On 100th Anniversary of CCP, Xi Declares Triumph of Socialism

On July 1, weeks of secretive preparations for the Party’s centenary culminated in a massive ceremony in Tiananmen Square punctuated by a martial speech delivered by Xi Jinping. Xi warned that anyone who dare bully, oppress, or enslave China “will find their head broken and blood flowing against a great wall of steel built with the flesh and blood of more than 1.4 billion Chinese people!” At Reuters, Yew Lun Tian and Ryan Woo recapped the speech:

In an hour-long address from Tiananmen Square, Xi pledged to build up China’s military, committed to the “reunification” of Taiwan and said social stability would be ensured in Hong Kong while protecting China’s security and sovereignty.

“The people of China are not only good at destroying the old world, they have also created a new world,” said Xi, China’s most powerful leader since Mao Zedong, the founder of the People’s Republic. “Only socialism can save China.”

[…] Xi closed his speech by leading two crowd-rousing cheers: “long live the CCP that is great, glorious and right”, and “long live the people who are great, glorious and heroic”. [Source]

At The New York Times, Chris Buckley and Keith Bradsher reported on the significance of Xi’s highly-anticipated speech:

The speech was laden with symbols intended to show that China and its ruling party would not tolerate foreign obstruction on the country’s path to becoming a superpower. The event’s pageantry symbolized a powerful nation firmly, yet comfortably, in : A crowd of 70,000 people waved flags, sang and cheered in unison. Troops marched and jets flew overhead in perfect formations. And each time Mr. Xi made a pugnacious comment, the crowd applauded and roared approval.

[…] “His speech clearly hinted at the United States, the audience in China won’t miss that,” Deng Yuwen, a former editor of a Communist Party newspaper who now lives in the United States, said by telephone. “His other message that stood out was that the party is the representative of the people’s and the whole country’s interests — nobody can try to split the party from the nation; they’re a unified whole.”

[…] “This was not a speech by a leader who is planning on stepping down from power anytime soon,” said Jude Blanchette, who holds the Freeman Chair in China Studies at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “The extraordinary pomp and circumstance was designed to say: The Chinese Communist Party is strong, unified, and it isn’t going anywhere.” [Source]

Xi has shown a consistent predilection for sartorial iconoclasm. He generally sports an anorak instead of the suit and tie favored by Party leaders—and lustily embraced by Xi’s former political rival Bo Xilai—since reform-minded premier Hu Yaobang introduced the fashion in 1984 as an implicit break with the Mao era. Xi has also abandoned Party leaders’ tradition of dyeing their hair jet black. “It’s an image of the party that is more relatable and less apparatchik-like in its aesthetics,” Julian Gerwitz told the New York Times in 2019.

No detail was too small for the events organizers. 100,000 pigeons and doves were released over Tiananmen as the song “Ode to The Motherland” played. Before their release, Beijing’s epidemic prevention department collected stool and blood samples from the animals. The birds were also required to partake in three rounds of training before the ceremony. Such meticulous—even obsessive—planning is not unprecedented: all 10,000 pigeons assembled for the PRC’s 65th anniversary in 2014 were subject to full-body inspections before their release.

On Twitter, China experts engaged in a rather circular argument about the correct translation of the chengyu 头破流血 Tóu pò liúxuè:

https://twitter.com/niubi/status/1410777468651413505

In the months before the anniversary, the state highlighted a campaign against “historical nihilism,” which involved a crackdown of those critical of Mao. Yet as Julia Lovell pointed out to the AFP’s Laurie Chen, the centenary’s embrace of Mao is obviously incongruous with modern Chinese society:

”Open debate about the Mao-era is impossible in China today,” said Julia Lovell, professor of modern Chinese history at Birkbeck, University of London.

“To Xi, the Mao revival entails party control, celebrating Mao’s philosophy of ruthless struggle against adversaries and centralising personal power.”

That “sits awkwardly within a China that’s so transformed from the Mao era,” she added. [Source]

The irony of the Party’s embrace of Mao is made painfully clear in the make-up of its membership. The proletariat—workers, farmers, herders and fishermen—make up only 34% of Party members and —a euphemism for capitalists—have been allowed to join since the early 2000s. A seat at the centenary was a hot ticket among China’s 626 billionaires, as proximity to power carries lucrative stock market benefits—and possibly insurance against political persecution. At The South China Morning Post, Zhang Shidong reported on the plutocrats able to secure themselves a seat at the ceremony celebrating 100 years of communism in China:

Wang Xing, the 42-year-old chairman of Meituan, the food delivery giant that is currently the subject of an antitrust probe, was among attendees of the Party’s 100th anniversary celebrations at Tiananmen Square on Thursday morning, according to live television footage. Wang is China’s 43rd richest man according to Hurun Report, with his fortunes estimated at US$34 billion.

[…] Lei Jun, the billionaire founder of smartphone maker Xiaomi, was also among notable Chinese entrepreneurs who joined the centenary ceremony, posting about his participation on the Weibo social media platform. Lei, 52 this year, is China’s 50th richest man, with a net worth estimated at US$31 billion according to Hurun.

