the Party centenary tightens Xi’s power another notch as he prepares for the 20th National Party Congress and beyond

The Party will celebrate its 100th anniversary on 1 July 2021. With preparations afoot for the big date, Party education and slogans are emerging with an intensity unseen in the reform era.

educating Party members

In February, a campaign to renew the study of Party history was launched to prepare the ground for the centenary celebration. Echoing Mao, Xi reasserted the role of incessant ‘struggle’ in shaping history. Invoking the 2019 slogan ‘self-revolution’, Xi strives to galvanise the Party to ensure its vitality and extend its shelf life. While ‘practical’ issues (like scitech innovation and domestic consumer spending) top the policy agenda, the centenary’s framing suggests that re-revolutionising the Party is of comparable concern.

Defining a ‘correct’ account of Party history is in train. Qu Qingshan 曲青山 Central Party History and Documentation Research Institute praised the program’s alignment with Party-strengthening slogans like 4-4-2. A hefty volume of Xi’s writings is central, while statements by past leaders are compressed into a volume half the size. The correct view, no doubt, is Xi’s own: the orthodox narrative leading inevitably up to his ‘New Era’. Chairing a meeting to mobilise cadres to jumpstart study efforts, ideology czar Wang Huning 王沪宁 refreshed their fervour for the guiding role of Xi Jinping’s theory.

Tech-enabled messaging instructs cadres in how to absorb yet another new era. Official websites and WeChat accounts ensure constant access to Xi’s material, and CAC (Cyberspace Administration of China) has been mobilised to detect ‘historical nihilism’—anything that disparages the Party’s unbroken history of success. Instances of the latter can be reported ‘anonymously’ via a hotline. By May, CAC claimed to have deleted more than two million ‘illicit’ online posts.

the Party’s latest makeover

Nationwide ‘rectification’ has been purging ‘black sheep’ and ‘two-faced’ prevaricators from the politico-legal system since the end of February. Launching this still-ongoing campaign, the Political and Legal Affairs Commission urged unswerving loyalty to the Party now unequivocally guided by Xi Jinping Thought on the ‘rule of law’.

Its own personnel the repeat subject of crackdowns since Xi came to power, the commission also takes down his personal rivals. Biggest of these was Bo Xilai 薄熙来, later joined in prison by Politburo Standing Committee member Zhou Yongkang 周永康 (removed from contention early in Xi’s administration), and more recently Sun Lijun 孙力军, a former vice minister for public security. Xi’s influence has soared, but it would seem the ‘rectification’ has not yet delivered the results he wants. Even stronger discipline is required, Chen Yixin 陈一新 commission secretary noted at an anti-corruption meeting on 29 April.

toughening up the masses

Extensive propaganda campaigns aim for a ‘positive atmosphere’ ahead of the main event. The Central Committee is targeting young minds through online and media messaging. Cadres are urged to take part in activities that create a sense of ‘happiness’ among the general public. The Central Propaganda Department has announced exhibitions and stage shows that extol the Party’s record, while cinemas across the country are on notice to screen films (often run in the 9am slot) praising Party, nation and people.

Tougher measures keep rolling out to troubleproof the celebrations. Curbs on potential sources of disorder announced by Minister of Public Security Zhao Kezhi 赵克志 beef up cybersecurity and re-erect the cordon sanitaire around Beijing that is a must for all political events. People, goods and even messaging entering the city are now minutely monitored.

life as a centenarian

General Secretary Xi is counting on emerging stronger than ever in the wake of the Party centenary. The education campaign on Party history functions to some extent to replace Mao-era ‘class enemies’ with ‘historical nihilists’ as the public enemy, while also sanctifying Xi Thought. Not content to define the future of the country, it has now taken to an old Party standby, rewriting its past.

Perpetual ‘self-revolution’ helps Xi quell inner-Party opposition; Xi wants unquestioning acclaim as he consolidates power ahead of the 20th National Party Congress (2022) that will install him for another term. Yet even voices within the Party say that endless reeducation and Party campaigns are at odds with contemporary social reality.

In the official discourse, Xi’s agenda has supplanted Deng Xiaoping’s legacy of ‘reform and opening’: Xi appears firmly at the helm as the PRC enters his ‘new development stage’. Viewed from abroad, it is tempting to frame the Party’s party as circling the wagons in a less China-friendly global atmosphere. This calculation might be made by some in Beijing’s power elite; less likely by the rank-and-file Party faithful no longer capable of discerning fallibility in their leader, deeply nationalistic ‘angry youth’, or the tech-dazzled who have never met an algorithm they did not ‘like’.

 


profiles

Qu Qingshan 曲青山 | Central Party History and Documentation Research Institute principal

Raw material for the Party history campaign can be assumed to have been largely compiled by Qu, whose rise reflects the institute’s new role: repacking Xi’s paramountcy into an already Xi-heavy ideology. Burnishing the general secretary’s claim to intellectually and politically reincarnate Mao Zedong, Qu has been elevated to the Central Committee, an honour bestowed on none of his predecessors in the institute’s history, which has disseminated the Marxist-Leninist classics for three decades.

Chen Yixin 陈一新 | Political Legal Affairs Commission secretary

Likely in line for promotion at the 20th National Party Congress, Chen is a rising figure in the public security apparatus, devoted to channelling and propagating Xi Jinping Thought. He launched an ongoing rectification of the politics and law kou (portfolio), where he is vice head of a dedicated ‘leading group’. In his recent writings, the ‘two maintenances’ are a cardinal theme. Notable also is his concern with ‘mafias’ and gangsters. PRC citizens must, in Chen’s agenda, become true believers in Marxism; CCP members must live their daily lives in the glare of Party discipline.

Sun Lijun 孙力军 former vice minister for public security

High-flier Sun’s abrupt ouster in April 2020 embodies the snakes-and-ladders perils of careers in the politics and law portfolio (namely Zhou Yongkang, its former ‘czar’ and aspiring kingmaker). Holding a degree in public management from the University of New South Wales (Sydney), he directed the ‘26th team’ devoted to suppressing ‘cults’. Moving on to direct the Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan Affairs Office, he rose rapidly to vice minister in 2018. Sun is widely held to be a protege of the Jiang Zemin ‘faction’.


context

13 May 2021: Huang Kunming 黄坤明 minister of propaganda attends symposium on Xi Jinping Thought and Party history

29 Apr 2021: Chen Yixin 陈一新 urges cadres in the politics and law portfolio to step up rectification efforts

27 Apr 2021: Ministry of Public Security announces the start of efforts to maintain ‘social stability’ ahead of July’s main event

13 Apr 2021: CAC announces more online support for the Party history education campaign

9 Apr 2021: CAC issues a call to oppose ‘historical nihilism’

1 Apr 2021: Party theory journal Qiushi releases Xi’s speech at the Party history education campaign launch in full

27 Mar 2021: Central Political and Legal Affairs Commission announces start of nationwide rectification

23 Mar 2021: CCP Central Committee holds press conference on centenary preparations

22 Mar 2021: China Film Administration instructs all cinemas to screen at least two patriotic films a week

15 Mar 2021: meeting on Party history textbooks convenes

20 Feb 2021: Xi launches the Party history education campaign

23 Jul 1921: founding of the Chinese Communist Party in Shanghai

 


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