Chinese Dream Poster

Xi Jinping became the leader of China in 2013. Soon after securing his leadership Xi mounted a far-reaching anticorruption campaign that lead to the arrest, imprisonment and even death of a number of high-ranking officials by 2014, But at the same time a number of anticorruption activists were also tried by the government on charges of disturbing the public order. In November 2013, Xi launched extensive economic and social reforms, described as the most significant reforms since those made by Deng Xiaoping in 1992. Among other things, the one-child policy was relaxed, allowing two children per family if one parent was an only child.

The cornerstone of Xi Jinping’s early policy was his idea of a “Chinese Dream.” China scholar Willy Wo-Lap Lam told the New York Times: Xi’s “Chinese dream” is focused on two centenaries: 2021 is the centenary of the founding of the Communist Party of China. By then, Xi wants China to have become a “moderately prosperous society.” The second is that by 2049, the centenary of the People’s Republic’s establishment, China will have closed the economic and military gap with the U.S. [Source: Ian Johnson, New York Times, June 2, 2015]

In February 2014, on the eve of the annual the National People's Congress, Xi has put himself in charge of three policy-setting panels: a new top-level party committee focused on steering state security, a panel on driving sweeping economic reforms, and another on cybersecurity. Gillian Wong of Associated Press wrote: “The moves come as Xi tries to better position the Communist Party to respond to grave challenges that test his leadership. Key among them is escalating ethnic unrest in the far west that spread to a southern city on Saturday in an attack that killed 29 people. The party also needs to tackle entrenched obstacles to tough economic reforms, slowing growth and rising territorial tensions with neighbors. Only a little over a year in office, Xi is already seen as having consolidated more power than his predecessors. His leadership roles in the three policy-setting panels give him influence over police, intelligence and military operations, the reform effort and Internet controls. [Source: Gillian Wong, Associated Press, March 3, 2014 \^]

"Xi Jinping is a man in a bit of a hurry who really wants to do something," said Steve Tsang, a political scientist at the University of Nottingham. "The general secretary of the party is using the party to take control and deliver." Xi's moves make him a more aggressive leader than his predecessor Hu Jintao, regarded as bland and increasingly weak toward the end of his decade in power while stymied by factional infighting. Hu's predecessor, Jiang Zemin, also was regarded as merely a "first among equals" in the Politburo Standing Committee, the apex of power. \^\

“As head of the state security committee, Xi will be better placed to command law enforcement agencies in responding to emergencies such as those involving a simmering anti-Chinese rebellion among the Turkic-speaking Uyghur ethnic minority in Xinjiang. Few details about the committee have been released other than that it is headed by Xi, with the country's No. 2 and No. 3 leaders as his deputies, making it a law enforcement coordination super-agency with unprecedented powers. "On the one hand the events in Kunming show that the current security apparatus was not doing its job properly. At the same time, Xi Jinping could use this as a justification to convince the NPC of the need to set up this monster organization," Willy Lam, a political analyst at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. \^\

"It is clear that Xi wants a certain kind of authority, otherwise it will be difficult for him to get his policies carried out," Hu said. Experts said Xi's confidence is unlikely to change the basic way China is ruled — by a collective leadership. Their consensus-based decision-making at the highest levels has been seen as the best way to prevent a party chief from becoming a dictator. "Certainly, he has the guts to do some things that some other leaders, collective leaders, would not do," said Cheng Li, a China expert at the Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank. "But the goal is not to change the nature of the collective leadership and return to strong man politics, it only makes him able to be quite bold and tough and try to get things done," Li said. \^\

Challenges for Xi Jinping

Chinese Dream poster

Julie Makinen wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “China is facing domestic and foreign points of friction. At home, the government is dealing with intense pollution, food safety issues and escalating deadly clashes with minority Muslims, to name but a few issues. Overseas, it faces territorial disputes with neighboring countries. At home and abroad, Xi’s administration has been taking a more confident — some would say aggressive — posture, cracking down on corruption but also on voices of dissent. Its recent declaration of an air defense identification zone covering most of the East China Sea angered the U.S., South Korea and Japan. " Xi and China have also been criticized for their positions and actions in the South China Sea/ [Source: Julie Makinen, Los Angeles Times, January 2, 2014 \^/]

Evan Osnos wrote in The New Yorker, “Xi describes his essential project as a rescue: he must save the People’s Republic and the Communist Party before they are swamped by corruption; environmental pollution; unrest in Hong Kong, Xinjiang, and other regions; and the pressures imposed by an economy that is growing more slowly than at any time since 1990 “The tasks our Party faces in reform, development, and stability are more onerous than ever, and the conflicts, dangers, and challenges are more numerous than ever,” Xi told the Politburo, in October, 2014. That year, the government arrested nearly a thousand members of civil society, more than in any year since the mid-nineteen-nineties, following the Tiananmen Square massacre, according to Chinese Human Rights Defenders, a Hong Kong-based advocacy group. [Source: Evan Osnos, The New Yorker, April 6, 2015]

The historian Zhang Lifan told The New Yorker: “In front of a lot of princeling friends, I’ve said that, if the Communist Party can’t take sufficient political reform in five or ten years, it could miss the chance entirely. As scholars, we always say it’s better to have reform than revolution, but in Chinese history this cycle repeats itself. Mao said we have to get rid of the cycle, but right now we’re still in it. This is very worrying.”

Xi Jinping’s “Chinese Dream”

In speech in December 2012 during a tour to a museum exhibition called the "Road to Revival" Xi Jinping drew a great deal of attention because of his mention of the "Chinese Dream." In his speech, Xi defined the "Chinese Dream" as "achieving the great revival of the Chinese nation." According to “The Goverance of China”, in the words of Elizabeth Economy of the Council on Foreign Relations:“ Xi Jinping’s “Chinese Dream” represents patriotism, innovation, and unity. “One can do well only when one’s country and nation do well.” For Xi, Chinese everywhere should contribute to realizing the China dream: “For Chinese people both at home and abroad, a united Chinese nation is our shared root, the profound Chinese culture is our shared soul, and the rejuvenation of the Chinese nation is our shared dream” . And Taiwan should get ready as well. As Xi says, “Sooner or later we will have to resolve the political disputes that have long existed in cross-Straits relations rather than leave them to later generations” (254). [Source: Elizabeth Economy, Council on Foreign Relations’ Asia Unbound blog, Forbes, October ct 15, 2014. “The Goverance of China” is a 500-page compilation of speeches, main points of speeches of interviews and biographical data on Xi Jinping produced by different parts of the Chinese government bureaucracy.]

