Xi Jinping has now been in charge of the Party and state for five years. While Xi's presumed accumulation of personal power has been oft-noted throughout his first term, no clear "banner term" representing his ideological and political legacy had yet emerged as he approached his second. Ahead of the CCP's 19th Party Congress, which is currently underway, analysts were eyeing the character of a likely amendment to the Party constitution as an indication of Xi's true power: while previous top leaders have had their contributions to theory embedded in the Party charter, only the formidable former leaders Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping have seen their names also included in the document. If Xi's name becomes enshrined in the constitution, analysts say, it will indicate that his rule is at least as strong as Mao's and Deng's. The language used in a recently published state media report on the opening of the Congress suggests that Xi may indeed have accumulated a degree of power unseen in China's Party politics since Mao Zedong.
The Congress began this week with a 203-minute speech by General Secretary Xi. As China-watchers sift through the lengthy address for clues to its implications on Chinese politics, SupChina's Jeremy Goldkorn offered a quick initial take on its main points. In the speech, Xi outlined the new guiding principle of "Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era" (新时代中国特色社会主义思想) that appears to be slated for inclusion into the Party constitution during the Congress, becoming Xi's long-awaited "banner term." In an English report, Xinhua News Agency introduced the concept with Xi's name attached as "Xi Jinping Thought on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era," and quoted other top leaders on the significance of the new concept:
"The Thought is the biggest highlight of the 19th National Congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC) and a historic contribution to the Party's development," said Zhang Dejiang when joining a panel discussion at the congress opened Wednesday.
"This important thought represents the latest achievement in adapting Marxism to the Chinese context, and is an important component of the system of theories of socialism with Chinese characteristics," Yu Zhengsheng said while joining another panel discussion.
Liu Yunshan said the elevation of the Thought into the Party's guiding principle is of great political, theoretical and practical significance. All members of the Party should study hard Xi's "new era" thought in terms of its historical background, scientific system and practical requirement.
Zhang, Yu and Liu are all members of the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee.
[...] Zhou Yezhong, vice president of Wuhan University and a professor of law, who heard Xi's report via live broadcast, said the new thought brings the understanding of socialism with Chinese characteristics to a new height, and it turns a new page of times.
"The core status and authority of Xi Jinping, general secretary of the CPC Central Committee, must be firmly safeguarded," said Pei Chunliang, a delegate to the congress. [Source]
Last year, Xi was elevated to the “core” of the Party leadership in official parlance—a title originally bestowed on Mao Zedong posthumously by Deng Xiaoping that would fall out of favor until Xi’s rule.
At The Guardian, Tom Phillips notes that state media's attribution of Xi's name to his theory appears to confirm that his name will be enshrined in the Party constitution, and surveys impressions from veteran scholars of Chinese politics on the implications in China and the world:
“It is a huge deal,” said Orville Schell, a veteran China expert who has been studying Chinese politics since the late 1950s. “It is sort of like party skywriting. If you get your big think in the constitution it becomes immortal and Xi is seeking a certain kind of immortality.”
However, Schell, the head of the Asia Society’s Center on US-China Relations, said the decision to honour Xi was not only noteworthy “because it makes Xi Jinping look like a thought leader comparable to Chairman Mao. It also suggests that [China’s political system] Socialism with Chinese Characteristics is a viable counter-model to the presumption of western liberal democracy and capitalism. In a sense, what Xi is setting up here is not only a clash of civilisation and values, but one of political and economic systems.”
[...] Jeff Wasserstrom, a professor of modern Chinese history at the University of California, Irvine, said the move to honour China’s leader underlined the “radical shift” that had taken place in Chinese politics since a relatively unknown Xi took power in November 2012.
In the five years since, Xi has overseen a severe political chill and built a reputation as one of the country’s most dominant leaders since Mao.
Wasserstrom said western historians tended to refer to two major periods in China’s post-revolution history. “If I’m writing something, I’ll say: the Mao era (1949-1976). And then: the Reform era (1979-onwards). The question now is: does this mean we have reached another inflection point where we need to start thinking of this as the Xi Jinping era?” [Source]
At BBC News, Carrie Gracie notes that the state media quotes of Standing Committee members are an indication of Party consensus around Xi's name being enshrined in the Party charter, but that there is still a "remote possibility" that "Xi Jinping Thought" will not be amended into the document. In the same report, Michael Bristow reports further on the symbolic significance of the apparent imminent inclusion of Xi's name:
As yet, we have only have a vague sense of what "Xi Jinping Thought" is all about.
Xinhua describes it as socialism with Chinese characteristics for a new era: a nice slogan but hard to pin down.
In some respects, the fundamentals of the new theory are unimportant. Attaching Xi Jinping's name to a political philosophy is as much about symbolism as substance.
