Pursuing the China Dream

Pursuing the China Dream

China's most powerful leader in recent decades, President Xi Jinping, is further boosting his power base by formulating his own signature ideology and ensuring it enters the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) charter.

It is par for the course that the CCP chief would work to secure his historical legacy through his own doctrine - likely based on his "China Dream" political slogan. But minefields lie in the way as he is doing so with more haste and force than his predecessors.

News that five of China's top 10 state-funded research projects this year will focus on the study of Mr Xi's speeches is a clear sign that the CCP is ramping up efforts to shape his signature ideology.

Another two of the 10 projects, each receiving grants of up to 800,000 yuan (S$166,400), will delve into Mr Xi's "China Dream", which envisages the rejuvenation of the Chinese nation across spheres such as standard of living and military might.

Other related efforts include a book compiling his important speeches since taking power in November 2012. More than 10 million copies have been sold since its launch in June, most of them to officials.

There is little surprise at Mr Xi's moves as party tradition compels the party chief to be seen as contributing to the CCP's ideological development. To do so, the chief has to be associated with an ideology that is enshrined as a "guiding thought" in the party charter, alongside the doctrines of preceding leaders.

The tradition began in October 1997, eight months after Deng Xiaoping's death, when the CCP charter was amended to include the Deng Xiaoping Theory that allowed China's opening up and reform, by advocating "socialism with Chinese characteristics".

The charter read: "The Chinese Communist Party adopts Marxism-Leninism, Mao Zedong Thought and Deng Xiaoping Theory as the guide to action."

In 2002, when Mr Jiang Zemin retired, the charter added "the important thought of Three Represents" - Mr Jiang's doctrine that the CCP should represent the broad masses and which paved the way for entrepreneurs to join the party.

His successor, Mr Hu Jintao, left his mark through his "Scientific Outlook on Development", which advocated sustainable development and a harmonious society. It was first worked into the CCP Constitution in 2007 and then, in 2012, when Mr Hu retired, it was upgraded to a guiding thought in the charter with this new line: "The Communist Party of China takes Marxism-Leninism, Mao Zedong Thought, Deng Xiaoping Theory, the important thought of Three Represents and the Scientific Outlook on Development as its guide to action."

Mark of a worthy leader

What might account for Mr Xi's eagerness to cement his reputation through ideology, given that he has proven more powerful than his two predecessors at similar stages of their stint as CCP chiefs?

He became CCP chief and chair of the Central Military Commission (CMC) at the 2012 power transfer, unlike Mr Jiang and Mr Hu who waited at least two years to head the military. Also, Mr Xi now wears a record number of nine hats as CCP chief, CMC chair, State President, and head of six party committees on national security and cyber security.

Beyond a grip on power, a personal ideology ensures a CCP chief is deemed a truly worthy leader, said Singapore-based analyst Bo Zhiyue of the East Asian Institute. "It shows that the top leader is not just a leader of factions but also of thoughts," said the expert on elite Chinese politics.

Dr Bo cited how the lack of a pet doctrine counted against former CCP chiefs Hu Yaobang and Zhao Ziyang in the party annals. Both were ousted from their positions in the 1980s after running afoul of Deng with their reformist streak and opposition to an armed crackdown on the June 1989 Tiananmen Square demonstrations respectively.

University of Sydney analyst Kerry Brown said a signature ideology attached to every CCP chief is also "an attempt to give some sense that the party is not ossified and sterile in its ideology but trying to change and develop".

But the assertive way Mr Xi is pushing his ideology carries political risks for him as it raises expectations of the final product and the speed with which he secures its inclusion in the CCP charter. A less than impressive ideology or delay may boomerang on Mr Xi's power base and historical legacy.

First, he is formulating his pet doctrine at an earlier stage than his two predecessors.

Mr Jiang, who became CCP chief in 1989, surfaced his "Three Represents" in 2000 near the end of his tenure in 2002. Mr Hu did, in a way, move faster than Mr Xi, as he introduced his "scientific development outlook" in 2003, a year after becoming CCP chief. But he intensified much later his efforts in pushing for it to be written into the CCP charter.

In contrast, Mr Xi first articulated his China Dream slogan less than two weeks after taking power at the CCP's 18th Party Congress in mid-November 2012.

"In moving so fast, it reflects Xi's ambition to secure his historical legacy and also his self-confidence over his current stature and power base," said Peking University political analyst Zhang Jian.

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