China Enshrines ‘Xi Jinping Thought.’ What Does That Mean? – New York Times
China’s leader, Xi Jinping, secured a political victory on Tuesday when a Communist Party congress in Beijing enshrined his name and ideas into the party’s constitution. Appearing alongside the hallowed names of Mao Zedong and Deng Xiaoping will be a clunky new phrase: “Xi Jinping Thought for the New Era of Socialism with Chinese Special Characteristics.”
While the meaning of those 13 words (or 16 characters in Chinese) may seem opaque, they are freighted with significance for both the party’s and China’s future. They send a clear signal to party officials, who take such shifts in doctrine seriously and stay attuned to changes in the party’s internal balance of power.
How did the party change its constitution?
The Chinese Communist Party has its own constitution, or charter, which is different from China’s national Constitution. The party’s constitution sets rules and principles for its members. It also lays out the party’s vision of its own history, and the contributions of current and past leaders to that heritage.
Changes to the constitution can be made only at the party congress, which usually meets every five years. Since the congress’s 2,300 delegates are carefully chosen for loyalty, very few oppose changes once they are proposed by the leadership.
What do these changes really mean?
A key phrase here is “new era,” one that Mr. Xi has used throughout the congress, which began last week. Mr. Xi has described Chinese history since 1949 as divided into two eras: the three decades after Mao seized power in a revolution that established a unified People’s Republic and ended nearly a century of civil war and foreign invasions, and the three decades after Deng took power in 1978 and refocused China on developing its economy.
Mr. Xi has signaled he is launching China into a new, third era. In his report to the congress, Mr. Xi suggested that if Mao made China independent, and Deng made it prosperous, he was now going to make China strong again. Restoring China to greatness is a central message of the “Xi Jinping Thought” added to the constitution, and is a goal that has already guided Mr. Xi’s policies of building up the military, strengthening domestic controls and raising China’s profile in global affairs.
To underline that point, the congress also added a second mention of Mr. Xi’s ideas to the constitution: his call to modernize and strengthen China’s armed forces.
By enshrining Mr. Xi’s ideas as “a new component of the party’s guide for action,” the party is putting Mr. Xi on a doctrinal pedestal alongside Mao and Deng. Until Tuesday, those were the only two Chinese leaders whose names appeared in the constitution’s list of fundamental doctrines, which mentions “Mao Zedong Thought” and “Deng Xiaoping Theory.” Adding Mr. Xi by name also raises him above his two most recent predecessors, the former presidents Jiang Zemin and Hu Jintao, whose ideas are on the list of doctrines, but not their names.
In the near future, Chinese people are likely to refer to Mr. Xi’s doctrine of a reinvigorated China as simply “Xi Jinping Thought,” a flattering echo of “Mao Zedong Thought.”
Does this mean Mr. Xi is as powerful as Mao was in his day?
It’s not that simple. After he came to power in 2012, Mr. Xi surprised many people with how quickly and forcefully he asserted control. This included putting his imprint on two of China’s most powerful institutions, the party and the military, which he did using a sweeping anticorruption drive.
But his basis of rule is different from Mao’s, and even Deng’s. Both of those leaders were founders of the People’s Republic, and hardened revolutionaries whose decades of fighting and self-sacrifice gave them a charisma and authority that Mr. Xi simply cannot replicate. For all his power, Mr. Xi does not have the almost godlike dominance that Mao once wielded.
On the other hand, the Chinese economy, state and military are much more powerful now than they were under Mao, or even Deng, which gives Mr. Xi far more global clout than his predecessors.
What other decisions did the party congress make?
The congress finished on Tuesday with several other major steps. Most important, the delegates voted in a new Central Committee, a council of 204 senior central and local officials who usually meet once a year to approve broad policy priorities.
There was a notable absence on that list: Wang Qishan.
Mr. Wang, 69, was the enforcer in Mr. Xi’s drive to root out corruption and strengthen discipline within the party. Party insiders had said that Mr. Xi might try to keep Mr. Wang in a senior position, despite the fact that Mr. Wang had passed the retirement age. His absence from the list means he will probably retire.
How will changing the party constitution affect how China is run?
Mr. Xi’s vision of a resurgent China will now permeate all party indoctrination in schools, the media and government agencies. With the conclusion of the congress, the party and the Chinese news media will begin a national drive to promote its decisions, and especially the elevation of Mr. Xi.
But many Chinese people will also closely watch the announcement on Wednesday of new members of the Politburo Standing Committee, the party’s top rung of power, for signs of how far Mr. Xi can get his way in promoting political allies. That will be a sign of how much power he really has behind the welter of propaganda.
Adam Wu contributed research.
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