Chinese Dream poster

On a book titled “The Chinese Dream” by New World Press, Han Bingbin wrote in the , China Daily, “The book, published in Chinese with an English edition coming soon, aims to explore what a Chinese Dream means for China and the rest of the world. A team of top international communication experts offers readers some lucid responses to questions such as: What is the Chinese Dream? What is the difference between the Chinese and American Dream? And how long will it take for the Chinese people to make their dreams come true? [Source: Han Bingbin, China Daily, September 24, 2013]

“The book offers vivid and dynamic first-person accounts as explanations of the meaning of the Chinese Dream. Inspiring people profiled in the book include successful business figures such as Park Keun-tae, president and CEO of South Korea-based CJ Group's operations in China, and ordinary people such as Dominic Johnson-Hill, a young man from London known as "Lao Jiang" who runs a small shop in Beijing's Nanluogu Hutong. "Having lived in China for 29 years, I've witnessed the great achievements of China's opening-up and reform. I've benefited a lot from it," said Park at the book launch.

“CJ Group employs 12,000 people in China, with a sales volume of 20 billion yuan ($3.27 billion). In recent years, CJ has also invested in China's film and television industry, with successful productions such as movie Separation Contract and the Chinese version of the musical Mama Mia! "My Chinese Dream is to make the number of CJ's Chinese employees surpass 100,000 and the total sales volume surpass that of the Korean headquarters," Park says.

Tony Lund, Asia-Pacific and Asia Branch director for Cambridge University Press, said at the book launch that the book is a precious and timely resource for readers who wish to gain a deeper understanding of modern Chinese society and people who are going to prepare for a new era of global cooperation. "The Chinese Dream is subtly different from the American Dream. In both cases, the dream is about the aspirations of prosperity for their citizens, but the Chinese Dream also suggests a vision for China's place in an increasingly internationalized world," Lund says. "The Chinese Dream describes countless possibilities for shared growth and shared prosperity, on both national and international levels."

China Dream Posters

Ian Johnson wrote in the NY Review of Books, “Ever since China’s new leader, Xi Jinping, first uttered the phrase “China Dream”, people in China and abroad have been scrambling to decipher its meaning. Many nations have “dreams”; in Canada, the country’s most prominent popular historian used the word to refer to building a trans-continental railroad in the nineteenth century to link the vast, sparsely populated country. But it’s probably best known in connection with the American Dream of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. [Source: Ian Johnson, NY Review of Books, September 2, 2013]

“It seems unlikely that Xi meant to exalt individual freedoms in this way, especially because he uttered “China Dream” at an exhibition celebrating the Communist Party. In fact, a nationwide barrage of propaganda posters that went up starting in July gives a clearer explanation of what he is up to. Using the China Dream slogan, these posters extol various national virtues like filial piety and thrift.

“I’ve seen these posters in several Chinese cities, such as Chengdu, Datong, and, of course, Beijing. Just down the street from where I live is a sports stadium, and out front are ten covered bulletin boards where Party newspapers are pinned up for people to read. In days past, these boards were important ways to spread propaganda; now they’re mostly frequented by older people, who peer intently at the articles. Next to the posted newspapers are spaces for advertisements, but for the past few months they’ve been covered with the China Dream posters.

“Propaganda posters have a long tradition in Communist China, beginning with posters in the 1950s that celebrated the new revolution and urged support for the Korean War. Xi Jinping’s China Dream posters are linked to this earlier era of Communist sloganeering. The difference is that while the old posters touted Communist values, the new ones largely replace them with pre-Communist Chinese traditions—drawing on traditional folk art like paper cutouts, woodblock prints, and clay figurines to illustrate their message. This is a redefinition of the state’s vision from a Marxist utopia to a Confucian, family-centric nation, defined by a quiet life of respecting the elderly and saving for the future.

“The art is courtesy of well known folk art institutions, such as the Yangliuqing woodblock printing workshops outside of Tianjin, Henan’s Wuyang peasant paintings, and the paintings of the late Shanghai artist Feng Zikai—a sign of the Party’s ability to mobilize pretty much any social organization it wants, and to appropriate symbols that it once condemned. Almost all the art used in the posters, with its depictions of traditional dress and poses, used to be derided by the Party as belonging to China’s backward, pre-Communist past; now, these aesthetic traditions are a bulwark used to legitimize the Party as a guardian and creator of the country’s hopes and aspirations.

“One of the chief promoters of the campaign has been a pro-government blogger named Xie Shaoqing, who goes by the nom de plume of Yi Qing. His writings—mostly homilies and Party slogans—grace many of the posters, and in his blog he describes how the posters went up this summer in Tiananmen Square. Based on his blog, Yi Qing would be categorized in China as a neo-leftist: there are entries attacking the investigative newspaper Southern Weekend, a paean to Chairman Mao on his birthday, as well as a guilt-ridden admission that he wrote the introduction to a book penned by the imprisoned police chief of Chongqing, Wang Lijun, whose former boss was the disgraced former Politburo member Bo Xilai.”

Slogans on Chinese Dream Posters

Here is a selection of the slogans on China Dream posters, with some of the slogans explained: 1) “The fatherland's future of our country is springtime”—spring being the best time in the traditional Chinese calendar. 2) “Young people are strong; China is strong.” 3) “The China Dream is ahead”: In speech balloons, the man says, “What do you see?” and the woman answers, “I see my dream!” This is one of the rare instances of humor in the series. 4) “China has good mountains and rivers”: in other words, the country is beautiful. 5) “Big love [for] China”: The clay figurines depict military personnel helping at a natural disaster. The slashing is a rare attack on propaganda. 6) “Chinese boy and girls, serve the country”: This mild patriotic message is further softened by a peasant painting of children at play. 7) “Honesty and consideration handed down generation by generation; poems and books (or alternately The Book of Poems and The Book of History) last forever”: A traditional saying adapted to the campaign. Curiously, the little boy's head has been cut out. [Source: Ian Johnson, NY Review of Books, September 2, 2013]

“8) “My dream, China's dream”: A young girl (a traditional clay figurine from the Tianjin workshop of Nirenzhang) sits pensively; below her a prose poem by Yi Qing describes a “dream-eyed” girl and ends with the lines “Ah China/My dream/A truly fragrant dream.” Interestingly, this particular poster, which I came across in Beijing, has been tagged by a graffiti artist—a rarity in China. It's hard to know the vandal's intention, but some of the spraying is accompanied by slashing, suggesting a political motive—perhaps it is meant to convey opposition to the growing leftist tendency in official propaganda.