[…] Three of Hong Kong’s business elite made their way to Beijing to attend the ruling party’s centenary. They were Yuen Mo, chairman of privately held China Merchants Industry Holdings, Victor Fung the chairman of the Fung Group that took Li & Fung private last year, and Allan Zeman, chairman of unlisted Lan Kwai Fong Holdings. Zeman, 72, is also chairman of Wynn Macau, one of the casino operators in the world’s largest gambling hub. [Source]

The Chinese internet was, like Tiananmen, draped in red during the ceremony. Most webpages redesigned their homepage to celebrate the occasion. The case of Xiaoyuzhou, China’s most popular podcast app, is instructive. Once a “refuge for the liberal young population” in the words of one anonymous Chinese producer, the app began promoting “Red Tales of Pujiang River,” a hagiographic retelling of the Party’s history in Shanghai, in the months before the anniversary. All 50 of Weibo’s trending topics were related to the Party’s 100th anniversary. The following day, Weibo’s top trends returned to non-Party related themes: fans’ love for an internet novelist, a woman’s near death experience after eating a wild mushroom, and whether it is better to go to graduate school or earn a 8000RMB salary. A popular entertainment Weibo account @是段小姐来了 posted a public “stat sheet” tracking which celebrities had posted messages congratulating the Party on its 100th anniversary—and more damningly—which had not. One user remarked, “The little general of the 21st century Red Guards sees all.”

What does it all mean? The Economist’s Chaguan argued that the triumphalist vision put forth during the Party’s 100th anniversary is a dangerous development:

Chinese claims to performance legitimacy, to use the jargon of political scientists, are often strikingly detailed, and not especially ideological. All summer, party organs have praised Mr Xi for providing better education, more stable and satisfactory incomes, more reliable social-security payments, higher-quality medical services, more comfortable housing and a more beautiful environment. This focus on real-world problem-solving is called proof that “socialist democracy”, meaning rule by unelected technocrats, is more “authentic” than Western political systems. As Chinese officials tell it, Western politicians only worry about some people’s interests every few years at election time.

[…] When Chaguan was first posted to Beijing as a reporter, 23 years ago, officials were somewhat defensive about one-party rule. They described their political system as a work in progress, befitting a China that was still poor. The party could be hard to spot as reformist leaders wooed foreign businesspeople. Visiting bigwigs would often meet government ministers, city mayors and university presidents, rather than each institution’s real boss, its party secretary. Now senior officials openly talk of their faith in the party like priests describing a vocation. “East, west, south, north and centre; the party leads everything,” says Mr Xi.

[…] The party is increasingly unwilling to accept any principled of its 21st-century autocracy, which it describes as the moral equal of any democracy. In , that claim is untested. For one thing, censors, propagandists and security agencies devote so much effort to hiding errors and silencing critics that it is not possible to say public consent is fully informed. For another, every political and economic system eventually makes mistakes that are too big to conceal, such as a financial crash or defeat in war. [Source]

At The New Yorker, Evan Osnos tied Xi’s dark warning about foreign threats bound to crack their heads and spill blood to the country’s inward turn:

In the machinery of a one-party state, in which the words of a paramount leader amplify as they move through its cogs, Xi’s dark warnings created a thriving cult of paranoia. Around Beijing, posters went up, warning people to watch out for foreign spies, who might try to seduce Chinese women in order to gain access to state secrets. In rural backwaters, the Party warned of Western-backed “color revolutions” and “Christian infiltration.” A university in Beijing planned to display a copy of the Magna Carta, which curbed the powers of an English king in the thirteenth century, until officials got nervous; it was sent to the residence of the British Ambassador. In 2016, the state-media regulators who had once introduced “Dallas” issued new directives with a very different cast of mind; they barred television programs that joked about Chinese traditions or showcased “overt admiration for Western life styles.”

This summer, in preparation for the Party’s hundredth birthday, on July 1st, officials launched a propaganda campaign that would have looked retro were it not resurgent. On television, billboards, and across the Chinese Internet, the Party extolled the wisdom of Xi (“The People’s Leader”), who has liberated himself from term limits; it rallied the public to watch out for shadowy “hostile forces” within and without, as well as for corruption, ideological lassitude, and democratic temptation. In the days leading up to the celebration, primary-school parents at a school in Province were advised to “conduct a thorough search for religious books, reactionary books, homegrown reprints or photocopies of books published overseas, and for any books or audio and video content not officially printed and distributed by Xinhua Bookstore.” On June 28th, at an outdoor rally held in the Bird’s Nest stadium that was built for the Olympics, the Party offered a congratulatory, and selective, reading of its record: it glorified the Long March of the nineteen-thirties, skipped over the famine and turmoil of the fifties and sixties, and cheered China’s economic and technological advances, culminating in its rapid recovery from the covid-19 pandemic. Three days later, in Tiananmen Square, before a crowd of seventy thousand, Xi delivered a blunt warning to the outside world. “The Chinese people will never allow foreign forces to bully, oppress, or enslave us,” he said. “Whoever nurses delusions of doing that will crack their heads and spill blood on the Great Wall of steel built from the flesh and blood of 1.4 billion Chinese people.”

[…] As China’s Communist Party enters its second century, its mix of confidence and paranoia—pride in its achievements and fear of the outside—reflects the fundamental uncertainty of its project. Chinese Communists have already ruled their country longer than the Soviets ruled theirs, but that’s a distinction that breeds both satisfaction and anxiety. No Communist government has ever made it to its second centennial celebration. During the Trump Administration, the incompetence and infighting of American politics provided a valuable propaganda tool for Xi’s government, which may well endure in the decades ahead. But Americans ended Trump’s Presidency after a single term, thanks to a feature of governance that becomes ever harder to maintain in a one-party state ruled by a strongman: the power of self-correction. [Source]

See also an interview on PRX’s The World with CDT’s Xiao Qiang and Yale Law School’s Yangyang Cheng on their “Reflections on the 100-year anniversary of China’s Communist Party.”

[Correction: this post was changed to correct an inaccurate description of a Weibo trend]

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