While Xi Jinping touted the importance of a “Chinese dream” in a speech last week about national revival, Tea Leaf Nation contributor Ellen Li explores what the Xi’s vision means to the masses:
On Weibo, China’s Twitter-like microblogging services, “Chinese Dream” quickly became one of the hottest topics. But many users were critical of Xi’s choice of words. For example, @长话短说 wrote: “‘Chinese Dream’ appears on television all the time, but I still don’t understand; what is the so-called ‘Chinese Dream’ really about? Is it about making 1.3 billion Chinese people help one organization or one person to fulfill this dream, or, is it about keeping 1.3 billion Chinese daydreaming? [My] research result indicates that the latter is more convincing: keeping 1.3 billion people in a dreamlike state while sending all your children and relatives to the United States to pursue the ‘American Dream!'”
Others are more optimistic. @TORO麦子 wrote: “Believe it or not, our society is changing. …Our new Number One [Xi Jinping] is travelling light with smaller entourages; a large number of corrupt officers have been fired; all these facts may seem trivial for people who believe firmly that our society is incorrigible. But I believe change is happening. Soon people will know the power of the ‘Chinese Dream.'”
Many Web users chose to define their own versions of the Chinese Dream by talking about their hopes and wishes for the next decade. Zhou Hongyi (@ 周鸿祎), chairman of Chinese software company Qihoo360, wrote a comment re-posted over 18,000 times, which read: “I hope the next ten years will not be a time when people compete based on family wealth and connections; one’s ‘background’ will be mentioned less. I hope everyone will be able to achieve his/her dream as long as they are hardworking, smart, and dare to take risks. I hope people will have opportunities to work at jobs that they truly love, rather than for the love of money. I hope all these hopes are not daydreams, but achievable Chinese Dreams.”
Writing last week in The Diplomat, David Cohen noted that “a more open and charismatic Communism” underlies the “Chinese Dream” and other goals Xi has articulated since taking over the reins of the Party:
How much of a departure is this from recent history? In personal style, the gap is pretty big. But there is nothing especially new about the fear that the arrogance of petty officials may undermine the legitimacy of the party.
The remarkable thing here is that Xi seems to be trying to sell himself, and encouraging lower-level officials to pursue personal popularity just a few months after the purge of Bo Xilai, a charismatic politician whose chief sins were flagrant self-promotion and individualism. His downfall seemed like a resounding victory for Hu Jintao’s style of dodging attention and issuing all decisions from consensus. This style was one of Hu’s strongest selling points to the leaders who chose him — a guarantee against a return to the strongman politics of the Mao era.
But it seems that Xi may have been studying Bo even as he condemned him. If Xi continues to develop his own brand, it suggests that he has made a real change of focus, from Hu’s efforts to repair the party’s legitimacy by internal reform to direct appeals to the people. It might also mean — and this would also be a major contrast to Hu — that he has enough support from the Standing Committee to act in a way that could strengthen him at their expense.