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Xi Jinping: Cadres Need to Study History

[Editor’s Note: On September 1, Xi Jinping attended the Opening Ceremony for the Fall 2011 Semester of the Party School of the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). [1] Xi gave a speech that focused on studying history in order to gain the wisdom to manage the country. Though his speech mentioned Marxism several times, Xi repeatedly stressed learning from the wisdom and examples of history in order to run the country and improve one’s moral standards. In the past, especially during Mao Zedong’s era, the CCP drew a clear line between Marxism and pre-CCP Chinese history (which they criticized as being a feudal society or a slave society). This may be an indication that the CCP recognizes an inadequacy in communist theory’s ability to provide an effective means and ideological ground for guiding its cadres development. The following are excerpts from Xi’s speech.]

The 2011 fall semester of the Party School of the Central Committee of the CCP starts today. On behalf of the school committee, I would like to extend a warm welcome to all students.

Comrades, you have put down your busy work and come to the Party School of the Central Committee. Your main task is to study. The focus is on studying Marxist theory, but you also need to study other subject matter required for doing a good job in your work, including a knowledge of history.

1. Studying and summarizing history, as well as borrowing and using the experiences of history, is an important idea and a useful method for being the good leaders that our Party has always emphasized and advocated.

History is a real record of the formation, development, rise, and fall of an ethnic group or a nation. It is like an “encyclopedia about our predecessors” that pools their knowledge, experiences, and wisdom.

In the process of leading the revolution, development, and reformation of China, our Party has always emphasized borrowing and using historical experiences and advocated that our cadres study history and put historical knowledge to good use. In October 1938, Comrade Mao Zedong pointed out at the Sixth Plenary Session of the Sixth Central Committee of the CCP, “Today’s China is a development in China’s history; we are Marxist historicists and we should not cut off history. …”

Comrade Deng Xiaoping also attached great importance to studying history and borrowing from historical experiences. …

Comrade Jiang Zemin also emphasized the study and use of history and the knowledge of history. He stressed many times that the various levels of cadres of the Party and the country need to pay attention to studying history. High level cadres especially should lead by example. …

After the Sixteenth Central Committee of the CCP, Comrade Hu Jintao conducted a series of important talks on attaching great importance to studying history, and on borrowing and using historical experiences. …

History is a record of all kinds of scientific and cultural knowledge that our predecessors gathered; it is a record of their ideas and wisdom for governing the country and society; and it is a record of the lessons they learned from their successes and failures. We should learn about and understand their cultures, ideas, wisdom, lessons, and experiences. Using the scientific attitude of “choose the good to follow and identify the bad to change” and combining it with the reality of our work, we can absorb and use (the good), and take it as a reference, or use (the bad) as something to guard against. This will be very beneficial for elevating our level of political ideology and improving our work. Many of our cadres possess a knowledge of natural science, technological science, and management science, as well as basic cultural knowledge and work experience. However, they lack a deeper understanding of the Marxist philosophy and the history of China and other countries. … Therefore, all levels of cadres should attach importance to strengthening the study of Marxist philosophy and history.

2. Cadres need to study Chinese history and know and understand the brilliant culture that the Chinese people in history created so they can gain wisdom and sustenance for self-improvement and to do a good job.

Our cadres at different levels occupy different positions and have different responsibilities; so the requirements for studying Chinese history will differ. However, studying history can increase one’s wisdom. Only by understanding history can one view today’s world situation clearly. Thus everyone should take the initiative to study history.

We should study and carry forward the Chinese people’s fine traditions. In China’s long historical development, the Chinese people have suffered countless internal conflicts and external challenges and threats, including natural disasters, social turbulence, dynasty changes, and outside invasions. The Chinese people again and again defeated disasters, and again and again overcame difficulties, so that our unified, multi-ethnic country continued its consolidation and development. Why has that been the case? It is because the Chinese people have established a number of good full-of-vitality traditions, which the whole nation has generally recognized and accepted. Several examples include the traditions of respecting national unity, safeguarding national unification, and constantly improving oneself.

We can say that many Chinese history books contain very rich historical experiences on how to govern the country. Many contain experiences and lessons on success and failure, rise and decline, safety and danger, good and evil, honor and disgrace, justice and self-interest, honesty and corruption, and so on, about the nation, society, ethnic groups, and individuals. When we study history, we need to see it in light of what we are doing and become good at making use of all the beneficial experiences on governing a country and society. For instance, in Chinese history, there were many people who advocated using “Confucianism and law together” and “virtue and punishment together.” In today’s words, this is basically saying that ideological education and legal punishment need to be used together.

