Analysis: Xi Jinping rewrites history with eyes on the future

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The agenda for the most crucial meeting of the Central Committee ahead of the biannual leadership reshuffle next fall is carefully and deliberately chosen. This speaks to the importance Xi attaches to the history of the party and his own place in it.

For the Chinese Communist Party, history – or rather, some organized versions of it – can be extremely helpful.

China’s so-called “historic claims” to contested territories and waters, for example, have been used by Beijing to support its contemporary sovereignty, while the narrative attached to the so-called “century of humiliation” by foreign powers – from the first opium The war of 1839 to the founding of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in 1949 became a central source of legitimacy for the party.

In the eyes of party leaders, losing control of these narratives can have dire consequences. The collapse of the Soviet Union – a stern warning cited repeatedly by Xi – is partly attributed to “historical nihilism, ”Or the rejection of the Soviet legacy by the ruling elite.

As a result, the Chinese Communist Party vigilantly keeps its own history – airbrushing the darkest chapters of its tumultuous past and erasing particularly sensitive episodes from public memory.

But the next “story resolution” isn’t just about reshaping the party’s past. More importantly, it’s a way for Xi to codify his authority and supremacy in the present – and to project his enduring power and influence into the future.

Since its founding, the party has issued only two such resolutions, proposed by Xi’s two most powerful predecessors, Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping.

Mao’s resolution in 1945 established him as the undisputed authority within the party, after a three-year “rectification” campaign that brutally purged his political and ideological opponents. Deng’s resolution in 1981, on the other hand, recognized Mao’s mistakes by launching the Cultural revolution – a political campaign that plunged the country into a decade of chaos and turmoil (although it concluded that Mao’s contributions to the Chinese revolution “far outweighed” his mistakes. But admitting To and after the mistakes of the past, Deng was able to usher in a new era of reform and opening up.
By issuing his own resolution, Xi seeks to further consolidate his status as an imposing leader on par with Mao and Deng. Already he has managed to establish his own eponymous political theory and enshrine it in the party constitution, a privilege previously reserved for Mao and Deng.
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Xi sees himself responsible for assuming the role of Mao and Deng’s historical legacy, surpassing his two immediate predecessors. In this version of the party’s history, Mao led China to “stand up” against the intimidation of foreign powers, Deng helped the Chinese people “get rich”, and Xi is now leading the country on the triumphal path. to “become strong”.

And to continue doing so, according to logic, he must remain in power for at least a third term, to guide the country through what he calls the “window of opportunity” for China to catch up – if not overtake – the West in national strength.

As of yet, few details on the resolution are known – unless we expect it to be most likely passed by party elites this week. The title of the document indicates a more festive and forward-looking tone than the previous two resolutions, which focused on clarifying problems or mistakes from the immediate past.

But whatever the finer details, the consensus among political observers is that the resolution will strengthen Xi’s authority and place him firmly at the head of the party for the foreseeable future.

“The core function of all this verbiage, make no mistake, will be centered on the person and power of Xi Jinping, defining his leadership as the way forward, based on an understanding of history that defines his main program “, wrote David Bandurski, director of the China Media Project at the University of Hong Kong.

As George Orwell’s famous quote from “1984” puts it: “Who controls the past controls the future: who controls the present controls the past.”

And for Xi, it looks like he’s on the verge of controlling all three, at least for now.

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