is no room for any hesitation, we must not forget the original intention, remember the mission.”

Next he says that studying Party history is critical to having conviction in the path of socialism with Chinese characteristics. He emphasises the four self-confidences. To double down on this, he talks about China’s economic achievements, the improved standard of living of people, social stability achievements, and China’s growing global clout. “This great fight against the novel coronavirus pandemic has fully demonstrated the significant advantages of the party’s leadership and my country’s socialist system, and has greatly enhanced the confidence and belief of the entire party and the people of all ethnic groups throughout the country. In today's world, if you want to say which political party, country, and nation can be confident, then the Communist Party of China, the People's Republic of China, and the Chinese nation have the most reason to be confident!”

Third, studying Party history is key to ensuring continuous self-revolution. He calls self-revolution, i.e., the ability to purge, course-correct, maintaining “purity,” etc., as “the most distinctive character of our party, is also the greatest advantage of our party.” 

The next section of the speech is about what needs to be achieved through the party history learning campaign. He outlines the following:

  • Arming the party with innovative theories: “Thought is power. If a nation wants to be at the forefront of the times, it cannot be without theoretical thinking for a moment, and it cannot be without ideological guidance for a moment...Practice has proved that Marxism is a powerful ideological weapon for us to understand the world, grasp the laws, pursue the truth, and transform the world, and it is the guiding ideology that our party and country must always follow.” 

  • Grasp the law and general trend of historical development: “Throughout 100 years of struggle, our party has always used the basic principles of Marxism to analyze and grasp historical trends, correctly handle the relationship between China and the world, and be good at seizing and making good use of various historical opportunities...”

  • Deepen understanding of the Party’s nature and stick to its Marxist character: Here he essentially emphasises the need to serve the people and be part of the broader community, which essentially serves the goal of building a stronger party.

  • Improve the ability to deal with risks and challenges: “At present, China's development is facing unprecedented risk challenges, both domestic and international, both in the political, economic, cultural, social and other fields and from the natural world, both traditional and non-traditional. ‘Black swans’, and ‘gray rhinos’ will also come unexpectedly.” To deal with these, he talks about learning from history. He mentions Mao’s three “magic weapons,” i.e., the united front, armed struggle, and party building. Xi then warns: “The fort is the easiest to be breached from the inside. In a sense, since the founding of the Party, the greatest risk facing our Party is internal deterioration, discoloration, change of flavor, loss of the political nature of the Marxist party, deviation from the purpose of the Party and the loss of the support and support of the broadest number of people.” To deal with this challenge, he says: “We should educate and guide the whole party by summing up the lessons of history, focusing on solving the real problems of party building, constantly improving the party's leadership and governance capabilities, enhancing the ability to resist corruption and risks, ensuring that our party is always in the forefront of the times in the historical process of profound changes in the world situation, always being the backbone of the people in the historical process of dealing with various risks and challenges at home and abroad, and always being a strong leading core in the historical process of upholding and developing socialism with Chinese characteristics.”

  • Carry forward the revolutionary spirit & spirit of struggle: Here he’s basically warning cadres against slacking off. He wants them to keep in mind the spirit of past struggles because that should drive them in the struggles that lie ahead.

  • Strengthen the unity and centralization of the party:  He says that “ensuring that the whole party obeys the Central Committee, safeguarding the authority of the Party Central Committee and centralized and unified leadership are the primary tasks of the party's political construction, and we must constantly grasp it.” He then gives the example of Mao taking charge following the Zunyi conference of 1935. And then he talks about the Yan’an rectification movement: “During the Yan'an period, in order to solve the problems of ideological differences and sectarianism within the Party, the Party launched a large-scale rectification campaign, which brought the Party to an unprecedented level of unity and unification and laid a strong ideological and political foundation for the victory of the War of Resistance and the liberation of the country.” This is significant in terms of what Xi views as the future nature of the Party under him.

The final section is about the history learning campaign achieving practical results, which are as follows:

  • Strengthen organisational leadership

  • Establish a “correct view” of Party history

  • Solve problems for the masses

  • Ensure innovation

Moving on, the other pieces on the front page of PD worth noting are the new Regulations on the Work of the Political and Legal Committee of the Communist Party of China Army Committee issued by the Central Military Commission. The piece honestly doesn’t give much away. So one should ideally look at the regulations to understand what they contain. The other story on the page worth noting is about the weekly State Council meeting.