“9) “Communists on the road to fulfilling the dream”: This is one of the explicitly pro-Communist slogans in the series. It's accompanied by a poem by another writer, Shao Ling, that makes use of a series of Communist clichés: “Feet shackled, hands cuffed/sturdy grass withstands strong winds/the Communist Party members on the road/the mountains can shake, their will is unshakeable/hot blood and spring flowers will write today's history.” 10) “A loud song for fulfilling the dream”: Xibaipo, the name appearing at the bottom of the poster, was the name of the headquarters of the Communist Party during the latter phases of the civil war. It has become a pilgrimage site for leaders like Xi, who recently visited it to extol the virtues of modesty and prudence.

“11) “Good game China”: This is an odd poster, with the children playing a game of Chinese chess. The Chinese phrase hao qi, which I translated as “good game,” is used after someone has made a powerful move against someone else—something analogous to “checkmate.” The implication seems to be that China is winning, but against who is unclear—other countries? History? Fate? Or maybe one shouldn't read too much into propaganda campaigns masterminded by left-wing bloggers.

What Xi Jinping’s “Chinese Dream” Means to Chinese

Ellen Li wrote in The Atlantic. “But what does this "dream" mean to ordinary Chinese? On Weibo, China's Twitter-like microblogging services, "Chinese Dream" quickly became one of the hottest topics. But many users were critical of Xi's choice of words. For example one user wrote: "'Chinese Dream' appears on television all the time, but I still don't understand; what is the so-called 'Chinese Dream' really about? Is it about making 1.3 billion Chinese people help one organization or one person to fulfill this dream, or, is it about keeping 1.3 billion Chinese daydreaming? [My] research result indicates that the latter is more convincing: keeping 1.3 billion people in a dreamlike state while sending all your children and relatives to the United States to pursue the 'American Dream!'"[Source: Ellen Li, The Atlantic, December 12, 2012 ***]

“Others are more optimistic. A user named TORO wrote: "Believe it or not, our society is changing. ...Our new Number One [Xi Jinping] is travelling light with smaller entourages; a large number of corrupt officers have been fired; all these facts may seem trivial for people who believe firmly that our society is incorrigible. But I believe change is happening. Soon people will know the power of the 'Chinese Dream.'" ***

“Many Web users chose to define their own versions of the Chinese Dream by talking about their hopes and wishes for the next decade. Zhou Hongyi, chairman of Chinese software company Qihoo360, wrote a comment re-posted over 18,000 times, which read: "I hope the next ten years will not be a time when people compete based on family wealth and connections; one's 'background' will be mentioned less. I hope everyone will be able to achieve his/her dream as long as they are hardworking, smart, and dare to take risks. I hope people will have opportunities to work at jobs that they truly love, rather than for the love of money. I hope all these hopes are not daydreams, but achievable Chinese Dreams." ***

“Liu Shengjun, a columnist for the Financial Times' Chinese portal and Caixin.com, offered more specifics in his top ten resolutions for the upcoming ten years: 1. [People] won't have to buy reliable infant milk powder abroad. 2. [People] will be able to purchase safe food in large super markets. 3. White collar workers no longer have to live as "housing mortgage slaves." 4. Pollution will not worsen. 5. The wealth gap will not widen. 6. The rich will no longer want to immigrate to foreign countries. 7. The number of "naked officials" [officials who send family and money abroad and prepare to make their own getaway] will decrease. 8. The stock market will be a place for people to create wealth, not a black hole that drains money. 9. Everyone will be able to get equal opportunity without relying on family connections. 10. Remarkable progress will be made in restraining the misuse of power.” Among all the hopes and wishes, one thing was missing: Money. Among the posts analyzed by Tea Leaf Nation, mentions of economic growth could scarcely be found. Instead, Web users focused on improving their quality of life, emphasizing safe food, affordable housing, a better natural environment, equal access to education, and social justice. ***

“While China has created an economic miracle in the past three decades, there is scant evidence that the Chinese people are, on average, any happier, according to an analysis of survey data by Richard A. Easterlin, a professor of economics at the University of Southern California. If anything, they are less satisfied than in 1990, despite a seventeen-fold increase in real per-capita GDP during that span. Decreasing satisfaction is most evident in the least wealthy third of the population. Satisfaction among Chinese in even the upper third has risen only moderately. More Chinese are feeling less happy because of growing income disparity, a deteriorating natural environment, and the proliferation of other social problems. ***

“Xi Jinping is right about one thing: China today needs its own dream, a vision of the nation's future to inspire its people and distinguish China on the world stage. But the meaning of the "Chinese Dream" may be different for the country's officialdom than for her people. For the Party, the foremost goal of this Chinese Dream is defined by former president Hu Jintao's parting report at the 18th Party Congress: "Continuing to release and develop productive forces." But for individual Chinese, it more often means a better quality of life. The key to achieving the Chinese Dream is to ease, if not completely overcome, the friction between individual happiness and nationwide economic growth, ensuring that the massive wealth China has created actually makes its billion-plus creators happier. Xi Jinping therefore is facing two challenges different from those of his predecessor. He needs to ensure that the Communist Party continues to rule — despite awakened citizen and netizen pressure for reform — and that requires faster growth to keep the population satisfied with Party control. But he also needs to manage all the downsides of that growth. ***

Xi Jinping Declares Declares 'Victory' and End of Rural Poverty in China

In February 2021, Chinese President Xi Jinping said that China had achieved "complete victory" in the effort to eradicate rural poverty at a ceremony in Beijing. In December 2020 he said that under his leadership nearly 100 million people were pulled out of poverty, a milestone he as a birthday present to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in 2021. In November 2020, the party announced with little fanfare that China no longer had anyone in extreme poverty. That was down from an official estimate of almost 99 million living on annual incomes of less than 2, 300 yuan ($355) per person in 2010.