The two previous Chinese leaders had their theories - Hu Jintao was known for his "scientific outlook on development" and Jiang Zemin had "the theory of three represents".
It would have been odd if Xi Jinping had not got his own.
But Mr Xi appears to have gone further than his two immediate predecessors. Neither Mr Hu nor Mr Jiang had their names linked to their theories.
That privilege has previously gone only to Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping, communist China's two most revered leaders. Does this mean Mr Xi's power now rivals theirs?
Formally, "Xi Jinping Thought" still needs to be approved at the Communist Party congress before it is incorporated into the party's constitution. [Source]
Prior to Xinhua's English report, other top Party leaders had indicated that the new official theory would be formally attributed to Xi by name. At China Media Project, Qian Gang analyzed Xi's unveiling of the "banner term," explaining how it departs from longheld Party norms on official discourse, and predicted that the full term could very well be shortened to "Xi Jinping Thought." Qian had earlier noted on Louisa Lim's Little Red Podcast, “If after the meeting ‘Xi Jinping Thought’ emerges, then we know he’s reached the pinnacle of power."
Since the 14th National Congress of the CCP in 1992, the opening of every political report — when it is declared at the outset what the main theme of the congress will be — makes mention of key banner terms and guiding thought (指导思想). At the 14th National Congress it was “Deng Xiaoping’s Thought of Building Socialism with Chinese Characteristics” (邓小平建设中国特色社会主义思想). At the 15th National Congress in 1997, it was “Deng Xiaoping Theory” (邓小平理论). At the 16th National Congress in 2002, it was “Deng Xiaoping Theory” and “The Important Thought of the Three Represents” (三个代表重要思想). At the 17th and 18th congresses, the “Scientific View of Development” was mentioned after mention of “Deng” and “San” — that is, after “Deng Xiaoping Theory and the “Three Represents.”
But with the 19th Congress today we see that the above chain of official terminologies, or tifa (提法), has been broken. Xi Jinping said today: “The theme of the congress is: not neglecting our original intent (不忘初心), steadfastly bearing in mind our mission (牢记使命), raising the great banner of socialism with Chinese characteristics, decisively achieving a comprehensively well-off society, seizing the great victory of new era socialism with Chinese characteristics (夺取新时代中国特色社会主义伟大胜利), struggling tirelessly to achieve the great rejuvenation of the Chinese people.”
[...T]he important thing to recognize here is that the “Deng San Ke” is resolutely in the past. By contrast, “The Thought of New Era Socialism With Chinese Characteristics” is the here and now.
This new tifa, or official discourse phrase, was actually conveyed in slightly different language when other members of the Politburo Standing Committee, including Zhang Dejiang (张德江) and Yu Zhengsheng (俞正声), visited the various regional delegations. The phrase as it was used then was: “Xi Jinping’s Thought of New Era Socialism With Chinese Characteristics” (习近平新时代中国特色社会主义思想). Readers who in the past read our speculations about whether Xi Jinping would be “crowned” with his new banner term will remark the significance of this. Xi Jinping has, it seems, been crowned — but not yet as openly as he might be. In fact, it is very possible that in the future (how near we cannot say) this lengthy banner term will be shortened to “Xi Jinping Thought” (习近平思想), putting this general secretary on a level with Mao Zedong. [Source]
Mr Xi stuck to a formulaic style, repeating oft-used phraseology. But there were significant differences, such as in the unlovely title of one section: “Thoughts on Socialism with Chinese Characteristics for a New Era”. Deng Xiaoping coined the clunky term “socialism with Chinese characteristics” in the 1980s. Mr Xi’s contribution is the catchier bit, “new era”.
[...] Though Mr Xi talked about a new era, the next five years sound, from his speech, to be much like the past five—only more so. To loud applause, he declared that the momentum behind his anti-corruption campaign was unstoppable. He talked about “strengthening the party’s long-term governance capacity” (ie, involving it in more decisions) and boosting party organisations in companies, schools and villages. He stressed the need to “correct and resist various erroneous viewpoints”. It does not sound as if his persistent efforts to crush civil society will ease.
As he has done in the past, he sent mixed signals on the economy. He talked about ensuring the “market-based allocation” of resources and “business survival determined by competition”. He spoke in similar terms in 2013, a year after he came to power. This time he also promised to “support state capital in becoming stronger”, just as he has been doing since then.
Perhaps most important, he suggested there would be no let-up in his more assertive foreign policy. In his speech to the previous congress in 2012, Mr Hu had said the army’s job was “to win a local war in an information age”. Mr Xi dropped the word local. He toughened up the language on Taiwan. Where Mr Hu had talked of opposing Taiwanese independence, Mr Xi threatened to destroy it. If he is under pressure to concentrate more on domestic matters, he has resisted it in his rhetoric. [Source]