The vision thing in China
A recent development has caught the attention of China watchers. The Communist Party’s official People’s Daily and other Chinese state media gave wall-to-wall coverage of President Xi Jinping’s new political theory under the slogan “Four Comprehensives” from late February to the run-up to last week’s opening of the annual parliamentary session. The theory’s four points are: “Comprehensively build a moderately prosperous society; comprehensively deepen reform; comprehensively govern the nation according to law; and comprehensively strictly govern the party.”
Xi, who has been also publicly championing the idea of the so-called Chinese Dream, first mentioned the Four Comprehensives during his trip to Jiangsu Province in December. The idea was picked up by the media and launched full sail a few weeks ahead of the annual party congress session, suggesting the concept sat well with the Communist Party Politburo. In a front-page editorial, the People’s Daily proclaimed that the Four Comprehensives would “lead the way for a strategic map for national renewal.” The slogan is now being hyped as the signature political philosophy of Xi.
The Communist Party prides itself on its ability to theorize. It likes to set a direction and theorize it in a manifesto replete with catchphrases. The party was founded in 1921 with Marxist-Leninist roots. When revolutionary leader Mao Zedong came to power, he added a Chinese identity to traditional socialism and vowed to remake the society with new customs, culture, habits, and ideas. Farmers, not laborers, became the revolutionary center for China.
The biggest merit of Deng Xiaoping’s theory, or Dengism, was that rhetoric was put into action. He was a champion of pragmatism over ideology. As he himself famously said, “It doesn’t matter whether the cat is black or white as long as it catches mice.” (The black and white was supposed to refer to ideological labels.) He upheld the party principles based on Marxism and some aspects of Maoism while strenuously opening and reforming the economy to build it up. Successor Jiang Zemin tried to sell the Three Represents as his contribution to political theory. By dropping specific class definitions, Jiang and the party broadened their scope to represent the broader masses including capitalists, which the communists once excluded. The Communist Party evolved from a party for laborers and farmers to represent a broader segment of the Chinese people.
The more vague Scientific Outlook on Development was President Hu Jintao’s theoretical accomplishment. Wealth polarization accelerated during the Deng and Jiang eras. Scientific Development was supposed to be sustainable growth with an emphasis on humanity and balance. While Deng’s theory was written into the party manifesto in 1997, after his death earlier that year, the deep thoughts of Jiang and Hu were included in the charter in 2002 and 2007 during their rules. The Communist Party regularly refers to Marxism, Leninism, Maoism, Dengism, the Three Represents, and Scientific Outlook on Development as its dogma. While Maoism and Dengism were graced with “isms,” the theories of their successors were not, suggesting different levels of influence the leaders had on the country.
Xi’s political slogan of Four Comprehensives was carefully rolled out. Xi spoke of a moderately prosperous society in his first address to the National People’s Congress in 2012. He declared the start of a reform and anticorruption campaign at the party convention in 2013. The rule of law was emphasized during the session in 2014. He spoke of party matters while overseeing the party’s training guidelines last October. The Four Comprehensives are actually a summing up of Xi’s governance over the last two years.
In fact, the Four Comprehensives epitomizes his political vision and aspirations as well as the direction of governance during his rule. Xi aspires to discipline the party and root out corruption to restore order and stability in society and continue with reforms so that the fruits of prosperity can be enjoyed by every Chinese by the time the Communist Party celebrates the 100th anniversary of its founding in 2021. The Four Comprehensives were elaborations of his earlier, more idealistic and equivocal vision of the Chinese Dream.
It takes enormous self-pride and confidence about support from the party and people for a leader to be bold enough to put his words into a theoretical framework. Xi may want to develop ideals that can elevate him to the level of Mao and Deng. Strangely, all the hype and propaganda does not look retro when Xi is at its center. He has earned that much confidence as he unwaveringly pushes ahead with the anticorruption drive and navigates a soft-landing for the economy, allowing it to grow at a more moderate pace than in the past.
Compared with the changes going on in Beijing, the state of our leadership is pitiful. China and Korea’s leaders came into office around the same time. Ours is associated with the botched handling of the Sewol ferry sinking and a series of appointment flops. The economy is mired in apathy and a lack of confidence and a household debt bomb is ticking. Xi’s China is looking beyond the Pacific. We are going nowhere fast.
JoongAng Ilbo, Mar. 11, Page 28
*The author is a JoongAng Ilbo specialist on China.
by You Sang-chul