Reuters reported: “In an hour-long speech, Xi hailed what he called a testament to the party's leadership and the advantages of China's political system. “The CCP's leadership and China's socialist system are the fundamental guarantees against risks, challenges and difficulties, " Xi said in Beijing's Great Hall of the People. Some global policy experts have said China sets a low bar in its definition of poverty, with sustained investment required to fund continued development in its poorest areas.China defines extreme rural poverty as annual per capita income of less than 4,000 yuan ($620), or about $1.69 a day at current exchange rates. That compares with the World Bank's global threshold of $1.90 a day. Xi said China had invested 1.6 trillion yuan [US$248 billion] in fighting poverty over the past eight years. [Source: Reuters, February 25, 2021]

Eliminating poverty has been a a key aspect of Xi’s ambition of making China a “modern socialist country” by 2050.Joe McDonald of Associated Press wrote: The ruling Communist Party is celebrating the official end of extreme poverty in China with a propaganda campaign that praises President Xi Jinping as a history-making leader who is reclaiming his country’s rightful place as a global power. The propaganda apparatus has been linking national successes to Xi, including fighting the coronavirus, China’s rise as a technology creator and a successful lunar mission to bring back moon rocks. “The full-scale propaganda campaign launched this month has filled state-controlled newspapers and airwaves with reports on the anti-poverty milestone and Xi's personal role in it. [Source: Joe McDonald, Associated Press, February 25, 2021]

“They credit Xi with launching an initiative shortly after taking power in 2012 that enabled China to beat by a decade the 2030 target set by the World Bank for eliminating extreme poverty. A report by the party newspaper People’s Daily this week on the “historic leap” refers to Xi by his full name and title as party leader 121 times. “General Secretary Xi Jinping has stood at the strategic height of building a well-off society in an all-around way and realizing the Chinese dream of the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation, ” the newspaper said.

Xi Jinping Demands More Party Discipline and Adherence to Marxism

In a speech in July 2016 marking the 95th anniversary of the founding of the Communist Party of China, Xi Jinping stressed the need for “discipline and rules” within the party in the run-up to a major leadership reshuffle in 2017, warning the party’s legitimacy hinged on the fight against rampant corruption. [Source: Shi Jiangtao, South China Morning Post, July 2, 2016 \~]

Shi Jiangtao wrote in the South China Morning Post: “Xi also stressed the role of party leadership and Marxism in the country’s development while painting a bleak picture of the anticorruption drive. “As the ruling party, the biggest danger we face is corruption,” he said. In addition, he insisted China’s status should not be judged by “people with tainted glasses”. “Our party members and the Chinese people are fully confident of providing a Chinese solution to mankind’s exploration of better social systems,” he said, without elaborating. “It is up to all the people of the international community to decide what kind of international order and global governance system is best for the world.” \~\

Gerry Shih of Associated Press wrote: “Chinese President Xi Jinping urged the 88-million-strong Communist Party to embrace its Marxist roots as he delivered an emphatic call for ideological discipline and a vigorous defense of party rule. The televised speech on the party's 95th anniversary represented one of Xi's most pointed and lengthy addresses laying out his orthodox ideology, and again repudiated the belief held among some observers four years ago that Xi's ascent might usher in greater reform. [Source: Gerry Shih, Associated Press, July 1, 2016 ~]

Xi said that history has proven correct the party's leadership of 1.3 billion people and that its stewardship remains essential for China to realize its "great rejuvenation," a central theme of his administration. "History tells us the Chinese people's choice of the Communist Party to lead them toward the civilization's great rejuvenation been correct, and that the party's path of socialism with Chinese characteristics is also correct," Xi told his audience of cadres gathered in Beijing's Great Hall of the People. "Marxism must be the basic fundamental, guiding principle," he said, "or the party would lose its soul and direction." ~

“Challenged by a slowing economy, Xi has made increasingly frequent appeals for ideological unity, a throwback approach that contrasts with recent Chinese leaders who emphasized delivering economic growth as continued justification for Communist rule. Since taking power in 2012, Xi has repeatedly called on the party rank-and-file, from officials to academics to journalists, to study Marxism while urging universities to stave off the infiltration of harmful foreign ideas, such as Western liberal democracy. ~

“Despite quoting Deng Xiaoping, China's market-oriented reformer, in a brief passage about the importance of economic development, the Chinese leader did not delve extensively into how his Marxist ideology would influence economic policy at a time when the proper role and size of state enterprises remains one of the most hotly debated issues within official circles. But in broad strokes larded with nationalism and soaring references to the blood and tears that the party had sacrificed for China, he said China would never abandon the communist struggle. "We must never forget our original aspirations and continue forward," Xi said. "We must remember that from our party's founding our guiding principle was to struggle for socialism, for communism." ~

“Victor Shih, a political science professor at the University of California, San Diego, said the speech underscored the dyed-in-the-wool politics of the Xi administration compared to his technocrat predecessors who more often dressed up economic reforms in Marxist language. "The longer President Xi has ruled, the more he has revealed his orthodox Marxist-Leninist perspective," Shih said. "There's nothing like the previous administrations, like Jiang Zemin, with an emphasis on modernizing or reinterpreting Marxism — that was very flexible." ~

Xi Jinping and the Chinese Military

Christopher Bodeen of Associated Press wrote: ““Xi's cachet with the armed forces is enhanced further by the reputation of his late father, who was a military commander during China's revolution, as well as by Xi's own brief service as an aide to a former defense minister. Among his other titles, Xi is also leader of the ruling Communist Party and chairman of a recently created National Security Council, which gives him greater control over the domestic security services.” [Source: Christopher Bodeen, Associated Press, April 21, 2016 ***]