Xinhua English reports that as per Li Keqiang, “it is critical to maintain stability on the six priority fronts and provide protections in the six key areas.” The meeting decided on policy steps to create a more enabling employment environment. The number of professions requiring government-approved licenses will be reduced, while the certification of vocational skill grades by private actors will be promoted. The sound development of new forms of employment will be supported. Occupational injury insurance for flexible employment will be piloted, and the coverage of work injury compensation insurance extended, to safeguard the lawful rights and interests of people engaged in flexible employment.

In addition, PD reports that there were other focus areas, such as reducing certain fees, digitisation of certain compliance processes, development of elderly care services, easing restrictions on cross-city registration of used cars, etc. On broader support policies enacted last year, there’s a commitment of taking no “hard turns.” This is followed by details of a range of measures to ease the tax burden on enterprises.

Page 3: Three pieces to note. First, a Zhong Sheng commentary, which focuses on US “double standards” on human rights. So this hits all the notes that Beijing has been touching on for a while. It starts with COVID deaths, to racial discrimination, violence agaisnt Asian Americans, etc. It then says this:

“The U.S. frequently discredited the human rights situation in other countries, but downplayed the human rights issues in its own country. This fully exposed the hypocritical nature of American democracy. U.S. politics has fallen into divisions, and it is difficult to introduce substantive measures to heal racial trauma and restore racial justice. Some politicians even openly embrace the ultra-right ideology and contribute to ‘white supremacy’. The international community has become increasingly aware that the racial crisis in the United States has intensified in recent years, and that political inaction is to blame.”

Then this: “Human rights are not a slogan, let alone a tool used to put pressure on other countries. It should be reflected in tangible actions. At present, facing the reality that the American people are so desperately in need of human rights protection, the world has to ask: How come the so-called ‘human rights beacon’ of the United States cannot even shine at its own doorstep?” Don’t dismiss this as mere propaganda for domestic purposes. It is a sign of Beijing’s confidence that it can compete and rather believes that it has a strong hand in competing on norms and values to reshape them.

Next, we have China’s MoFA’s remarks on the WHO Covid-19 report. The PD report on the comments does not touch on the controversial bits that Hua Chunying spoke about. So she said that the “study of origins is a matter of science, which should be jointly conducted by scientists all over the world. To politicize this issue will only severely hinder global cooperation in study of origins, jeopardize anti-pandemic cooperation, and cost more lives.”

But she also then waded into the lab leak theory, pointing fingers at the US. “The expert team had an in-depth study in Wuhan, and we also know there are many reports of early outbreaks in many places around the world. In addition to Fort Detrick, certain country has more than 200 biological bases around the world. So I think, if necessary, scientists should be allowed to work in a scientific spirit with relevant laboratories around the world. We hope that other relevant countries will cooperate closely with WHO experts in a scientific, open, transparent and responsible manner, as China has done.”

Finally, a report on Wang Yi meeting Singapore's Foreign Affairs Minister Vivian Balakrishnan in Fujian. The piece doesn’t focus on anything tangible discussed. But the two sides are talking about restarting travel via health certificates and a fast lane system. On Myanmar, there’s really little that Beijing appears to want to do. Here’s what Xinhua reports Wang saying during the meeting: “China supports ASEAN to uphold the principles of non-interference in internal affairs and help cease chaos and resume stability in Myanmar in the ASEAN way.”

Page 6: One really interesting piece on a new Big Data exchange being set up in Beijing. China Daily reports that “established by Beijing Financial Holdings Group and government agencies like the Beijing Municipal Bureau of Economy and Information Technology, the exchange will become critical infrastructure for data security, data operations and cross-border data transactions.” This is an initiative of the Beijing municipal government. It was announced in September last year. Here’s what was announced then:

“The Plan for the Establishment of the Beijing International Big Data Exchange” outlines the development of infrastructure for the Beijing International Big Data Exchange, as well as specifies five major functions for it which include serving as:

  1. An authoritative registration platform for data;

  2. A data exchange platform that is widely approved by the market;

  3. A data operations management services platform that covers full chains;

  4. A financial innovation services platform with data at its core;

  5. A data fintech platform that drives new technology.

The Exchange will integrate data resources and standardised data transactions to guide the use of data as a factor of production.

Finally on the international page today, we have the following stories: