Whose Chinese Dream?

When Xi Jinping was inaugurated as China’s President during the National People’s Congress, he gave a speech on “the Chinese Dream.” In the speech, he elaborated on this concept, according to People’s Daily, translated by China Elections and Governance:

“To achieve a comprehensively well-off society, to build a prosperous, strong, democratic, civilized, and harmonious modern socialist country and to attain the Chinese dream of the great renaissance of the Chinese nation is to achieve prosperity, revitalize the nation, and bring about the happiness of the people…”

With the Great Hall of the People as witness, under the starry dome and among the waves of surging applause, Xi Jinping firmly stated:
To achieve the China Dream, [we] must walk the Chinese path.
To achieve the China Dream, [we] must exalt the Chinese spirit.
To achieve the China Dream, [we] must unify the Chinese strength.

These are the commitments of the leaders of the Republic to the people: We cannot hold the slightest complacency, there can be no slacking-off, [we] must redouble our efforts and, [with] our indomitable will, continue to push forward the cause of socialism with Chinese characteristics and strive to achieve the Chinese dream of the great renaissance of the Chinese nation.

This is a commitment to the people: “the China dream is, at its root, the people’s dream, it must closely rely on the people to be achieved, and it must continue to benefit the people.”

The concept of the “Chinese Dream” has been discussed and reinterpreted by netizens (and cartoonist Crazy Crab of Hexie Farm), who have a different perception of the term than President Xi. For his New Yorker blog, Evan Osnos discusses Xi Jinping’s Chinese Dream with one of his neighbors in Beijing:

As I’ve traveled around China over the past few weeks, I have been struck by the speed with which a political slogan, even in this age of digital noise and distraction, can still enter the bloodstream and filter down through layers of thought and expectation until it reaches Mrs. Jin.

“I grew up on the ground, in Tongxian. I didn’t go to school. When I was growing up, we saw blue sky and white clouds every day. And at night the sky was filled with stars,” she said. She didn’t need to mention what everyone in town has been discussing: China’s daytime sky isn’t blue very often lately; at night, it is a dome of yellow-purple haze. But Mrs. Jin had more pressing things on her mind. She brought up Chairman Xi again. “He is talking about the China Dream. What’s my China Dream? To live a few more years in my house.”

Mrs. Jin is embroiled in a lawsuit that might or might not let her stay in that house, a bare-walled two-story brick block. It’s an interesting story, and I just might write it up someday. But for now the more pressing point is this: Xi Jinping has sought to inspire his people by raising the flag of the China Dream, but they have interpreted it as China Dreams—plural. Talk to just about anyone these days and she can tell you what she wants, what is standing between her and her goals, and how she will define success in reaching it. And that—the proliferation of 1.3 billion China Dreams—will prove either the wisdom of the concept or the potential danger embedded it.

See also an essay by Perry Link and CDT’s Xiao Qiang which discusses one element missing from the official “Chinese Dream”: individual dignity.

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