“As head of the military, Xi has overseen a reorganization of the PLA's command structure into five theater commands aimed at better integrating the different services. He has ordered a 300,000-person reduction in forces that will see the elimination of many outdated and non-combat units, and shift the emphasis further from ground forces to the navy, air force and missile corps. Xi has highlighted the PLA's importance with frequent, highly publicized visits to military bases and a massive parade” in September 2015 “in which the army's latest equipment was wheeled through the center of Beijing while warplanes and helicopters roared overhead.” ***

In April 2016, Xi Jinping took more direct control over the Chinese military by becoming the chief of the military's Joint Operations Command Center. The three other key titles that Xi holds are 1) general secretary of the Communist Party of China, 2) president, and 3) chairman of the Central Military Commission (CMC), which oversees the army. As chief of the military's Joint Operations Command Center Xi takes becomes operational commander of the PLA in times of war. The CMC is responsible for the PLA’s management and defence building, while the joint battle command centre focuses on combat and relevant strategies. [Source: Minnie Chan, South China Morning Post, April 21, 2016 ||||]

Environmental Challenges for Xi Jinping

Evan Osnos wrote in The New Yorker: “For years, the government had downplayed the severity of environmental pollution, describing it as an unavoidable cost of growth. But, year by year, the middle class was becoming less accommodating; in polls, urban citizens described pollution as their leading concern, and, using smartphones, they compared daily pollution levels to the standards set by the World Health Organization. After a surge of smog in 2013, the government intensified efforts to consolidate power plants, close small polluters, and tighten state control. Last year, it declared a “war against pollution,” but conceded that Beijing will not likely achieve healthy air before 2030. In a moment of candor, the mayor pronounced the city “unlivable.” [Source: Evan Osnos, The New Yorker, April 6, 2015 ^^^]

In February 2015, “Chinese video sites posted a privately funded documentary, titled “Under the Dome,” in which Chai Jing, a former state-television reporter, described her growing alarm at the risks that air pollution poses to her infant daughter. It was a sophisticated production: Chai, in fashionable faded jeans and a white blouse, delivered a fast-paced, TED-style talk to a rapt studio audience, unspooling grim statistics and scenes in which bureaucrats admitted that powerful companies and agencies had rendered them incapable of protecting public health. In spirit, the film was consistent with the official “war on corruption,” and state-run media responded with a coördinated array of flattering coverage. ^^^

“The film raced across social media, and by the end of the first week it had been viewed two hundred million times—a level usually reserved for pop-music videos rather than dense, two-hour documentaries. The following weekend, the authorities ordered video sites to withdraw the film, and news organizations took down their coverage. As quickly as it had appeared, the film vanished from the Chinese Web—a phenomenon undone.

In the era of Xi Jinping, the public had proved, again, to be an unpredictable partner. It was a lesson that Xi absorbed long ago. “The people elevated me to this position so that I’d listen to them and benefit them,” he said in 2000. “But, in the face of all these opinions and comments, I had to learn to enjoy having my errors pointed out to me, but not to be swayed too much by that. Just because so-and-so says something, I’m not going to start weighing every cost and benefit. I’m not going to lose my appetite over it.” ?

Economic Challenges for Xi Jinping

Carl Minzner wrote in the Los Angeles Times, “Economically, the decades of double-digit growth rates that marked the reform period have ended. The infrastructure and real estate booms driving China's economy since the 1990s have peaked. Even the state media now speaks of adjusting to the “new normal.” Attitudes to foreign investors are shifting as well. Since the early 2000s, the rise of state industrial policies has favored the growth of domestic “national champions.” The announcement in August that China plans to launch a homegrown operating system to replace Windows and Android is simply the latest reflection of these trends. And a spate of state actions — jailing of corporate investigators, aggressive antitrust raids on firms that included Mercedes and Microsoft — have left expat managers nervously seeking transfers.” [Source: Carl Minzner, Los Angeles Times, October 20, 2014]

Evan Osnos wrote in The New Yorker, “China’s economy is likely to be Xi’s greatest obstacle. After economic growth of, on average, nearly ten per cent a year, for more than three decades, the Party expected growth to slow to a sustainable pace of around seven per cent, but it could fall more sharply. China remains the world’s largest manufacturer, with four trillion dollars in foreign-exchange reserves (a sum equivalent to the world’s fourth-largest economy). [Source: Evan Osnos, The New Yorker, April 6, 2015 ^^^]

“The risks to China’s economy have rarely been more visible. The workforce is aging more quickly than in other countries (because of the one-child policy), and businesses are borrowing money more rapidly than they are earning it. David Kelly, a co-founder of China Policy, a Beijing-based research and advisory firm, said, “The turning point in the economy really was about four, five years ago, and now you see the classical problem of the declining productivity of capital. For every dollar you invest, you’re getting far less bang for your buck.” The growth of demand for energy and raw materials has slowed, more houses and malls are empty, and nervous Chinese savers are sending money overseas, to protect it in the event of a crisis. Some factories have not paid wages, and in the last quarter of 2014 workers held strikes, or other forms of protest, at three times the rate of the same period a year earlier. ^^^

“Xi’s ability to avoid an economic crisis depends partly on whether he has the political strength to prevail over state firms, local governments, and other powerful interests. In his meetings with Rudd, the former Australian Prime Minister, Xi mentioned his father’s frustrated attempts to achieve market-oriented reforms. “Xi Jinping is legitimately proud of his father,” Rudd said, adding, “His father had a record of real achievement and was, frankly, a person who paid a huge political and personal price for being a dedicated Party man and a dedicated economic reformer.” ^^^

“Historically, the Party has never perceived a contradiction between political crackdown and economic reform. In 2005, Premier Wen Jiabao met with a delegation from the U.S. Congress, and one member, citing a professor who had recently been fired for political reasons, asked the Premier why. Wen was baffled by the inquiry; the professor was a “small problem,” he said. “I don’t know the person you spoke of, but as Premier I have 1.3 billion people on my mind.”

