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The rise and rise of Xi Jinping

opinionThe rise and rise of Xi Jinping

Though not spelled in the communiqué, the resolution, besides granting Xi a third term, also gives him unprecedented powers to designate his successor.


The Sixth Plenary Session of the 19th Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (CPC) was held between 8 and 11 November 2021. Though not spelt out in the communiqué that was issued at the close of the session, but has silently endorsed the unprecedented 3rd term for Xi Jinping, thus breaking away from the 10 years and 7 up and 8 down (七上八下) succession rule set by Deng Xiaoping after the demise of Mao Zedong. Of the 7 plenary sessions held in a period of five years, the 6th is generally dedicated to ideology and party building. The 6th plenum passed a landmark document titled the “Resolution on the major achievements and historical experience of the CPC’s 100 years of endeavours” that establishes Xi’s paramountcy at par with Mao and Deng. The tone was set by Xinhua in a near 13,500-character long essay entitled “Xi Jinping leads a century-old party on a new journey”, on 6 November 2021. The article, flagged out his grassroots connections, right from a very young age, be it his assignment in Liangjiahe, Shaanxi or Zhengding in Hebei or in Fujian and Zhejiang, and the direction and leadership he has provided to the CPC and China ever since he took reins of power in 2012.

Why are people debating the “resolution” of the 6th plenum? Well, the answer lies in the fact that over the past 100 years, the CPC has adopted just two resolutions related to historical issues, in 1945 under Mao and in 1981 under Deng. The First Resolution, analysed and drew conclusions on important historical events and personalities, and established undisputed leadership of Mao and his thought within the CPC. Chiang Kai-shek and Wang Jingwei were labelled as betrayers of the First United Front between the communists and nationalists; Chen Duxiu was blamed for “right capitulationism” (右倾机会主义), Wang Ming for his “left adventurism” (左倾盲动主义), Zhang Guotao for splittism (分裂主义), and Wang Ming, who criticised Mao’s tactics and ideology was declared as self-styled “imperial envoy” (钦差大臣) of the Communist International and publicly humiliated during the Yan’an Rectification Movement (1942-45). People who criticised the core leadership, were subjected to struggle sessions, tortured and even executed. It is estimated that around 10,000 people died during the Yan’an Rectification Movement. But, China, in the process of struggle, “produced its own leader, Comrade Mao Zedong, who on behalf of the Chinese people and proletariat, creatively applied the highest wisdom of mankind, the scientific theory of Marxism-Leninism, to Chinese conditions,” said the first paragraph of the Resolution.

The Second Resolution passed by the 6th Plenum of the 11th Central Committee on 27 June 1981 entitled “On questions of Party history” confirmed the historical role of Mao Zedong and his thought, however, also pronounced Mao as arrogant and remarked that he “divorced himself from practice and from the masses, acted more and more arbitrarily and subjectively, and increasingly put himself above the Central Committee of the Party.” Nevertheless, the resolution also exonerated him of the crimes by noting that “his contributions to the Chinese revolution far outweigh his mistakes.” The criticism was perhaps necessary as China opened to the outside world, dismantled the planned economy of the Mao era gradually and allowed criticism of the “Cultural Revolution” by intellectuals. The second resolution established the paramountcy of Deng Xiaoping in the CPC, which continued during the entire reform era (1979-2012) and his theory was enshrined in the party constitution at par with Mao’s thought. Chinese people broke the “spiritual shackles of the personality cult and the dogmatism” as specified by the resolution, and rose to become the world factory and second largest economy in the world. It is generally believed that the first two resolutions on historical issues played an extremely important role in confirming the guiding ideology and achievements of the core leadership on the one hand, and building consensus within the party in order to fulfil new targets and deadlines set by the leadership.

