Chasing the Chinese Dream

Since President Xi Jinping’s inauguration in March, the “Chinese dream” has been a hot phrase in the media, mentioned 24 times on the front page of People’s Daily in one week alone. According to an editorial in the People’s Daily which tried to define the nebulous phrase, “the greatest dream of modern times is realizing the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation.” Xi has stated that achieving that goal would mean “to achieve national prosperity, revitalization of the nation and its people’s happiness.”

For NPR, Louisa Lim digs deeper to find out what exactly the “Chinese dream” means to various people in Chinese society:

The man who first made the phrase famous, Senior Col. Liu Mingfu of the People’s Liberation Army, is uncompromising about what he sees as the main planks of the Chinese dream.

“One, it means to be No. 1 in the world. Secondly, it’s the rejuvenation of the nation,” he says.

Liu wrote a book called The China Dream three years ago, which is now taught in Chinese military schools alongside the work of Carl von Clausewitz. To Liu’s great delight, it’s also mentioned in former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger’s book On China.

In the book, Liu argues that China needs to return to its former glory — as the world’s top superpower. He is sure that President Xi’s version of the China dream is the same as his.

“I’m [just] a scholar at [China’s] National Defense University, but when I talked about China wanting to be No. 1 in the world, Americans were very unhappy. If China’s president talked about being No. 1 in the world, Americans would be unable to bear it,” he says. “We can’t use the same language. But my Chinese dream and the president’s Chinese dream are in essence the same.”

But the vagueness of the phrase has left it open to interpretation by those with different viewpoints. Japanese newspaper Asahi Shimbun interviewed veteran journalist Hu Shuli about her understanding of the term:

Q: Is that an attempt to present an alternative to the “American dream?”

A: There is no such thing as a “Japanese dream” or a “French dream.” The American dream was the only one found in the world. Under that dream, everyone in that nation was equal and could obtain the good life if they only worked hard. It was not something that was first mentioned by a leader, like in China. It is a common recognition that emerged naturally, so it can be considered the value system held by the American people.

China’s dream is still not clear. We are now at a time when many people believe that China is no longer the poor nation it was a century ago.

However, because society has changed greatly, a common value system about where we want to go that can be shared by all 1.3 billion Chinese has not yet been established.

For some, the Chinese dream is one of more control, especially of the press, as China Media Project reports. In turn, the phrase has been usurped by netizens, who are using it to replace the ubiquitous “harmonize” – made popular under Hu Jintao – to mean censored:

At a forum held in Beijing on April 16, the All-China Journalists Association and representatives from 25 official state media did their best to infuse Xi Jinping’s notion of the “China Dream” (中国梦) with the imperative of press control. The ACJA and the Party press are reminding us all that Xi’s vision of prosperity and “national rejuvenation” can only come through the continued restriction of information freedoms. (The English release, for foreign audiences, emphasises “truth” and “credibility”).

At the April 16 meeting, state media and the ACJA issued a formal pledge, or changyishu (倡议书), called “Applying Positive Energy with a Fierce Sense of Social Responsibility to Realize the China Dream” (以强烈社会责任感为实现中国梦传递正能量). The document makes it clear that “social responsibility” equals the media’s responsibility to the Chinese Communist Party.


Can we look forward, in the months ahead, to interesting new slips of meaning whereby the “China Dream” becomes synonymous with censorship?

Alas, I’m too late it seems. The process has already begun.

Read more about the Chinese dream, via CDT, including a translation of “CCP Beijing Municipal Committee Recommendations for Developing ‘Chinese Dream’ Education and Propaganda Work.”


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