By Avinash Godbole
In a recent development that can have significant implications, the President designate of the People’s Republic of China, Xi Jinping, urged members of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to dejargonise their language. He said this in a speech made at the start of the spring semester of the Party School of which he is the President. He also called on party officials to eradicate ‘empty words’ and ‘show substance’ in their actions.
All former Chinese Presidents have left their legacy on state policy through their particular ideological positions. Deng Xiaaoping is known for his ‘socialist market economy’ approach. Jiang Zemin’s idea was of the ‘Three Represents’. Hu Jintao, the current President, is known for his ‘Scientific Development Concept’. Therefore, this approach of the President designate is significant because it can not only change the future of the CCP but can also shape the directions of China’s domestic politics. Moreover, it can also shape the way in which future generation of the leadership wants to connect its ideological position with the history of the party. In particular a historical understanding of Mao’s ideology in the context of present day China has been a difficult task for the post-Mao leadership. Xi’s speech clarifies to an ample degree the ideology of the post-Hu leadership. In the following sections an attempt is made to understand Xi’s approach and its possible implications.
Relevance of the Party
In present day China, the CCP faces the concern of becoming irrelevant for the people. With the ascent of the economy, the Party’s decisive role has greatly diminished from the daily lives of the people. By asking the cadre to speak and act in ways that are contemporary, the Party wants to restore its position so that the ordinary people can relate to it more meaningfully. Another problem faced by the central leadership is that despite its willingness, implementation of policies and plans has been difficult and uneven at the local level because there is no overseeing mechanism outside the party. Local party networks tend to be highly corrupt and work on the basis of favouritism, which makes it difficult for national ideas to be implemented locally. Thus, on one hand the Party is becoming irrelevant and on the other hand, where it matters, the local leaders behave in a high handed manner and thus making is inaccessible for the people. Therefore, Xi’s speech is an attempt towards correcting these two problems at one go; responsible leadership and responsive leadership which is exemplified in the use of the terms like ‘(need to) constantly acquire new knowledge’, stress on ‘colloquial wisdom’ and so on.
Reassessing the Party’s history
Relating to the Mao era has not been an easy task for the post Mao leadership. While they realise the importance of Mao’s role in uniting China and bringing the Party to power, they find it difficult to relate to policies like Hundred Flowers and the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution. That’s why the part of speech where Xi says “…writing and speech styles of Party officials, especially leaders, had gradually improved in the past 30 years1” is important. The reference to past 30 years dates to Deng Xiaoping’s famous speech when he called for ‘seeking truth from facts’ upon taking over the Party leadership in 1978.2 Thus, it is clear from this statement of Xi Jinping that the next generation of leadership would like to continue distancing itself from the ideological positions of the Mao era.
However this gives rise to a couple of critical questions. How much can the leadership distance itself from the ideology? If it does manage to distance itself then what is the mandate of the Party? What would substitute ideology as a governing principle of the Party and the Chinese state?
In the last 20 years, the decline of ideology has been accompanied by a rise in Chinese nationalism. Whenever there has been a confrontation with an external power, the leadership has allowed ultra nationalist forces to take to the streets and engage in violent activities within certain permissible limits. It has also placed this event based nationalism, like when the Japanese Prime Minister visited the Yasukuni Shrine, in the ethno-historical context of humiliation and China’s rise. Thus, nationalism has successfully served to rally people’s support for the Party in era marked by ideological void. It should not be surprising if the future generation of leadership uses nationalism to divert attention from critical issues of domestic concern.
Even as the world welcomes the pragmatic approach of the Chinese leadership that allows better engagement, its negative consequences will have to be accounted for. Especially, if it were to lead to an inconsistent and aggressive policy based on nationalism, pragmatism would be counterproductive for the world.
Originally published by Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (www.idsa.in) at http://www.idsa.in/idsacomments/IdeologysansJargonContextualisingXiJinpingsPoliticsofSimplification_agodbole_240510
1. 1. Xinhua (2010), “China’s VP calls for cutting jargon use”, Accessed on 17 May 2010, available at http://news.xinhuanet.com/english2010/china/2010-05/12/c_13290987.htm
2. 2. Deng Xiaoping (1978), “Emancipate the Mind, Seek Truth from Facts and Unite As One in Looking To the Future”, Keynote address for the Third Plenary Session of the Eleventh Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party, available at http://english.peopledaily.com.cn/dengxp/vol2/text/b1260.html