The Third Resolution, like the previous two, confirmed the role played by the previous leadership, and catapulted Xi Jinping to the position of a paramount leader and his thought at par with Mao’s thought and Deng’s theory. The communiqué that was issued on 11 November, devoted maximum space to Xi Jinping and least to Jiang Zemin. No wonder, the document in a veiled criticism to Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao rule, pronounced it as “lax and weak governance” (宽松软状况) which has been fundamentally addressed since ascendance of Xi to power. It endorsed Xi Jinping at the core and called upon the party, military and Chinese people to unite more closely (更加紧密地团结) around the core. His people centred (以人民为中心) philosophy, anti-corruption campaign and poverty alleviation, governance (治国理政), Five-Sphere Integrated Plan (五位一体 coordinated economic, political, cultural, social, and ecological advancement), Four-Pronged Comprehensive Strategy (四个意识building a moderately prosperous society in all respects, deepen reform, advance law-based governance, and strengthen Party self-governance), Four matters of confidence (四个自信confidence in the path, theory, system, and culture of socialism with Chinese characteristics), Two upholds (两个维护resolutely uphold General Secretary Xi Jinping’s core position on the Party Central Committee and in the Party as a whole, and resolutely uphold the Party Central Committee’s authority and its centralized, unified leadership), essentially parts of his thought, have been given prominence throughout the document, albeit some have been left out in the English version of the communiqué. A few others, such as his “dual circulation” and the “third distribution”, whereby Xi has asked the rich to pay back to society were enumerated by Xinhua article. The anti-corruption campaign has also been seen as a measure to consolidate Xi’s power and purge his detractors. According to the above Xinhua article, in the last 9 years, over 400 officials at ministerial level or above have been penalised or investigated, which included people from the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau and Central Military Commission.

With realising the first centenary in 2021 by building a moderately prosperous society in all respects after eradicating absolute poverty, Xi has been mandated to take China towards realising the socialist modernisation in 2035 and the second centenary goals of China by the middle of this century, thus realising the Chinese dream of national rejuvenation, and China taking the centre-stage in global affairs. His role in handling the US-China trade war, security related issues in the neighborhood or other global challenges like the Covid-19 pandemic, climate change, as well as his advocacy for building of a “health silk road”, an extension of the Belt and Road Initiative and “community of shared future for the mankind,” are also highlighted by the communiqué and Xinhua alike.  However, the communiqué is tight lipped on some of the more problematic issues such as Tian’anmen massacre, Mao’s man-made famine, and the cultural revolution that saw unprecedented death and destruction in China. This not alone, Xi Jinping has refrained from listing the “Cultural Revolution” as a separate chapter in the newly revised party history entitled A Brief History of the Communist Party of China early this February. It has been made a part of the socialist construction period (1949-1976). Most striking feature of the new Party history is that Xi Jinping and his new era occupies one-fourth of a century of party history, thus outweighing the socialist construction and reform era of his predecessors. This, in other words, has been regarded as the beginning of new literary inquisition in China, nonetheless, denying the serious appraisal of the blunders of the party will continue to haunt the CPC and draw criticism for years to come.

Though not spelled in the communiqué, the resolution, besides granting Xi a third term, also gives him unprecedented powers to designate his successor. Coinciding with the Xinhua article on 6 November, Singapore’s Straits Times, quoting an insider, revealed that Xi Jinping is “mulling over a new succession system” in the place of an “unreasonable” old one. He is unwilling to let Jiang Zemin or Hu Jintao decide his successor. The article hints that Xi is likely to incorporate a number of his lieutenants in the central committee, monitor their “performance” and elevate them to the desired position whenever he deems it fit. People like Chen Miner, secretary of the Chongqing Municipal Committee of the CPC, Ding Xuexiang, director of the Central Office of the CPC, Hu Chunhua, vice premier of the CPC, Li Qiang, secretary of the Shanghai Municipal Committee of the CPC, and Li Xi, secretary of the Guangdong Provincial Party Committee are likely to be incorporated. In a nutshell, the third resolution has brought down curtains on the reform era, the journey for Xi Jinping in the new era is not going to be easy given the internal and external challenges China is facing amidst the pandemic. It is going to be full of struggles, black swans and grey rhinos, to quote Xi’s own phraseology.

B.R. Deepak is Professor, Center of Chinese and Southeast Asian Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University.


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