To maintain economic growth, China is straining to promote innovation, but by enforcing a political chill on Chinese campuses Xi risks suppressing precisely the disruptive thinking that the country needs for the future. At times, politics prevails over rational calculations. In 2014, after China had spent years investing in science and technology, the share of its economy devoted to research and development surpassed Europe’s. But, when the government announced the recipients of grants for social-science research, seven of the top ten projects were dedicated to analyzing Xi’s speeches (officially known as “General Secretary Xi’s Series of Important Speeches”) or his signature slogan: the Chinese Dream.” ^^^

Economy Under Xi Jinping

Evan Osnos wrote in The New Yorker, “In November, 2013, the Party announced plans to reinvigorate competition by expanding the role of private banks, allowing the market (instead of bureaucrats) to decide where water, oil, and other precious resources are directed, and forcing state firms to give up larger dividends and compete with private businesses. Last spring, China abolished registered-capital and other requirements for new companies, and in November it allowed foreign investors to trade shares directly on the Shanghai stock market for the first time. “A fair judgment is that Xi’s government has achieved more progress, in more areas, in the past eighteen months than the Hu government did in its entire second term,” Arthur Kroeber, a longtime Beijing-based economist at Gavekal Dragonomics, a research firm, told me. And yet, Kroeber added, “my confidence level is only slightly above fifty per cent” that the reforms will be enough to head off a recession. [Source: Evan Osnos, The New Yorker, April 6, 2015]

China scholar Willy Wo-Lap Lam told the New York Times: It’s to walk a fine line between upholding the party’s control over the economy on the one hand, and continuing with market reforms on the other. So he’s pushing reforms such as the globalization of the Chinese currency, the renminbi, that won’t challenge the party’s control of the economy. However, there are no plans to reform big state companies that dominate telecom, finance and natural resources. Xi has proposed slashing the bonuses of their executives, but over all, he wants to preserve these conglomerates’ monopolistic status. [Source: Ian Johnson, New York Times, June 2, 2015]

Alice Su wrote in the Los Angeles Times: “Perhaps the trickiest part of his reign is Xi's attempts to combine market reforms with state leadership. China's economy — despite its rebounding from the coronavirus — has slowed dramatically under Xi, in part because the private sector has been spooked by his talk of communist revival. The U.S.-China trade war, a drive for "decoupling" the two economies and the pandemic's impact have also strengthened Xi's support for state-owned enterprises, which he calls the core of China's economy despite their inefficiencies. He has made high-profile speeches reassuring China's private companies, like tech giants Huawei and Alibaba, that they are crucial to the China dream — but also demanded that they "listen to the party, walk with the party," and strengthen internal party committees' role in companies' decision-making. [Source: Alice Su, Los Angeles Times, October 22, 2020]

Xi Jinping’s Reformist Efforts

If reform is indeed one Xi Jinping’s objective, it seems he believes that reform con only take place through strong party control and this can only be achieved with a strong grip on power. In April 2014, Benjamin Kang Lim and Megha Rajagopalan of Reuters wrote: A source who met Xi in private “quoted him as saying implementing reforms had been "very difficult" due to opposition from state-owned enterprises along with influential party elders and their children, known as "princelings". State-owned firms and princelings in business enjoy many privileges and virtually monopolize certain sectors, something at odds with China's efforts to steer its economy away from a reliance on heavy industry and investment to one driven more by consumption and innovation. [Source: Benjamin Kang Lim and Megha Rajagopalan, Reuters, April 16, 2014]

“On the judicial front, Xi has overseen reforms that limit the ability of the party to interfere in most court cases - apart from politically sensitive ones - but more still needs to be done to deal with frequent miscarriages of justice that outrage the public, legal experts said. While Xi appears set on driving reform on many fronts, human rights activists have said major political change was not on his agenda. For example, authorities have increased controls over the local media and prominent bloggers in the past year.

Xi Jinping Economic and Social Reforms

In November 2013, Kevin Yao and Ben Blanchard of Reuters wrote: “China unwrapped its boldest set of economic and social reforms in nearly three decades on Friday, relaxing its one-child policy and further freeing up markets in order to put the world's second-largest economy on a more stable footing. The sweeping changes helped dispel doubts about the leadership's zest for the reforms needed to give the economy fresh momentum as three decades of breakneck expansion shows signs of faltering. However, the reforms may take years. [Source: Kevin Yao and Ben Blanchard, Reuters, November 15, 2013 /*]

“A document released by the Communist Party following a four-day conclave of its senior leaders promised land and residence registration reforms needed to boost China's urban population and allow its transition to a western-style services- and consumption-driven economy. Pricing of fuels, electricity and other key resources - now a source of major distortions - would be mainly decided by markets, while Beijing also pledged to speed up the opening of its capital account and further financial liberalization. "The reforms are unprecedented," said Xu Hongcai, senior economist at the China Centre for International Economic Exchanges, a well-connected Beijing think tank. "Reforms in 1990s were limited to some areas, now reforms are all-round." /*\

Analysts suggested the plans are the most significant since Deng Xiaoping led a series of reforms in the late 1970s and the early 1980s. Those changes eventually opened up the country to the outside world and set it on course to become the champion economy of emerging markets. President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang, appointed in March, announced several breakthroughs in social policy, pledging to unify rural and urban social security systems and to abolish controversial labor camps. The 60-point plan, more comprehensive and specific than initially thought, also eased concerns that Xi would need months if not years to take full charge of China's vast party and government bureaucracy. /*\

“China-watchers took the establishment of a working group to lead economic reform and a new State Security Council as further signs of how effectively Xi had managed to consolidate power just eight months after he officially took over. "This is much more of a top-down, systemic leadership compared to the 1980s and 1990s. Compared to previous generations, this is a remarkably robust leadership," said Dali Yang, a political science professor at the University of Chicago. /*\

“The initial brief reform outline published triggered a stock market sell-off, with investors taking its scant details as a sign of a lack of commitment on Xi's part or his failure to overcome resistance of vested interests, such as powerful state-owned companies. But a raft of specific policy plans ranging from interest rate and currency regime liberalization to residence registration and land reforms and the pledge to allow more competition seemed to put such concerns to rest. /*\

“According to the document, the government had decided to work toward an independent judiciary - courts would be "appropriately" separated from local governments.Under government reform, it relaxed the need for government approval on projects and said the performance of local officials would be rated on measures other than just economic growth, such as in environmental protection. The commitment to abolish re-education through labor camps was also remarkable, given that several political sources had told Reuters this was an area where Xi was facing much resistance. /*\