We need to learn about the excellent traditional Chinese culture and noble spiritual pursuits. The Chinese culture that has remained strong despite all kinds of adversity contains a wealth of ideas and a valuable cultural heritage, such as the pioneer spirit of opening up mountains and forests with only simple tools and clothing, a strong will despite hardships, the heroic spirit of sacrificing life for justice, a heart as broad as the ocean, the political ideal of making the country peaceful and the people happy, a sense of urgency even in times of peace, a constant pursuit of innovation, and so on.

In our history, many sages and people with lofty ideals have given interpretations of their pursuits of a noble spirit, such as Confucius: “Having heard the Tao in the morning, (one will not be afraid) to die in the evening.” Mencius: “No fortune shall corrupt my soul, no poverty shall dampen my will, and no power shall suppress my pride.” Jia Yi: “I’ve forgotten about my home because of the country and forgotten myself because of the public.” Zhuge Liang: “Till the end of one’s days, spare no effort in the performance of one’s duty.” Du Fu: “How could I get thousands of houses to cover all the intellectuals in the world who stay in the cold? … If this could happen, I would be satisfied even if I were to die in the cold.” Fan Zhongyan: “Be the first to worry before any of the people worry and the last to enjoy after everyone else has enjoyed.” Wen Tianxiang: “Every man has a share of responsibility for the fate of his country.” Lin Zexu: “I will do whatever it takes to serve my country even at the cost of my own life, regardless of any fortune or misfortune to myself.” Qiu Jin: “I will not care about whether I will succeed, but will just use my blood to serve my country,” and so on. For generation after generation of people with lofty ideals, and from the poems and articles that have been passed down for thousands of years, we can clearly see the great Chinese spirit, the noble social trends, and the core ideology for governing a country. When we study history, we need to study and learn these valuable ideologies and ideas that have been passed down from our ancestors. They can give us spiritual encouragement, upgrade our ideological level, cultivate our moral character, help us to withstand the test of governance and opening up, and prevent the dangers of spiritual lethargy and corruption. In this way we can continue to make contributions to the Party and the people.

3. When studying history, cadres need to focus on studying the history of China since the Opium War—and especially the Party’s history—to have a deeper understanding of China’s current condition and social development.

What I want to emphasize here is that the history of the Chinese Communist Party is the most epic and touching chapter in the history of modern China. Therefore, when studying China’s recent history, we should especially focus on studying the history of the Chinese Communist Party.

The history of the Chinese Communist Party, to sum it up, is the history of the Party that has united and led its people to advance the revolution and to develop and reform China. Its achievements and advancements are magnificent and glorious, and the hardships and risks it has endured are extremely rare in the world. For 90 years, our Party has met and overcome many hardships and risks. Therefore, when studying the Party’s history and realizing its greatness and glory, we not only need to recognize the great and glorious achievements that people have made under the Party’s auspices, but we also need to give full credit to the great courage, great wisdom, and great force that the Party has shown while leading the people to face and continue to conquer all kinds of difficulties, risks, and obstacles.

As our cadres study the history of China, you should also study world history. Today’s world is an interconnected world. The development of modern China is tightly linked to the development of the rest of the world. Whether we are addressing the issue of stability in the development of China’s domestic reform or the issue of opening up, we should open our eyes to see the world as it is and maintain a broad point of view. Only when we understand the world from the point of view of history and reality can we do better in all of our work, including the work of dealing with other countries.

Lastly, I would like to point out that when cadres study history, we need to set a goal of improving our historical literacy and leadership abilities. When thinking about issues and making decisions, we need to have a historical perspective, learn from the experiences and wisdom of the past, and act in accordance with the historical patterns and the dialectics of historical development. When studying history, we must adhere to the Marxist view of history and methodology. We cannot just read the books, but rather, we need to apply what we read to today’s reality, use history to comprehend today’s situation, and use history to solve today’s issues. Thus we can actively use historical knowledge when trying to understand and deal with today’s issues.

This is all I want to say today. I hope all comrades will make fruitful gains in your studies at the Party School.

1. Study Times, “Cadres Need to Study History – Speech at the Opening Ceremony for the Fall 2011 Semester of the Party School of the Central Committee of the CCP,” September 5, 2011.