The “China Dream,” or “Chinese Dream” as some others have translated it, is currently the most fashionable term in China’s media. When Xi Jinping was formally “approved” as China’s president at the National People’s Congress (NPC) last Sunday, he used the “China Dream” as the main theme in his NPC keynote speech. Xi repeatedly stated the term “China Dream,” using it on nine occasions and vowed to lead the nation to realize the “China Dream.”
At first blush, the “China Dream” seems very much like a replica of the “American Dream.” As China’s economy continues to march along and the Chinese people’s financial power constantly improves, the “China Dream” indeed seems to fit well with the concept of the “American Dream”: an individual, through hard work, can attain the goal of middle class status.
No, that’s not what Xi’s “China Dream” is about. The “China Dream,” as Xi Jinping puts it, is “the great renaissance of the Chinese nation.” Xi is trying to project the vision that China will be number one; China will be back on top and lead the world.
This indeed is a dream-like statement, but what it really means is not clear. Superficially, Xi’s “China Dream” is a typical CCP political cliché, a propaganda fanfare that is used to drum up China’s already hyped-up nationalism; it is another theory tooled to help guarantee the CCP’s rule.
In the CCP’s tradition of a planned economy, the Chinese Communists usually like to associate each goal with a few specific numbers, making it look like a well-thought-out plan. Xi applied the term, “Two 100-Years” in his version of the “China Dream.” “Two 100-Years” are two centennials that mean respectively the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Chinese Communist Party in 2021 and the 100th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China in 2049. Specifically, Xi set the nation’s goal of achieving a moderately prosperous society in every sector [with an average annual income of over US$3,000 per capita] by 2021, and fundamentally accomplishing the modernization by 2049.
The words “prosperous society” and “modernization” are merely the official language designed to soothe the ear of ordinary civilians. They carry little weight in the “Dream.” The key word” is the “Two 100-Years.” Simply put, through Xi’s mouth, the Chinese Communists are looking to the two centennials and hope they will still stay in power at least until that time. That’s
Xi Jinping’s real “China Dream.”
Actually, retiring President Hu Jintao had originally put forth the “Two 100-Years.” Xi picked up this concept and packaged it into his “China Dream.” This could be considered a consensus that these two generations of Communist leaders reached.
Looking forward to 2049 is a little too dicey. It sounds a bit like a Hollywood science fiction film. 2021 may be more realistic for Xi. Xi’s term will only be 10 years. To dream about “Two 100-Years” could be too daunting for him. For Xi personally, the dream is how to allow the Communist regime to hang on for another eight more years until 2021, which means he would have accomplished the first goal before the end of his term.
Speaking of “Dream,” Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I have a Dream” speech naturally comes to mind. Dr. King was a common person; he spoke on behalf of the oppressed people, appealing to a powerful government for freedom. On the contrary, Xi holds the position of dictator with all the power that accrues thereto. His hope, on behalf of the formidable regime, is to appeal to the common people for his “freedom,” the freedom to be the head of the Chinese Communist Party for eight more years.
When former President Hu Jintao came to power, he already felt like the last emperor. Although Hu did not do anything big in his era, unexpectedly, the inertia of the growing Chinese economy propelled the country to jump to second place as the world’s second-largest economy. The 2008 Olympics and the World Expo 2010 fueled more confidence for the regime. The 2008 financial crisis in the United States further boosted the Chinese Communists adding to the illusion about their own system. Just months after the U.S. financial crisis, Hu announced his “Two 100-Years” agenda. Not only did Hu have the confidence to maintain the Chinese Communist Party in his time; he also wished for the Communists to live to the age of 100. In his report at the 18th CCP National Congress, Hu reiterated the “Two 100-Years” concept and passed the task of maintaining the CCP’s ruling status to Xi Jinping, who then adapted it to his “China Dream.”
Understanding Xi’s dream is of great significance. It may provide some clue as to which direction Xi will lead China.
First of all, there is a consensus from top to bottom within the CCP that the Communist Party will join the dustbin of history sooner or later. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the top priority of the Chinese Communists was not to let the Party die in their hands (while they are still in power). Psychologically, having the CCP hang on until the age of 100 can greatly help the Party save face.
Second, the speeches Xi has made on different occasions indicate that he is very serious about extending the CCP’s life expectancy. For example, he has recently emphasized the need to learn the lessons from the collapse of the Soviet Communist Party; he keeps talking about the ideals of communism and the superiority of the socialist system.
Xi was born and brought up under the “red flag” [the patronage of the CCP] and educated within the closed Communist system. Xi fundamentally agrees that it is none of the West’s business for the Chinese regime to abuse and slaughter Chinese people. Just like the many others that the Party culture has brainwashed, Xi generally believes that democracy and freedom will lead China to chaos. Worse yet, Xi may not be able to envision how China can survive without the Communist Party. Yes, it’s very popular for Chinese leaders to send their children to study in the West, but this does not mean that they agree with Western values, especially those on how to govern a big country. To a large extent, keeping the Party alive until it reaches the age of 100 is indeed Xi’s real dream.
Hu Jintao made it through his 10-year term by taking advantage of economic growth and maintaining stability (called wei wen) at all cost.
Now, neither is available to Xi. China’s growth model – cheap labor, low-cost manufacturing, and energy-intense, high-polluting industry – has come to an end. The costly force-driven oppression-oriented “Maintenance of Stability” model has gone to an extreme and has proven that its manifestation is itself the most important factor in stirring up “instability.”
What’s left for Xi? Will Xi be able to realize his dream?