See One Child Policy, Economic Reforms and Reeducation Through Labor Camps

Xi Jinping’s Political- Economic Challenges

George Friedman wrote in Business Insider: “There is occasional talk that China will somehow return to a period of rapid growth and increasing wealth. But the vast outflow of money (some in the hands of private individuals, some taken from government coffers and informally privatized) is the short explanation for why China has reached a new normal. If the rule is “follow the insiders,” the insiders are saying that getting money out of China is a priority. The story is more complex, of course. If a regime justifies itself by delivering prosperity, and it stops delivering, the regime is in trouble. China’s problem can no longer be considered primarily economic. That train has left. The economic reality is locked in and will remain in place for a long time. [Source: George Friedman, Mauldin Economics, Business Insider, April 30, 2016 *]

China is now in the throes of a political challenge. The coastal region will grow at a much slower rate than before, if at all. People who came from the interior for jobs will have to return to the interior. The interior—a vast and impoverished region—is the population heartland of China. Over 60 percent of China’s population lives there. But the coast is the country’s economic heartland, and that dichotomy defines China’s political problem. Xi must satisfy both regions, which won’t be easy. The interior wants money for jobs, economic development, and ultimately increased consumption. The only place to get this money from is the coastal region, which obviously does not want to make the transfer. The coast is economically tied to the United States and Europe, not to the interior. It wants to maintain those links. But the interior is where the majority of Chinese live, and it was the foundation of the Chinese revolution and the regime. *\

“Xi is frightened that the interior will destabilize the regime under economic pressure and that he will lose control over the coastal region, as happened in the 19th century. These are distant yet rational fears. Xi’s mission is to ensure that the Communist Party keeps China under control. His primary challenge is the inequality among classes and regions that the post-Mao economic surge created. The Communist Party came to rule China by exploiting that inequality. If the party can’t solve the problem it has created, it must at least try to control it. *\

“The first step toward control was to impose a dictatorship on the to prevent the emergence of any organized resistance. Today, further liberalization is out of the question, and suppressing any elements that demand it is essential. The regime also wants to assert control over private assets. Such control is essential if money will be used to quell unhappiness in the interior, and the vast anti-corruption purgeis designed to achieve this. The campaign is not so much aimed at suppressing corruption, although doing so has its uses. Rather, it is designed to intimidate all those who have accumulated wealth. This class must be brought under the control of the party to prevent it from using its wealth to control the party. The mission set out by Deng Xioping was to “enrich yourself.” Now the fear is that the wealthy have gone too far. The somewhat random and unpredictable purges are intended to frighten the rich. One result is capital flight, and that is a problem. But the goal is to make wealth subordinate to political power, not the other way around. Otherwise, the party becomes fundamentally weak.” *\

Long Time Needed to Carry Out Xi Jinping’s Reforms

Kevin Yao and Ben Blanchard of Reuters wrote: “Xi and his team gave themselves until 2020 to achieve "decisive" results - a tacit acknowledgement of the risks involved in Beijing's balancing act between letting market forces eventually take over and preserving financial and social stability and the Communist Party's political monopoly. [Source: Kevin Yao and Ben Blanchard, Reuters, November 15, 2013 /*]

“The experience of the past decade is also a reason why many economists and international observers view Beijing's bold reform plans with guarded optimism. Just like Xi and Li, the previous leadership promised to overhaul China's economy and kick its addiction to rapid, investment and credit-fuelled growth, but left it saddled with more debt, industrial overcapacity, pollution and financial strains.U.S. Treasury Secretary Jack Lew echoed that caution during a stopover in Beijing on his Asian tour, describing the plans as "ambitious" and noting that key was how soon they would become reality. "The direction is significant, but the character and the pace of change matters," Lew told reporters./*\

“Few commentators had also expected any significant attempts to take on powerful state monopolies, even though many economists argue that loosening the stranglehold of big state-owned firms' on markets from banking to energy was key to success of other reforms. The initial outline of the plans had affirmed those firms' strategic role in the economy. But the longer report on Friday raised state firm dividend payments, allowed private firms to enter some of the protected sectors and encouraged them to take part in reforming the state-owned firms. /*\

“All in all, the proposed reforms are part of China's grand transformation design: retooling the economy towards greater reliance on consumption, services and moving up the manufacturing value chain, while tackling deepening inequality and discontent, a source of great anxiety for a leadership that prizes stability over everything else. Chinese leaders are acutely aware of what is at stake as years of rapid growth come to an end. Having been the factory to the world, they want to avoid the so-called middle-income trap, where wealth creation stagnates as market share is lost to lower-cost rivals. The World Bank says China's per capita GDP was $6,188 last year, compared with $22,590 in South Korea, $36,796 in Hong Kong and $51,709 in Singapore - Asian peers that have succeeded in making such a transition./*\

“Still, economists said that having a good plan was only part of the success and making the ambitious agenda a reality would be the new leaders' true challenge. "Based on the headlines ... they are moving in a positive direction," said Jan von Gerich, fixed income chief analyst with Nordea Bank in Helsinki. "But one should not get too carried away as this will be a long process." /*\

Military Strength: the Solution to China’s Economic and Political Threats?

