Who Dreamed Up the Chinese Dream? [Updated]

This week, Party general secretary and Chinese president Xi Jinping graced the cover of The Economist for the second time, accompanying a special feature on his “Chinese Dream” initiative. At South China Morning Post, George Chen reports that Beijing’s censors appeared unimpressed with the cover image, which was swiftly and heavily blocked online.

Beijing may have taken umbrage at the headline of The Economist’s May 4 issue, which reads: “Let’s party like it’s 1793”. It may also possibly disapprove of the London-based publication’s decision to portray Xi in Qianlong Emperor’s imperial robe on the cover.

[…] Despite heavy online censorship — particularly on China’s most popular Twitter-like real-time microblog service, Sina Weibo — some Chinese online users were still able to glimpse The Economist’s new cover about Xi before Internet censors swooped to delete all relevant photos.

As a result, they were swiftly redistributed online hundreds or even thousands of times for about half an hour on Friday morning. Reactions from Chinese netizens were mostly upbeat.

“I like this picture. I like Xi Jinping. As a Chinese, I am proud to have a leader like him,” commented one Weibo user.

Elsewhere, discussion foamed around The Economist’s suggestion that the current Chinese Dream campaign may have been inspired by sometimes mocked three-time Pulitzer-winner Thomas Friedman. In a column at The New York Times last October, Friedman argued that ‘China Needs Its Own Dream‘, one “that marries people’s expectations of prosperity with a more sustainable China.” Friedman himself told Foreign Policy’s Isaac Stone Fish that “I only deserve part credit” for the concept, but others, including The Atlantic’s James Fallows, were reluctant to concede even that much:

I can’t prove that this correlation is wrong, but (no offense to Friedman) I’d bet any amount of money that it is. As several commenters, including me, have noted on the Wire item. It certainly is true that Xi Jinping has been talking about the “Chinese Dream,” and it’s true as well that Friedman wrote a column about it a few months ago. But the “Dream” formulation has been a familiar one in China for years, including explicitly in Xi’s own speeches for more than a year. Back in 2008 the motto for the Beijing Olympics was “One World, One Dream” (一个世界同一个梦想), and for a few years before and after the Games there was a lot of chatter in China about the meaning of its dream.

The title of my wife’s book Dreaming in Chinese (above), which came out two years ago, was based in part on the importance of this theme; a recent book by Gerald Lemos was called The End of the Chinese Dream (right). I had a long essay on this site a year ago with the title “What Is the Chinese Dream?”, and most people who have written about China have similar items in their inventory. […]

See more on Xi and the Chinese Dream via CDT.

Updated at 11:08 a.m. PST on May 6th: On The Economist’s Analects blog, James Miles explains his reasoning for suggesting the Friedman link despite earlier uses of the phrase “Chinese Dream”:

So why pick on Mr Friedman? It might not have occurred to this correspondent to make the link had it not been for several hints of one in Chinese-language articles published by media closely aligned with the central government or the Communist Party’s Publicity Department (which is in charge of propaganda). As a blogger for Foreign Policy noted, it did seem bizarre that Mr Xi (pictured above) might have had Mr Friedman’s musings specifically in mind. But the official adoption of a catchphrase so clearly based on an American term (there being no other globally recognised dream other than the American one) was already unusual enough in the history of Communist Party sloganeering. The Chinese media’s own repeated references to Mr Friedman in the context of Mr Xi’s dream seemed an added dimension of oddity in an already peculiar story.


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