George Friedman wrote in Business Insider: “Wealth is part of the equation, but in the end, the People’s Liberation Army is the key. It is the ultimate guarantor of the regime in two ways. First, it has the power to crush opposition, as it did in Tiananmen Square. Second, the children of peasants fill its ranks, and they see enlistment as a path to upward mobility. Taken together, its makeup and power can guarantee the communist regime’s survival. On the other hand, the PLA is also capable of undermining the regime. Its enormous size might enable it to subvert the party’s power throughout the country. [Source: George Friedman, Mauldin Economics, Business Insider, April 30, 2016 *]

“The party and the PLA had a clear alignment in the past. Now that bond is less certain. The PLA’s officer corps has gotten deeply involved in enriching themselves. The PLA was directly involved in PLA-owned enterprises. The enterprises have been reduced, but the PLA leadership is still intertwined with Chinese business—either directly or through relatives. The PLA’s size and influence mean that its officers’ interests are torn between the party and the wealthy, which is now under attack. *\

“The regime, however, is reducing PLA’s massive size, which makes good military sense. It also makes political sense. This allows Xi to eliminate those involved in what is now termed corruption, to confiscate their wealth, and to intimidate others. This purge is similar to those going on in many institutional bureaucracies in China, except that the size and importance of the PLA outstrips all other institutions. A smaller and reconfigured PLA will pose less of a threat to the regime, even if its military efficiency increases. *\

“This transition is dangerous for the party and for Xi. The writing is on the wall for many in the army who have accumulated wealth, but restructuring will take several years. The PLA will have to be tightly controlled. That is why Xi set up a Discipline Inspection Commission in January specifically for the PLA, answerable directly to the Central Military Commission. This is also why Xi has taken direct control of military operations. He or his trusted advisors will have direct access to plans and operations. The PLA will come under Xi’s direct supervision. Any broad conspiracy that includes the PLA will be readily detected. You can’t hide the kinds of troop movements that would pose an existential threat to the regime. *\

“The PLA is the center of gravity of the regime, and if Xi loses control of it, he could lose control of everything. Xi would never have appointed himself head of the Joint Operations Command Center if he hadn’t felt the move absolutely necessary. He moved to take control of the PLA’s operations to ensure that he could preserve the regime. He put a very different gloss on the action, positioning it as an expansion of his power… and it was. But it was an expansion compelled by the regime’s insecurity. At first glance, his move should succeed. But there are so many complex and competing interests involved that when Xi pushes on some, others could come loose.” *\

Xi Jinping and Human Rights

Alice Su wrote in the Los Angeles Times: “ Xi has also stifled all perceived threats to social "stability": not only dissidents, but also human rights lawyers, labor activists, poets, feminists and more. He has launched "Sinicization" programs targeting religious and ethnic minorities, including the mass incarceration of Uighurs and other Muslims. He has imposed a new national security law that is smothering the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong. He has tightened control over schools from kindergarten through university, reinforcing "patriotic education" with Xi Jinping Thought as a guiding ideology. [Source: Alice Su, Los Angeles Times, October 22, 2020]

Xi receiving a scarf from Beijing's Panchen Lama

Evan Osnos wrote in The New Yorker, “Xi’s government has no place for loyal opposition. When he launched the anticorruption campaign, activists—such as the lawyer Xu Zhiyong, who had served as a local legislator in Beijing—joined in, calling on officials to disclose their incomes. But Xu and many others were arrested. (He was later sentenced to four years in prison for “gathering crowds to disrupt public order.”) One of Xu’s former colleagues, Teng Biao, told me, “For the government, ‘peaceful evolution’ was not just a slogan. It was real. The influence of Western states was becoming more obvious and more powerful.” Teng was at a conference in Germany soon after Xu and another colleague were arrested. “People advised me not to return to China, or I’d be arrested, too,” Teng said. He is now a visiting scholar at Harvard Law School. [Source: Evan Osnos, The New Yorker, April 6, 2015 ^^^]

“A prominent editor in Beijing told me that Chinese philanthropists have been warned, “You can’t give money to this N.G.O. or that N.G.O.—basically all N.G.O.s.” In December, the Committee to Protect Journalists counted forty-four reporters in Chinese jails, more than in any other country. Well-known human-rights lawyers—Pu Zhiqiang, Ding Jiaxi, Xia Lin—have been jailed. Earlier this month, Human Rights Watch called this the harshest suppression of dissent in a decade. Although Vladimir Putin has suffocated Russian civil society and neutered the press, Moscow stores still carry books that are critical of him, and a few long-suffering blogs still find ways to attack him. Xi is less tolerant. In February, 2014, Yiu Mantin, a seventy-nine-year-old editor at Hong Kong’s Morning Bell Press, who had planned to release a biography critical of Xi, by the exiled writer Yu Jie, was arrested during a visit to the mainland. He had received a phone call warning him not to proceed with publication. He was sentenced to ten years in prison, on charges of smuggling seven cans of paint. ^^^

In 2017, Kenneth Roth, the director of Human Rights Human said:““China’s crackdown on human rights activists is the most severe since the Tiananmen Square democracy movement...“What’s less appreciated is the lengths to which China goes to prevent criticism of that record of oppression by people outside China, particularly those at the United Nations.” [Source: Nick Cumming-Bruce, New York Times, September 6, 2017]

Nick Cumming-Bruce wrote in the New York Times: China is systematically undermining international human rights groups in a bid to silence critics of its crackdown on such rights at home, Roth said. ““It’s becoming a mutual defense society among dictators in which everybody understands the need to deflect criticism of you today because they may criticize us tomorrow,” Mr. Roth said. “And China is an active, willing partner in that effort.” Moreover, China has withheld information requested by United Nations bodies that monitor issues like torture, treatment of the disabled and children’s rights, and has tried to stop the filming and online posting of their proceedings, Human Rights Watch said. The report also accused China of using its position on a United Nations committee that accredits nongovernment organizations to obstruct applications by civil society groups.

Xi Jinping and the Coronavirus

Alice Su wrote in the Los Angeles Times: Xi’s “determination to prove the Chinese system superior has driven impressive moves toward combating poverty and pollution, making this nation of 1.4 billion people a dominant force in high-tech industries and allowing it to contain the coronavirus outbreak — even as much of the world blames China for allowing the disease to spread. [Source: Alice Su, Los Angeles Times, October 22, 2020]

To appreciate Xi's grip on the country, one need only look at the coronavirus — China stumbled early with the Wuhan outbreak, but quickly recovered through strict lockdowns, contact tracing and mass testing. It has virtually stemmed the disease while racing to become the first nation with a publicly available vaccine. China's economy grew nearly 5% in the third quarter while the United States and Europe continued to struggle with COVID-19. Xi and the party point to such signs as proof of the Chinese system's superiority. [Source: Alice Su, Los Angeles Times, October 22, 2020]

Image Sources: Chinese Dream Posters: Joyce Lee, The Diplomat; Frederick Green, Churchill College, Cambridge

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, The Guardian, National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, NBC News, Fox News and various books and other publications.

Last updated September 2021

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